Story amended to clarify Weber’s comments
Socialists and liberals are natural allies for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) in the next European Parliament, according to Manfred Weber, the EPP’s lead candidate for the European elections in May.
“For us, the partners for the future of Europe are the socialists and the liberals,” Weber said yesterday (9 January) at the launch event of his “listening tour” that will take him on a journey across Europe in the coming months.
“The invitation is open to all,” Weber said, making clear however that the EPP will only talk to political groups who share pro-European values and who are not manifestly against the EU.
The EPP will consider alliances on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s not black or white,” Weber said, adding that certain parties will start a “process of clarification” in the next months, and ask themselves who they want to partner with in the next Parliament.
Brussels kick-off of my #listeningtour is today. My plan for our common future will be based on what people tell me, in person & online: feel free to contribute! #manfredlistens #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/Nl9SqsfB8e
— Manfred Weber (@ManfredWeber) January 9, 2019
Winking at ECR
On the sideline of his briefing with Brussels-based reporters, Weber spoke highly of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR). The ECR was formed by the British Conservatives after the 2009 EU elections to provide a euro-critical alternative to the EPP’s traditionally pro-EU stance.
In the current parliamentary term, ECR lawmakers were collaborative and voted more in favour of starting trilogues than the Greens, Weber remarked. He also praised the work of Poland’s national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, currently in power, when they negotiate in the EU Council of Ministers.
On Wednesday, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczynski met in Warsaw with Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s far-right Lega party. According to Weber, this could lead to Italy’s Lega replacing the UK Tories in the Parliament’s ECR group after the UK leaves the EU.
“I cannot imagine that a leader of a country like Salvini has an interest to go together with somebody who is opposing to the EU at all and to the euro at all, like Marine Le Pen,” Weber told reporters.
In an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa in September, Weber extended his hand to Salvini: “If I look at the European political landscape today I see Salvini in Italy, Kaczynski in Poland, the Romanian socialists, Orban. We could wish for something else, of course. But that’s the reality.”
“So we must work with everyone and listen to everyone to find a common vision. And frankly, I don’t think it’s that difficult,” he said.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Weber again refused to explicitly rule out future co-operation with Salvini.
Weber’s intention is to embark on a Europe-wide campaign, but he said he doesn’t want to focus his campaign only on a pro-Europe narrative because this would give bigger credibility and visibility to populist parties.
“Yes, we are pro-Europe, but we want to change the direction [of the EU],” he said, adding that he is proud of what the Juncker Commission has achieved.