Manfred Weber’s European Commission presidency bid is “absurd” given that he represents a political party with close links to Vladimir Putin and politicians like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who openly question the EU’s values, according to leftist chief Gabriele Zimmer.
“The decision of Weber and the support he will get from different political forces within the European People’s Party in some countries is absurd because Weber does not represent only the EPP part, but also the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Germany,” Zimmer, the president of GUE/NGL in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV in an interview.
“What is the CSU doing the last years? They meet regularly with Orbán’s party, they are close to Putin. They are demanding to close borders and stop any movement of migrants,” the German MEP warned.
“What is he representing as a candidate? For whom is he speaking? Yesterday, his party leader made an incredible speech saying that he understands the recent Nazi protests. It’s not necessary to bash Weber as a person but he needs to be criticised for what he represents politically,” she added.
Zimmer said that the EPP must decide whether it wants to be a conservative party belonging to the centre or move closer to the right of the political spectrum.
“The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) used to be part of the EPP some years ago and they left. If this kind of political force is coming back because of a new orientation, then the EPP will go further right,” she added.
New structure and Macron
Zimmer predicted the new European Parliament will have completely different political groupings after next May’s elections, due to the rise of right-wing extremists.
She also projected a closer coalition between the different right-wing forces, including some members of the EPP, and the extremists will try to influence decisions not only in the Parliament but also through other EU institutions.
“It’s going to be a real fight on the EU values. I am not sure that all leaders of the political groups recognise that as the main challenge.”
Asked how collaboration with the EU socialists is going, she replied that cooperation with the group has improved since Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz left the Parliament for an unsuccessful foray into domestic politics.
Zimmer emphasised that she has much better cooperation with new S&D chief Udo Bullmann.
She also referred to Progressive Caucus, an informal group within the Parliament, which brings together several MEPs from GUE/NGL, the S&D and the Greens.
“We are careful not to bring too many people in the group because some MEPs from all groups see that with fear that it could be the basis for a new group. But this is not the case. What we want through this is to build trust and a better way to collaborate,” Zimmer explained.
The EU socialists and leftists have adopted a similar rhetoric ahead of the election, focusing on the need to push for a progressive agenda or even form a formal progressive alliance.
But French President Emmanuel Macron also aims to create a progressive coalition against the rise of Euroscepticism.
For Zimmer, Macron will create a new structure after the election and his vision is to bolster pro-EU forces against the anti-EU camp.
She expressed doubts about Macron’s progressive alliance, saying that in order to change Europe you need to change the social standards in your own country first.
“I don’t think he is looking for a more social union and more rights for employees.”
Leftist political mentality
In November, leftist party leaders will meet to discuss future EU challenges and what they expect from the next GUE/NGL, citing ongoing discussions.
“We want to give them the signal that if they want to have an influence in the EU Parliament, it’s necessary to strengthen and open the left group.”
She noted that it is now necessary for the leftist forces to understand one another, bridge their differences and move forward in unity.
“In 2014, we decided to host in our group forces that were not traditionally leftists, but modern forces based on movements, such as Podemos. Now Jean-Luc Mélenchon has a movement with Podemos, there is another movement in Germany.”
“My objective is to bring the left together and change the political culture toward a better understanding of different positions. But not dividing more. This is our main concern.”
Another major problem, according to Zimmer, is the poor representation of politicians from Central and Eastern Europe in the leftist group, which currently has only Czech representatives.
She said one idea could be to invite as a candidate people from other member states. “I don’t know if this is going to work but if the left does not have any influence in Eastern Europe, we will lose in the long run.”
Mélenchon should think collectively
Referring to France’s Mélenchon, she said it was positive that he has managed to gather a lot of young people who were not included in party structures before.
However, she expressed her disappointment with some of the Frenchman’s tactics.
“He has to understand that the way he chooses damages other left actors and this is problematic. I expect him to do more together with the other leftist leaders and not attack others [just] because he disagrees.”
“I never understood why he was asking to put [ruling Greek party] Syriza out of the left. That was not a democratic understanding and I have a problem with that. We need to face the rise of nationalism, not who will lead the left movement,” Zimmer warned.