Thwarted Weber hits out at Emmanuel Macron over EU top job

German politician accuses French president of making common cause with Hungary’s Viktor Orban

German defence minister  Ursula von der Leyen, who has been nominated to be the next European Commission president, with Manfred Weber, who was a candidate for the job,  at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday. Photograph: Frederick FlorinAFP/Getty Images

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has been nominated to be the next European Commission president, with Manfred Weber, who was a candidate for the job, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday. Photograph: Frederick FlorinAFP/Getty Images

 

The centre-right candidate who was thwarted in his bid to become European Commission president has denounced French president Emmanuel Macron for “damaging the democratic principles of Europe” over this week’s deal for the EU’s top jobs.

Manfred Weber, the European People’s Party (EPP) choice to head the executive in Brussels, added to the backlash over the move by national leaders to install fellow German conservative Ursula von der Leyen.

Ms von der Leyen’s appointment has laid bare faultlines over how the bloc takes leadership decisions and could complicate her looming confirmation vote in the European Parliament.

Mr Weber accused Mr Macron of making unlikely common cause with Hungary’s Viktor Orban, a liberal bête noire because of his autocratic rule, to hand the job to the German defence minister.

Mr Macron is an outspoken critic of the informal agreement under which the lead candidate of the EU parliament’s biggest political group, in this case Mr Weber, takes the commission’s helm.

“Suddenly we see that Macron and Orban are working together,” Mr Weber wrote on Twitter on Friday after making similar points in an interview in the German newspaper Bild. “I can honestly say that this is not the Europe I imagined. I will continue to fight for the democratisation of the EU.”

Mr Weber, a Bavarian MEP who has never held office at national level, also accused fellow EU parliamentarians of undermining the lead candidate principle. Mr Weber’s EPP retained its position as the EU parliament’s largest caucus after the May elections, but social democrat and liberal groups refused to back his commission bid amid growing power struggles in a parliament that has become increasingly fragmented.

“Even some in the [European Parliament] damaged the idea of a democratic Europe,” said Mr Weber. “The fact that Social Democrats and Liberals ruled out voting for a democratic competitor ... calls the basic democratic consensus between us into question.”

Legal actions

Frans Timmermans, the social democrat lead candidate, and Margrethe Vestager, a liberal group joint lead candidate, also failed to secure the commission presidency despite efforts by their supporters. Hungary and other central and European governments fought to scupper Mr Timmermans because he has launched disciplinary and legal actions accusing them of authoritarian behaviour.

But analysts say Mr Macron, who argues that the lead candidate system lacks credibility and does not always deliver the most capable people, played a far more prominent role in killing the chances of Mr Weber and Mr Timmermans, in favour of Ms von der Leyen.

“Orban can boast that he blocked Weber and Timmermans but he was the least significant leader [in the nomination process],” said Peter Kreko of the Budapest-based think-tank Political Capital. “Weber’s candidacy was more hampered by Macron, and in Mr Timmermans’ case, we saw that rule of law is a tricky game.”

For all Mr Weber’s criticism of the job appointments, his centre-right political family has said it will back Ms von der Leyen in a vote in less than two weeks’ time. The German defence minister told her EPP group this week that she would fight to “keep alive” the lead candidate system as commission president, ensuring that it has majority support from governments and MEPs in elections in five years’ time.

She will have to win majority backing in the chamber for her commission candidacy – at least 375 MEPs – and is hoping to get a broad coalition of support from mainstream pro-EU parties including the Greens. She will be in Brussels next week to meeting the parliament’s chiefs. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019