The longest-serving female European non-hereditary head of state was Iceland’s Vigdis Finnbogadottir, who was her country’s president between 1980 and 1996. But which women have led their European governments the longest?
7th – Simonetta Sommaruga
Do not be too shocked if you have not heard of her as Sommaruga’s place on this list is a result of Switzerland’s Federal Council. The seven-member council is made up of members from the country’s main parties, each of whom become the country’s joint heads of state and government.
Sommaruga is a current member of the council, and has served on it since November 2010, meaning she has served in the role for just short of seven years.
6th – Edemir Widmir Schlumpf
Sclumpf first became a member of the Swiss Federal Council in 2008 and subsequently left the populist Swiss People’s Party and joined the country’s Conservative Democrats.
She left the council and stopped being Swiss head of government at the end of 2015, taking her total time as head of government to eight whole years.
5th – Micheline Calmy Rey
Due to Switzerland’s obscure executive system, it is not surprising that more Swiss women make it on to this list. Calmy-Rey joined the council in January 2003 and left it at the end of 2011. This social democrat therefore served as head of government of Switzerland for nine whole years.
4th – Ruth Dreifuss
Drefuss is another Swiss head of government who makes the list. Like Calmy-Rey, she was a Social Democratic party member, and she joined the country’s federal council in April 2003 and left in December 2002, meaning that she was joint head of government and state for just shy of one whole decade.
3rd – Doris Leuthard
Leuthard is the last Swiss Federal Council member on this list. She joined the council in late August 2006 and is still on it to this day. She has resultantly spent eleven years as joint-head of Switzerland's government, making her the longest-serving female in the role.
2nd – Margaret Thatcher
At last – someone you have heard of! Thatcher became UK Conservative party leader in 1975 and took her party back into power by winning a majority in the 1979 election. She won two more elections: one in 1983 following the Falklands war and the split in the UK’s political left, and another one in 1987. Following her final victory, she pledged to “go on and on”, but her time in power was cut short in 1990 when she stepped down after Michael Heseltine’s challenge to her leadership.
She served as Britain’s prime minister for eleven years and 208 days until she was replaced by John Major.
The longest-serving female European leader – Angela Merkel
Merkel first came to power in 2005 and formed a grand coalition with her left-of-centre rivals, the SPD. She won another election in 2009, this time gaining seats and forming a coalition with the liberal FDP. Another election came in 2013, and Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU came remarkably close to winning an overall majority. The party’s natural allies, the FDP lost all their seats, meaning that Merkel had to form another grand coalition.
She has served for almost twelve years in the office of the chancellor. An election win this weekend would put her on track for sixteen long years of service.
A full list of female European leaders can be found here. Dates and lengths are service included in this article are based of this list.