Weber secures EPP nomination

A moderate Bavarian politician who tries to copy German Chancellor Angela Merkel's pragmatic style won last Thursday the backing of EU's centre-right parties and will become the European People's Party (EPP) Spitzenkandidat for the next year's European election, news wires reported. He manage to beat former Finnish PM Alexander Stubb at the vote in Helsinki as was endorsed by the EPP for the EU's most influential job, European Commission president.

Both Weber and Stubb pledged at the EPP congress in Helsinki to reject the anti-immigrant populists whom they see as challenging social democracy in Europe and threatening their values of openness and tolerance. “I want to open a new chapter for a better Europe: no more anger,” Weber told delegates. “The campaign starts here in Helsinki. We are bridge-builders, let's use this momentum. Then we will win in May 2019,” he pointed out.

Weber beat Stubb by 492 votes to 127 out of the EPP members' 734 votes. Germany's big presence in the composition of the group gave him up to 80 votes. While Merkel has publicly backed Weber, the EPP is losing influence in France and Spain, where non-system parties became more powerful then ever. With the rise of populists, traditional parties such as the EPP faces rising accusations that they represents out-of-date politics. The unassuming Weber, who speaks German and English, lacks the experience of Juncker or the charisma of Stubb.

Stubb was a underdog against Weber, who leads the EPP group in the European Parliament and won a standing ovation from delegates. “We're living in a very difficult era. Please, stand up on the barricades, defend liberal democracy and the rule of law,” he said, a day after the EPP issued a warning that it could consider expelling Hungarian PM Viktor Orban's Fidesz party for eroding democracy.

The 219-member EPP includes the full spectrum of the EU right, from Hungary's nationalist Fidesz to the more laissez-faire Belgian parties. Weber's pro-Europe stance is often at odds with his own party, the CSU, which is why its members were reluctant to put him forward as a top candidate in the 2014 campaign for the European Parliament. Regarding migration, Weber skillfully maneuvered between the position of Merkel and the views of Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CSU. By doing so, Weber was able to keep 11 Hungarian anti-EU Fidesz MEPs from abandoning the EPP.

The decision of who gets the Commission job also depends on the EU's national leaders. Centrist French President Emmanuel Macron, who swept aside France's traditional political parties with his 2017 victory, rejects a 2013 European Parliament agreement that the parliamentary election winner should take the Commission job.

Under that deal, designed to bring the EU closer to voters, whichever group comes top in the European assembly’s election in May will have first chance to try to obtain parliamentary backing to be Commission president. The EPP is expected to remain the largest grouping. Such a contest is aimed at making the vote more relevant to citizens, who have turned out in ever smaller numbers to vote in European elections since the first were held in 1979.

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