Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

What hides the candidacy of Manfred Weber to the Commission?

(B2) Manfred Weber, the German CSU MEP, president of the EPP political group in the European Parliament, has just announced his candidacy for head of the EPP list, and, if he wins, for head of the European Commission. A serious candidacy, supported by Berlin, and which does not seem to arouse any serious opponents (1).

Manfred WEBER presenting his candidacy for the head of the EPP for the European elections (credit: European Parliament)

An application with strong internal logic…

The CDU-CSU is the largest party in the European People's Party group. There has not been a German candidate for the European Commission for several decades. The man, little known to the general public, has managed (so far) to maintain unity despite the divisions between the supporters of a political Europe, the supporters of deeper integration on all economic, social and external aspects, and the supporters of a classic Europe, a large market above all. He comes from the 'conservative' side of the party, reflecting the group's move towards the right. This candidacy nonetheless represents – if it is approved – a severe drop in ambition for the European Commission.

…but some questions arise

Did Weber play a leading role?

This is not an official nomination criterion. But it is one of the first 'unwritten' criteria for applying for the position. You have to be part of the 'chefs club'. Since Jacques Delors, all the presidents of the Commission have played a leading role in their countries: from Jacques Santer, the Luxembourger, to Jean-Claude Juncker, his compatriot, via the Italian Romano Prodi or the Portuguese José- Manuel Barroso, all were prime ministers in their country before moving to Brussels. Logic: the heads of state and government want to propel one of their own to the European executive, one of those with a government history, which would prevent him from 'going off on his own'. Having been elected, and having governed, he knows how to distinguish between what is the political trajectory and the need to reconcile points of view. In theory, it ensures that it has a certain popular base. Incidentally, this also allows the President of the Commission to be a man of phone calls — “ Jean-Claude Juncker spends his time on the phone “, we assure the Berlaymont. The President of the Commission is in fact a 'honest broker' (an honest broker) responsible for making Member States which have different policies function in a certain harmony. It is a political harmonizer, either to prepare the legislation to be proposed, or to resolve certain conflicts. Manfred Weber was not even a senior minister (foreign affairs or economy and finance) like Jacques Delors was. Here we are in a very notable regression. Which does not prejudge the political quality of the man. Power can often reveal personalities.

Is he a recognized political figure?

This is a second 'unwritten' criterion for the position. You have to have a certain reputation that transcends borders. A name that means 'something' not only in its region or country, but beyond. However, even if Weber can bring together the entire political family, even beyond the Liberal side, he does not have the same hate that had (before their appointment) a Jean-Claude Juncker or a Romano Prodi. They were not just a representative of their party, they aimed beyond it. A President of the Commission is above all a unifier who, even if he has very anchored political ideas, must represent beyond them.

Does the EPP have an inescapable right to lead the Commission?

Even if the European People's Party (EPP) could remain the leader in the European Parliament in 2019, its lead would not be as triumphant as today where it makes up, with nearly 220 seats, 30% of the hemicycle. In addition, in 2019, the sharing of tasks between two parties - in an EPP - S&D axis, in the purest tradition of the 'Large Coalition' in the German way -, will have lived. The European governmental majority can only come, in 2019, from a new regrouping: that is to say a majority of progress, by associating the liberals and democrats (reinforced or refounded if necessary with the support of theWorking'Europeans), or even another group - the Greens for example -, i.e. a right-wing EPP - Conservatives + Liberals for example (2). The EPP will hardly be able to claim to occupy three of the four main European functions (presidency of the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament) (3), as is the case today.

The system of Spitzenkandidat is it viable?

The principle of automatically giving the leader of the party that came first in the campaign the head of the European Commission is contested. From a political point of view, we can consider that this is a point which does not appear at any time in the European philosophy of the existence of the Commission. It is not included in the treaties either; it is not prohibited, but not authorized either or even implicitly deductible. From a philosophical point of view, we can consider that it is a guarantee of democracy or, on the contrary, the victory of superstructures over democracy. But above all, in concrete terms, several European leaders (who are those who have a say in the appointment of the President of the Commission) contest this process: from the Frenchman Emmanuel Macron to the Hungarian Viktor Orban via the Italian Giuseppe Conte. In short, the principle of the Spitzenkandidat can be retained as the head of the list and candidate for the post of President of the European Parliament - which has both political and democratic logic - but not for the head of the Commission list.

Conclusion: a waiting candidate or a way to kill the Spitzenkandidat?

With this candidacy, isn't Berlin discreetly 'killing' the principle of Spitzenkandidat (which does not garner the sympathy of Angela Merkel), by proposing a candidate who does not meet some of the criteria, unwritten but respected until there ? In this hypothesis, Manfred Weber would be suitable to preside over parliament (4). But another candidate should emerge for the head of the European Commission. Or is he not preparing a new coalition, oriented more to the right, with the conservatives, in line with the trend observed in several Member States (Austria, in particular)? The problem will then be to obtain the approval of the Heads of State and Government (5).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) The candidacy of Frenchman Michel Barnier, even if it could be desirable, no longer seems as relevant.

(2) This logical coalition on an economic level would be difficult to constitute on an ideological level. Between pro-integration liberals and anti-integration conservatives, the equation will prove difficult.

(3) The position of Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the EU being devolved to the Social Democrats.

(4) Over part of the five-year mandate, in the event of a coalition.

(5) The European Council may decide on the proposal of the President of the Commission by a qualified majority of its members.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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