The veteran Spanish socialist has a reputation for plain speaking, and a brief to build a more assertive EU
It has been called Europe’s “valley of tears”. But it isn’t in National Geographic; rather it is the monthly pilgrimage of the European Union’s 28 foreign ministers to Brussels or Luxembourg to discuss the woes of the world.
And the man who coined the phrase, Josep Borrell, a socialist veteran of Spanish politics, was not paying a compliment. He described the EU foreign affairs council as “more a valley of tears than a centre of decision-making” because “it’s where all the open sores of humanity come. They tell us their sufferings, we express our condolences and concern … but no capacity for action comes out of it and we just move on to the next one.”
China is Europe’s “systemic rival”, the EU executive stated earlier this year in a paper seen as a turning point in the bloc’s approach to the authoritarian superpower. Diplomats say the EU is less naive about China, and wiser to unfair competition via state subsidies or intellectual property theft. The EU is also facing calls to resume human rights sanctions on China, as further details emerge about China’s vast prison network in Xinjiang.
Ursula von der Leyen, born in 1958, is the daughter of Heidi and Ernst Albrecht, the latter having been a senior politician in the centre-right Christian Democratic Union who rose to be governor of the state of Lower Saxony.