Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen has been narrowly elected president of the EU Commission following a secret ballot among MEPs.

Von der Leyen

The centre-right defence minister will replace Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 November.

She secured the backing of more than half of the members of the European parliament on Tuesday evening.

The Commission drafts EU laws, enforces EU rules and has the power to impose fines on member states if necessary.

“The trust you placed in me is confidence you placed in Europe,” Mrs von der Leyen, who is the first woman to be elected president of the European Commission, said in a speech immediately after the vote.

A total of 751 MEPs were elected in May, but four were absent for Tuesday’s vote.

Born in Brussels, Mrs von der Leyen has seven children and trained as a gynaecologist before entering politics.

The 60-year-old defence minister has been criticised in Germany over the armed forces’ persistent equipment shortages and what some consider to be her aloof management style.

She has promised to push for the EU to play a bigger role in social welfare, to tackle poverty, and has stressed that she would stand up for women’s rights.

She has also pledged in the past to allow a further extension of the UK’s withdrawal date from the EU “should more time be required for a good reason”.

Narrow victory could cause problems

European leaders will be breathing a sigh of relief.

It took days of fraught negotiations and a difficult compromise among EU countries to nominate Mrs von der Leyen, a German conservative and close ally of Angela Merkel.

She scraped through with 383 votes, just nine more than the minimum. That may leave her in a weakened position, as it seems she was helped over the line by votes from Eurosceptic and right-wing MEPs in Poland and Italy.

So what does all this division mean? For a start, the European Commission Mrs von der Leyen will lead from November may have problems passing legislation through the parliament.

What is the reaction?

Figures from across the bloc have been quick to congratulate Mrs von der Leyen on her election victory.

“This job is a huge responsibility and a challenge. I am sure you will make a great president,” outgoing Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker wrote on Twitter.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute to her outgoing defence minister, who she described as a “committed and convincing European”.

Belgium’s leader – and incoming head of the European Council – Charles Michel said: “I wish to congratulate [Mrs von der Leyen]. Let’s work together in the interest of all Europeans.”