German women take EU reins with Merkel-von der Leyen double act

The future is female, as least when it comes to the next six months of EU diplomacy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave their first joint press conference on Thursday since Germany took on the bloc’s rotating presidency, ushering in an all-German, all-female leadership duo at a time of huge challenges for the continent.

“In the past, two men have always managed, now we must manage as two women, and we are very confident here that we can do it, I think, right Ursula?” Merkel said to her former government colleague, who moved to the top ranks of EU politics last year.

“We have known each other a long time, we share a deep trust,” von der Leyen said in an online press conference, adding that they could talk candidly to one another.

The head of the EU’s executive pointed out that the two top politicians have very different backgrounds – Merkel grew up in communist East Germany, while von der Leyen was born and raised in Brussels. In von der Leyen’s view, their stories reflect the diversity of Europe.

Both leaders are the first women to hold their respective roles.

Germany took on the six-month presidency of the European Council from Wednesday, giving Merkel a chance to shape the bloc’s agenda in the winter of her political career. She plans to retire following next year’s general election in Germany.

The bloc is at a major crossroads currently on how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, while Brexit talks are also at a crucial stage.

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