In her "State of Europe" address in Berlin, the former German defence chief reminded the audience that "soft power" was a way of spreading a nation’s influence through culture, something she said was a "costly" project.
"Soft power alone is now not enough. If we Europeans want to assert ourselves in the world Europe must also learn the language of power".
Von der Leyen said Europe needed to "grow our own muscle where we have long relied on others, for example in security policy."
Secondly, Europe needs to use the force it had for "targeted engagement" where it best served European interests. She cited China as a country where the EU was in a position to influence bilateral trade.
Von der Leyen — a Brussels-born German politician and a mother of seven — was expected to assume office on 1 November, but the start date was pushed back by a month after the European Parliament rejected several of her nominees.