Manfred Weber, the leader of Europe’s largest group in the European Parliament, will reach out to Viktor Orbán and Matteo Salvini ahead of next year’s European election in a bid to “listen to each other” and “find compromises.”
“If I look at the political panorama today, I see Salvini in Italy, [Jarosław] Kaczyński in Poland, the Romanian Socialists, Orbán,” the German conservative politician said in an interview with European newspapers, including La Stampa and Süddeutsche Zeitung. “We might desire something else, sure. But this is the reality.”
Weber on Wednesday threw his hat into the ring to be European Commission president after next year’s European election. If he secures the nomination at a party congress in November, the 46-year-old Bavarian will officially be the European People’s Party candidate for the top Commission job under the so-called Spitzenkandidat, or lead candidate, system.
“I believe it’s necessary to sit at a table and listen to each other, and then find compromises,” Weber said, describing himself as a “bridge builder.”
“Let’s not forget something: The point of departure for Brexit was the decision by [David] Cameron to leave the EPP. I don’t want that to happen in other countries,” he added. “I want to keep Europe united.”
Asked whether he would accept support from Italy’s far-right League, which is headed by Salvini, Weber said he would not comment on individual parties, adding that the European center was a place for “politicians that have a pro-EU orientation” and that “these parties are the base for the future.”
“But we need to remember that the pro-EU coalition that elected [current Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker four years ago — socialist, conservative and liberal — only had 45 more votes than were necessary. And this year the populist wave will be even stronger.”
Weber predicted “the identity question” would dominate the electoral campaign, saying: “There is a European way of life, a European identity” that includes secular values, democracy, the rule of law and press freedom.
Weber will face his first big test next week, when the European Parliament will vote on a motion calling for the opening of a so-called Article 7 procedure against Hungary — a decisive moment in the EPP’s internal struggle over how to deal with Orbán’s Fidesz party over alleged rule of law breaches. A “yes” vote could trigger its exit from the EPP family.
The EPP Spitzenkandidat contender also called on Europe to “decide” on migration policy before the end of the year and create an “ambitious scheme for a humanitarian corridor” to “show people that we’re able to protect our borders.”
“We can’t have a positive future if our neighbors are in chaos,” Weber said, calling on the EU to develop an intelligent commercial policy for Africa.