Tuesday, 20 November 2018 | News today: 22

Europe’s conservatives nominate Manfred Weber for EU top job

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The European People’s Party on Thursday chose Manfred Weber as its nominee for Commission president over former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, PoliticoEU reports.

Weber, the German leader of the EPP grouping in the European Parliament, will be the center-right party’s Spitzenkandidat or “lead candidate” in the European Parliament election to be held in May. The grouping — which is the largest in the Parliament — aims to retain control of the EU’s top post, currently held by Jean-Claude Juncker.

Weber, who is little known outside of Brussels and his home region of Bavaria, was endorsed by all of the EPP’s current heads of state and government and most of its national member parties. Still, he faced a remarkably strong challenge from Stubb, who ran a spirited campaign given the weight of establishment forces lined up against him.

Weber got 492 votes (79 percent of the votes cast), according to results announced by EPP President Joseph Daul.

“We trust you,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Weber in a speech as delegates cast their votes in a secret ballot.

In his formal speech to the party plenary, Weber extolled European values: “I stand here not only to ask for your support as a candidate, but I stand here to ask you for a mandate, a mandate to change Europe!” He also stressed Europe’s Christian traditions, winning applause from the audience.

Weber will likely compete against Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, the former Dutch foreign minister who is currently unchallenged for the nomination of the Party of European Socialists — Europe’s second-biggest political family.

In May, voters across the EU’s 27 countries will elect 705 members of the Parliament. All of the EU’s top posts, including the presidencies of the Commission, Council and Parliament, will be open next year.

Under the Spitzenkandidat process, the heads of state and government on the European Council are expected to nominate the lead candidate of the party winning the most seats in Parliament, or at least the lead candidate most likely to be able to form a majority coalition. The Council’s nominee must then win the support of a majority of Parliament.

But the leaders on the European Council have said they cannot — and will not — be legally bound by the process, which is not spelled out in the EU treaties, raising the possibility that they could pick someone else.

The leading liberal party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), has so far resisted putting forward a single candidate, saying the system is tilted to benefit the center-right EPP.

ALDE leaders are in the process of forging an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron who does not belong to any of the traditional European parties. Macron has expressed opposition to the Spitzenkandidat process — a view that came under repeated attack by the conservatives at their nominating congress in Helsinki.