EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and former Chancellor Angela Merkel have a lifelong friendship.

“Angela Merkel is an outstanding personality and a good friend. I can call her at any time, and if I needed her advice, I would use it,” von der Leyen told “Bild am Sonntag” about Merkel, who she served as federal minister for 14 years. “We are still in touch today and I will stay in touch with her throughout my life. I learned a lot from her, including about stability. She always remained strong in her character, no matter how bad the attacks on her were.”

In a possible second term as Commission President, von der Leyen wants to work primarily for “a strong Europe”. “That’s what I want to stand for. A Europe that defends its democratic values, is competitive and prosperous. A Europe that protects. These are the key points that we have to work on in the next five years.”

Von der Leyen said she couldn’t imagine what the world would be like without Europe. “I know how precious this European Union is. It lives from the fact that we renew and strengthen it every day. It is being attacked from outside, but there are also forces from within that threaten cohesion in Europe. Just look at Putin’s terrible war in Ukraine.”

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says she was deeply influenced by growing up with five brothers and the death of her little sister Eva-Benita from cancer. “We lived in Brussels at the time, it was a dark time. Her death changed us a lot. As a family,” von der Leyen told “Bild am Sonntag”. “As a child, I remember feeling my parents’ helplessness and desperation because they couldn’t help her. Especially when the pain came. The drug treatment for pain back then wasn’t good enough. And then these many, many months of slow death. That was bitter. My sister had a rare reticulosarcoma.” 

This experience was a trigger for her later career path, says von der Leyen, who was 13 years old at the time: “Back then, the doctors liked to keep children in the clinic, and my mother fought like a lioness for that that the child was at home as much as possible. Which is right. That had a big impact on me. I believe that this experience was one of the triggers for why I later studied medicine.”

About growing up with two older and three younger brothers, von der Leyen said: “You learn to assert yourself, to be stable and robust. Looking back, I understand that it gave me a lot of tools. Today, when I experience, let’s say, fairly robust men as political counterparts, I realize that I’m used to these mechanisms.”