Her record in office as Germany’s Defence Minister has been described as lamentable and there also concerns about her integrity. In one scandal, the costs of repairing a naval training vessel spiralled from £9million (€10m) to £121m (€135m). Some colleagues believe her nomination is reward for sticking by Angela Merkel rather than any display of competence in the Chancellor’s cabinet.
Ms Von der Leyen became Germany’s first female Defence Minister in 2013 but one insider said she was the weakest member of the German government and others accused her of acting on her own without consulting others.
A senior German officer at Bundeswehr HQ told the Politico.eu: “No matter where you look, there’s disfunction.”
Things came to a head last December when Ms Von der Leyen was ordered to appear before a parliamentary committee to answer charges over alleged poor handling of defence contracts, which in some cases involved suspected nepotism.
In one scandal, the costs of repairing a naval training vessel spiralled from £9million (€10m) to £121m (€135m).
Her office is also under investigations for dodging public procurement rules to granting contracts worth millions of euros to private firms.
The 60-year-old is fiercely opposed to Brexit and once described events since Britain voted to leave as a “burst bubble of hollow promises inflated by populists”.
She was once investigated for plagiarism but in 2016 Hanover Medical School decided she was guilty only of a mistake rather than intentionally copying part of her doctoral thesis.
Despite the questions about her suitability to the EU’s top job, Donald Tusk today urged the European Parliament to approve Ms von der Leyen’s appointment.
The outgoing chairman of the European Council addressed the assembly after three days of fractious talks between the 28 member states finally produced a deal on a new leadership for the EU.
He said: “For the first time, we achieved perfect gender balance in the top positions. Europe is not only talking about women, it is choosing women.
“I hope it will inspire the European Parliament in its decisions.
The other positions at the helm of the European Parliament and EU diplomacy, as well as Mr Tusk’s soon-to-be-vacant post, went to Italian lawmaker David Sassoli, Spain’s acting foreign minister Josep Borrell and Belgium’s liberal caretaker prime minister, Charles Michel, respectively.
The leaders’ tortuous deliberations highlighted the splintering of the pro-European centre in the EU and its implications for future decision-making in the world’s largest trading bloc with its half a billion people.
While the EU leaders have given solid representation to women and produced a balance between the conservative, socialist and liberal factions, the Greens, who also did well in May’s European Parliament elections have been left out.
There was also no post for any of the bloc’s increasingly assertive ex-Communist eastern members.
Mr Tusk said candidates from the east and from Green parties should be represented in the second-tier jobs yet to be filled.
The leaders’ summit also bypassed the European Parliament’s preferred candidates to lead the Commission, which polices member states’ budgets, proposes laws for the bloc and negotiates trade deals around the world.
That upset some in the assembly, heralding an uphill battle for Ms von der Leyen, who needs to be confirmed in her new job by an absolute majority of the 751 MEPs.