Ursula von der Leyen
Born 8 October 1958 in Brussels
German Federal Minister for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth
Ursula von der Leyen’s rise in German politics has been meteoric. The daughter of the former Ministerpresident (Governor) of Lower Saxony Ernst Albrecht, she only joined the CDU in 1990, out of solidarity with her father, who had failed to be re-elected only shortly before.
She campaigned for the state parliament of Lower Saxony already in 2002, where she took over the Ministry of Social Affairs, Women, Family and Health for two years. A physician with the doctorate, von der Leyen actually wanted to serve in politics as an expert on health, but her qualifications as a mother of seven and simultaneously a woman in the workforce always seemed to be valued more highly. Since November 2005 she has been Bundesministerin (Federal Minister) for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth and as such has become one of the “most visible female ministers of domestic policy, a controversial figure who causes conservatives and liberals alike to howl.” (Spiegel online) The media feel provoked by her aristocratic demeanor, her “constant smile,” and her publicly paraded children. She has been called a “supermom-powerdaughter” (em>taz) and a “mixture between Pamela Anderson and Magda Goebbels” (Welt), and after a portrait of her and her family she was subjected to the question whether she “wanted to be a bad mother or a bad minister.” (Hart aber fair)
Unperturbed, Ursula von der Leyen kept working and has succeeded in making such issues as childcare and family policy important political concerns in Germany once again. “I want us to have more children in this country again. That’s the most important thing!” She pushed through a new law for “Elterngeld” (one-year parental pay for parents who stay at home to care for their children), which despite massive protests from all sides includes two months for fathers. (During these two months the state pays parental support only if the father stays home.) Among her conservative colleagues and voters, of course, she did not only win friends with this provision.
Virtually simultaneously she alienated the opposite side when she set up an “Erziehungsgipfel” (education summit) which was limited to representatives of the Catholic and Protestant churches and excluded all other religious and pedagogically concerned groups.
She can certainly not be accused of shying away from conflict. She often ignores political ground rules and the intricacies of negotiation by presenting her own ideas prematurely and attempting to push them through. What she is criticized for, though, is the one-sided tailoring of her pro-family measures to suit middle-class, two-income and well-educated married couples.
trans. Joey Horsley
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