“My European President: Ursula von der Leyen”, Nathalie Tocci (IAI, Italy)

Ursula von der Leyen is quintessentially European. Born in Belgium, the daughter of one of the first European civil servants, she attended the European School in Brussels, grew up in a German family and was raised bilingually in German and French. She then studied in the UK, in my own alma mater, the London School of Economics and Political Science, a period that she recalls – as any European student worthy of the name should – as one in which she “lived more than studied”. Today Ursula von der Leyen heads the European Commission, the institution her father had served. Through her leadership, the European project is undergoing a radical revival. Let me be clear: for well over a decade, the EU hobbled from one existential crisis to the next. From the 2005 constitutional crisis and the Eurozone crisis, to the so-called migration crisis and Brexit, the European project constantly appeared on the verge of collapsing. Yet, it did not: as Europeans we were prepared to “do whatever it takes” to save our union, in the unforgettable words of the first recipient of the Cercle’s award, my prime minister, Mario Draghi. Yet the Union struggled to do more than survive in those years. Faced with external threats and an internal wave of nationalist and Eurosceptic populism, the Union muddled through but lost its mojo. It no longer seemed to have that innate ability to see and seize opportunity during times of crisis, to leap forward precisely as and when it fell.

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