Manfred Weber needs to look to his left to find allies

, by Juuso Järviniemi

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Manfred Weber needs to look to his left to find allies
Photo: © European Union 2016 - European Parliament

When the Spitzenkandidaten process was introduced in the 2014 European elections, the standard explanation was that the biggest party’s lead candidate would automatically become the European Commission President. In 2019, the system has evolved, and for example the system of party primaries made developments in comparison to 2014.

Another development is that in 2019, the media and political parties put emphasis on parliamentary majorities. According to the treaties, it’s the MEPs (after a nomination made by the European Council) who cast the final vote on who should be the President. This time, the support of the MEPs doesn’t come by itself.

This is bad news for Manfred Weber, the candidate of the centre-right EPP. As social democratic parties have recorded heavy losses in a number of European countries since the 2014 elections, the centre-right leads by a margin of 42 seats in Europe Elects’s current projections. In short, it’s probable that Manfred Weber will be the candidate of the biggest party at the elections, but this May, that alone isn’t enough. The Bavarian also has to win the support of other parties, which requires negotiation.

At an event organised by JEF Sciences Po in Paris on 2 April, the Green Spitzenkandidat Bas Eickhout – a Dutchman who runs alongside the German Ska Keller – made his position clear: Manfred Weber has to change his approach, or the Greens won’t support him.

Weber, the leader of the EPP in the European Parliament, represents the party’s conservative wing. Immigration is one of his campaign priorities: his campaign website proclaims Weber’s support for “10,000 additional Frontex officers to control our external borders”, a proposal originally made by the current Commission. Weber states that he “will return illegal migrants to their home countries”, and appears to call migration a “security threat”.

If the EPP’s toughening language on migration policy worries parties to its left, the divisive question of the expulsion of Fidesz, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s party that is still a part of the EPP, is even more difficult. For a long time, Manfred Weber supported an accommodating approach towards Fidesz, although he has recently become more favourable towards expelling the authoritarian party. In the view of other Europarties, including the Greens, these threats to European values need to be tackled much more strongly.

To the right from the EPP, there are conservative, Eurosceptic and and Europhobic parties that can hardly cooperate constructively with a pro-European party. Consequently, in order to gain a majority, the only option for the EPP seems to be to turn to its left. On 2 April, Bas Eickhout said he believes that after the May elections, the negotiations between European-level parties will be longer than before. Like after national elections, the parties need to reach an agreement on the priorities of the next Commission President.

If real negotiations are needed after 26 May, it signals a Europeanisation of politics (or perhaps a politicisation of Europe). In turn, this politicisation makes Europe more democratic. The definition of the next European Commission’s priorities is no longer a mere administrative decision. In May, every vote counts: from the start, the policies of the European Commission will be influenced by several political parties, and the balance of power will be determined by the voters.

The New Federalist is the web magazine of The Young European Federalists (JEF), a non-partisan youth NGO with over 13,000 members active in more than 35 countries. Founded in 1972, the organisation strives towards a federal Europe based on the principles of democracy, subsidiarity and rule of law. JEF promotes true European citizenship, and works towards more active participation of young people in democratic life. JEF is a transpartisan organisation and is not a political party: it is not running in the European elections but campaigns to make European citizens aware of the elections and their stakes.

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