Manfred Weber announces run to lead center right in European election

Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, formally announced on Wednesday he is standing to be the center-right grouping’s lead candidate in next year’s European election.

If he secures the nomination at a party congress in November, the 46-year-old Bavarian will also officially be the group’s candidate for European Commission president under the so-called Spitzenkandidat, or “lead candidate,” system backed by the Parliament.

However, leaders of EU governments have said that legally they cannot be bound to the Spitzenkandidat system, so there is no guarantee he will become Commission chief even if the EPP comes first in next May’s election.

Weber, a senior official in Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, announced his candidacy in a series of tweets in German, English and French.

“Europe is at a turning point,” he said. “Today, it’s about standing up for Europe and defending  our values, because we are being attacked from outside and from within. It’s about the survival of our European way of life.”

Weber added, “There can be no more ‘business as usual’ in the EU. Europe is not institutions of bureaucrats and elites. I will help to bring Europe back to the people. A new start for the EU is necessary to achieve a better, more united and more democratic Europe.”

“I am standing to be lead candidate of the European People’s Party in the European election, in order to become president of the European Commission,” Weber said. “I told my EPP parliamentary group this today. I want to renew the connection between the people and the EU.”

No other EPP politician has so far declared an intention to run for the group’s nomination but former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, have been widely mentioned as potential candidates.

Weber last week secured Angela Merkel’s backing to run as the EPP’s lead candidate but officials from the German chancellor’s Christian Democrats made clear this did not mean she was endorsing him as her pick for the Commission presidency.

Under the Spitzenkandidat system, pan-European groups of parties competing in the European Parliament election choose lead candidates to campaign across the Continent. Later, one of those candidates — most likely the nominee of the group that wins most seats in the election — should then be put forward by the European Council of EU leaders to be confirmed by a majority vote of the Parliament.

But leaders of EU governments have refused to give that system their unconditional backing. They argue that the EU treaties make clear they are responsible for nominating the next Commission president, taking account of the election results, but legally cannot be bound to choose from among the lead candidates.

The Spitzenkandidat process was first used in 2014 in the election of the current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

This article has been updated. Zach Young contributed reporting.

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