Ursula von der Leyen’s backing of Ukraine saw her take the spot for a second year running Ursula von der Leyen attends a press conference in Kiev, Ukraine, November 4, 2023 © AP / Efrem Lukatsky
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been named ‘The World’s Most Powerful Woman’ by Forbes magazine for the second year in a row. She beat off competition from European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde and US Vice President Kamala Harris to clinch the top spot.
Von der Leyen rose from eighth on the annual list in 2021 to first in 2022, with Forbes citing her “strong and decisive support of Ukraine, as well as her continued leadership in bringing Europe through the coronavirus pandemic.”
Her support for Ukraine was cited again this year, with the magazine describing her as “one of the West’s staunchest supporters of Ukraine amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion.”
Unlike in 2022, von der Leyen did not get a feature article this year, with Forbes simply naming her atop its list on Wednesday and updating its biography of her.
Von der Leyen served as Germany’s defense minister under Chancellor Angela Merkel from 2013 to 2019. During this time, she oversaw an underfunded and declining military, with yearly reports pointing out that German troops lacked functioning weapons, working vehicles, and even adequate boots.
In December 2019, she became the first woman to lead the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch. While she won praise from Forbes for spearheading a €750 billion coronavirus relief bill in 2020, she was criticized by European conservatives for openly withholding some of this money from Hungary and Poland over their refusal to accept migrants or implement liberal reforms demanded by Brussels.
When Russian troops entered Ukraine in February 2022, von der Leyen quickly emerged as one of Kiev’s loudest advocates on the global stage. Under her leadership, the European Commission imposed nearly a dozen packages of sanctions on Moscow and embargoed Russian energy imports, to the detriment of many EU economies.
Von der Leyen has promised EU membership to Ukraine, despite multiple member states raising concerns with Kiev’s dire public finances, ongoing armed conflict with Russia, and rampant corruption. She has also overseen the dramatic expansion of the European Peace Facility, an euphemistically-named fund used by the commission to finance foreign conflicts, namely the one in Ukraine.
European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde came second on Forbes’ list, while US Vice President Kamala Harris took third place. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – another staunch backer of Kiev – and pop star Taylor Swift came in fourth and fifth, respectively.