Merkel chooses Weber as candidate for EU top job

Manfred Weber (L), the chairman of the conservative European Peoples' Party EPP Group in the European Parliament, speaks with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 17 January 2018. [Patrick Seeger/EPA/EFE]

Angela Merkel has given her backing to fellow German conservative Manfred Weber’s bid to front the centre-right’s campaign in next year’s European Parliament elections, several German newspapers reported on Thursday (30 August).

If other member parties follow the chancellor in backing Weber, who currently heads the centre-right European People’s Party caucus in the European Union’s legislature, he would be front-runner to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission.

That would make the 46-year-old Bavarian the EU’s day-to-day leader as it attempts to navigate a world in which a Donald Trump-led United States is seen as an unreliable partner, it faces a stiff challenge from Russian and Chinese rivals and reinvents itself following Britain’s departure from the bloc.

Manfred Weber: We have to find consensus with France

While the debate about the future of Europe is gaining momentum, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), Manfred Weber, calls on the German Christian Democrats to show more willingness to compromise in an interview with EURACTIV’s media partner Der Tagesspiegel.

The EPP’s member parties are in government in nine of the bloc’s 28 members and lead in polls across much of Europe.

Merkel, who as leader of the EU’s most populous and wealthiest country would have considerable influence over the EPP’s choice of the centre-right’s “Spitzenkandidat”, or candidate for president of the European Commission.

It has been decades since a German has headed the Brussels-based Commission, whose 30,000 staff draft and enforce legislation and has been instrumental in driving the process of European integration since the bloc’s beginnings in 1957.

Merkel eyes German EU Commission chief: report

Chancellor Angela Merkel is focusing on securing the European Commission presidency for a German candidate, rather than backing Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann to succeed Mario Draghi at the helm of the European Central Bank (ECB), Handelsblatt reported.

German newspapers reported that Merkel had agreed after meetings with EPP President Joseph Daul in Berlin this week to throw her weight behind Weber, a Bavarian conservative.

News magazine Der Spiegel reported that Weber was currently lobbying to win other member parties’ support in Brussels ahead of a Helsinki congress at which the candidate would be chosen in November.

While Merkel’s backing will likely dash any other Germans’ hopes of winning the nomination, other widely mooted candidates remain in the race, including the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, France’s Michel Barnier.

Barnier for President, says Brussels-bubble

Michel Barnier is the top candidate to win the European Commission presidency after next May’s European elections, as a reward for delivering Brexit. At least, that is what the Brussels-bubble thinks, according to a survey published on Thursday (12 April).

While Weber is an ally of Merkel, his Bavarian Christian Social Union party is well to her right on social policy, and he is seen as an ally of strongman East European leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, outspoken critics of Brussels’ supposed desire for deeper European integration.

Political portrait

Weber, who was born in 1972 in the Bavarian town of Niederhatzkofen, is a member of the CSU’s party’s executive board and the presiding committee, belonging to the inner leadership circles of the CSU.

An engineer by trade, after graduation in 1996 he created his own consultancy firm.  In 2004 he moved to the European Parliament as an MEP and since then has served on the Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs as well as the Committee for Regional Development.

From 2006 to 2009 Weber was internal affairs spokesman for the EPP-ED Group. After the European elections in 2009, he was elected Vice-Chair of the EPP Group.

Between 2014 and 2016, Weber was a member of a now-defunct agenda-setting group including Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Parliament President Martin Schulz, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Socialist leader Gianni Pittella.

After Schulz left Brussels for national politics, Weber formed an alliance with the liberal ALDE group, putting an end to the “grand coalition” with S&D.

Weber holds fast to conservative values and is simultaneously pushing for an “aggressive and positive Europe policy” from the CSU. In 2011, he reprimanded then CSU Secretary-General Alexander Dobrindt for the latter’s EU-spceptic positions, which Weber perceived as a threat to his party’s approach to Europe.

In July 2013, when the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) issued the Tavares Report criticizing the erosion of fundamental rights in Hungary, Weber dismissed it as a politically motivated attack on the government of Orbán by leftist parties.

Weber has aligned with a majority in the EPP against Nord Stream 2, despite the fact that the government in Berlin strongly backs this project to bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

EPP takes strong position against Nord Stream 2

The centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament, has taken a strong position against Nord Stream 2, a Gazprom-favoured project to bring additional Russian gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

Conversely, Weber is a strong backer of the Southern Gas Corridor, a project to bring Azeri gas via Turkey to Europe.

On migration, Weber considers fighting mafia trafficking of human beings essential.

Moreover, he is a strong supporter of the Spitzenkandidaten process, used for the first time in the 2014 European elections. The French president and other leaders in the Council, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are still at odds with the Spitzenkandidat system.

MEPs and EU leaders on collision course over Spitzenkandidaten process

MEPs are ready to pick a fight with EU leaders and reject any candidate for EU Commission president who is not voted for by the European electorate after a transparent and open process, like in the 2014 elections.

Last but not least, Weber supports a reduction of the size of the Commission, a political idea with little chances of support from member states.

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