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Ursula von der Leyen with Angela Merkel. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Newly confirmed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister and loyal lieutenant to Chancellor Angela Merkel, will be the first woman ever and the first German since 1967 to lead the European Union’s Executive Branch.

Why it matters: Von der Leyen’s confirmation is a victory for leaders of European member states — particularly France’s Emmanuel Macron — over the European Parliament, and for the Franco-German tandem over smaller states. But stark divisions in the Parliament will make it difficult to pass much of her policy agenda.

Details: Von der Leyen eked out a 382-vote victory in the European Parliament on Tuesday, a majority of only 9 votes.

  • The unusual coalition for Von der Leyen's candidacy included Merkel’s European People’s Party, most of Macron’s centrist Renew Europe and many center-left Social Democrats (mainly from Italy, Portugal and Spain).
  • Joining them were a mix of Euro-skeptic and anti-establishment parties like Poland’s Law and Justice Party and Italy’s 5-Star Movement.
  • Most Greens, Far Left and German Social Democrats refused to support her.

Between the lines: Von der Leyen’s nomination speech in Strasbourg wove a delicate web of policy proposals to secure support: a climate package, tech taxation, a bloc-wide minimum wage proposal and gender equality measures.

  • She also proposed a new rule of law mechanism that would allow for comparisons in areas like corruption and institutional independence across member states, an idea opposed by her government backers in Poland and Hungary.
  • In a concession, she proposed allowing the European Parliament to initiate legislation — until now, a closely guarded power of the Commission.

Where it stands: European Commission Secretary General Martin Selmayr will leave his position next week — ostensibly because he, like von der Leyen, is German and a Christian Democrat. He indicated his successor will likely be French, calling the Commission a “Franco-German project.”

  • Back in Berlin, von der Leyen’s appointment has raised new doubts about whether Merkel’s grand coalition will last through 2019. In a surprise move, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer — CDU chairwoman and Merkel’s presumptive successor — has been named defense minister.

What to watch: In coming months, Von der Leyen will assemble a team of 27 Commissioners, one nominated by each of the member states.

  • Her Commission will have hearings early in the fall, before her 5-year term formally begins on Nov. 1.
  • She has already indicated a willingness to delay the Brexit deadline, currently slated for Oct. 31.

The bottom line: The hasty stitch-up necessary to secure von der Leyen's mandate, combined with the European Parliament’s new fragmentation, could place her in a position of weakness when she takes office.

  • A disunited EU would be poorly positioned to tackle the collective challenges of rising populism and Euro-skepticism, deepening trade wars, the ongoing Mediterranean refugee crisis, Russian democratic and Chinese economic interference, and an erratic Trump administration.

Tyson Barker is a program director and fellow at the Aspen Institute Germany and a former senior adviser at the U.S. Department of State.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Technology

Facebook changes corporate name to Meta

Screen shot of CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the company's "Connect" virtual event

CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday said the social media giant is renaming its company Meta.

Why it matters: The effort is meant to shift its image from a social media platform to a “metaverse” company that focuses on building virtual work and social communities.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Filings show Sweetgreen isn't profitable, despite claims

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Restaurant chain Sweetgreen on Monday filed to go public, and revealed that it lost money in each year since 2014.

Why it matters: The company lied when it repeatedly told reporters it was profitable.

U.S. border cities again see low violent crime rates

Expand chart
Data: FBI, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Reported violent crime in the United States rose in 2020 for the first time in four years, but violent crime rates in 11 of the largest communities along the U.S.-Mexico border stayed below the national average, an Axios analysis found. 

Why it matters: Year after year, data showing low violent crime rates in majority-Mexican American and Mexican immigrant border communities dispels myths of the U.S.-Mexico border as a region filled with crime and chaos.