ISSN 2330-717X

New EPP Chief Irks Madrid, Contradicts Von Der Leyen

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By Oliver Noyan and Sarantis Michalopoulos

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(EurActiv) — The new leader of Europe’s conservative political camp (EPP), Bavarian Manfred Weber, has triggered a strong reaction from EU socialists after he accused them of “carelessly spending money” and urged the European Commission to show the “red card” to Socialist Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Weber was elected as president of the European People’s Party (EPP) earlier this week and did not waste any time in doling out criticism.

“I don´t accept that socialists carelessly spend money and leave it to the EPP to pick up the pieces when the economy collapses. This is not acceptable anymore.”

“The European Commission has to show Sanchez the red card now if it wants to avoid an economic disaster in Spain,” Weber said after clinching the EPP presidency on Tuesday (31 May).

The fierce attack comes as the EPP, Europe’s oldest political family, finds itself under increased pressure.

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While it is still the biggest force in the European Parliament, it has lost ground in the member states and the European Council. Only seven of the 27 leaders in the EU are currently affiliated with the conservative party – down from 12 in March 2021.

Asked by EURACTIV, Iratxe García, the EU socialists’ chief and a close ally of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, lashed out against the new EPP chief on Wednesday, hinting that there is an intense internal battle within Europe’s centre-right family.

“It’s quite shocking to see how hard the EPP tries to contradict the European Commission and its President, Ursula von der Leyen, who has continuously praised the work the Spanish government is doing with the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF)”.

In 2018, Weber was the EPP candidate for the presidency of the European Commission and although the EU centre-right won the EU elections, he was not selected for the post due to strong opposition from member states and parties across the political spectrum.

The EPP quietly dropped him and eventually settled on von der Leyen as a compromise solution between Berlin and Paris.

Since then, Weber has been leading the EPP Group in the European Parliament and is now also the leader of the party organisation. His plans for the EU elections in 2024 remain unclear.

Next EU Commission President

An EPP source from a southern country told EURACTIV that Weber would be “good” for the post of Commission president, especially given the rising movement on the right led by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

However, the same source noted that a significant part of the centre-right family does not really relish the prospect of having  Weber as the candidate for the Commission top job again.

“If he does so, some will push forward Roberta Metsola, considered by many as the new rising star of the EPP,” the source said.

Metsola is currently the president of the European Parliament.

Another source explained that the current German coalition government, made up of three parties but without the conservative CDU, sees von der Leyen positively and would be open for her to remain at the helm of the EU executive for another term.

The question of who will become the EPP candidate could prove especially important for the next election of the European Parliament.

While the system that would see the candidate of the strongest European party become the Commission’s president – the so-called Spitzenkandidaten system – was circumvented last time, this might change when Europeans head to the polls in 2024.

Germany is considered to be among the strongest supporters of the process. According to the German coalition agreement, the government is pushing for a “binding system of Spitzenkandidaten” for the next election.

The revival of the “lead candidate” system is already underway.

The so-called Spitzenkandidaten process, whereby the lead candidate of the political group that wins the European parliamentary election would become the frontrunner for the European Commission presidency, was killed off in 2019 amid high-level EU post-horse-trading between member state leaders.

In early May, the European Parliament voted for electoral reform to reintroduce the Spitzenkandidaten. While it was used unofficially in the 2014 election, the reform would make the process binding.

The newly proposed election reform must be approved by all 27 countries to become valid.

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