The Brief, powered by EFPIA – How Helsinki could kill off Spitzenkandidaten

The Brief is Euractiv's evening newsletter.

This week the EPP’s Helsinki conference will finally tell us who will lead the largest European party into the elections next year. German MEP Manfred Weber and ex-prime minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb, go head-to-head in a debate that will highlight their very different platforms.

Stubb rallies a liberal agenda that many EPP classicists deem as incongruous with the more conservatively-minded factions. Weber, on the other hand, appeals to the old-guard of the centre-right and has solicited support from a range of political officials, counting on the backing of leaders such as Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Hungary’s Orban and even the perennial Berlusconi, in addition to the support already garnered from Merkel.

But even if Weber were to win the vote on Thursday, his presidency of the European Commission, under the Spitzenkandidaten process, is far from certain.

Firstly, there is the issue of the EPP garnering enough seats in the European Parliament to again make them the largest party, and potentially the source of the next Commission leader. They would still need to find an alliance within the Parliament that may back Weber’s candidacy. Not many have come forward so far.

Secondly, there is the issue of Merkel stepping down as the head of the CDU in December. Such a move will render her authority in the Council less prevalent, and therefore susceptible to influence from the next leader of the CDU, who might be less supportive of  Weber’s candidacy for the Commission presidency.

Thirdly, there’s the German national interest. In August, Merkel came out in support of a German CSU leader of the Commission rather than a German head of the ECB, for example. But with her departure, is this stance subject to change?

In case the next CDU leader changes his/her mind on what is best for Germany, the only way to avoid a German Commission president (and perhaps get an ECB chief instead) will be to water down the entire Spitzenkandidaten process in the Council, given that EPP’s heads have made clear more than once that they want to follow this path to elect their candidate either way.

The Council swallowed a bitter pill five years ago and let a coalition of EPP, S&D and ALDE choose the current Commission president through this process. But member states could now take advantage of the fragmentation and regain the authority in appointing a new president.

The announcement of the EPP victor will be made at lunchtime on Thursday. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have a better understanding of who will be the next Commission president.


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Look out for…

Tomorrow’s gather of EU finance ministers will be attended by Commission representatives Vice-President Dombrovskis and Finance Commissioner Moscovici. Ministers will exchange views and discuss progress achieved in the negotiations of the digital services tax proposed by the Commission to make corporate tax rules fit for the digital age. 

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