Road to the European Elections: interview with Manfred Weber, EPP spitzenkandidat

Interview by Sara Bianchi and Francesco Chiappini 
Translation: Giada Deregibus

Within a few weeks, European citizens will vote to elect the next European Parliament. By voting for the various political groups, they will also have an additional power: they will determine who will be the next president of the European Commission. This is possible thanks to the Spitzenkandidaten mechanism, introduced by the 2014 European elections in order to increase democracy in the European Union.

We have already interviewed several European candidates for our “Road to the European Elections” project. Now it is time for one of the most important Spitzenkandidaten and one of the main European leaders of these elections: Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party.

Mr. Weber is a German politician, member of the CSU and leader of the EPP. In September 2018 he declared his intention to run for the Commission’s presidency and he was elected Spitzenkandidat in November 2018.

Which political strategy is EPP going to use to succeed in these elections? In which way is EPP going to mobilize new voters in the political debate?

At the European elections in May people will decide about the future of this continent. It means we are going back to the people. Too often people feel their voice is not heard. I want to change that. This is why I started a listening tour across Europe to hear from people, about their hopes, concerns and aspirations. Europe is a political project, it is a human project, it should be driven by the people, not the bureaucrats. That is why the democratisation of Europe is so crucial. I want to show Europeans that they can make a difference at the European elections.

If you are nominated President of the Commission, do you plan to continue on the path taken by your predecessor to tackle the problems of the Union? What changes would you like to see in this respect?

In the past years, we have been in crisis management mode from the financial crisis to the migration one. We have managed these crises and overcome many challenges. We have created thirteen million new jobs and we have also reached a growth rate of about 2% in the past decade. We have cut illegal arrivals by 85% since the peak of the crisis in 2015. Now we need to open a new chapter for Europe. Where we have a positive outlook and an ambitious program to make Europe stronger with concrete ideas. For example, if I become Commission President I will launch a master plan to fight cancer. 40% of Europeans is confronted with cancer in their lives. And I believe Europe should and can do more. We have to show people that Europe can really make the world a better place.

What do you think about the problem of migrants that the Union is facing? Which do you think would be the best way to handle the problem?

The migration question is the number one priority in Europe today. Illegal migration has to be stopped. We must secure our common EU borders and know who is entering our continent. At the same time, it is our duty to help people who are really in need. We are in favour of a Marshall Plan for Africa. If we don’t create successful development in Africa we should not be surprised people leave their homes their to find a better future. In my view each member state must do its part. Italy, Greece, and Spain cannot be left alone in this. That’s why it is extremely disappointing that the Dublin reform is still blocked in the Council. In my view no country can say that they don’t care.

One of the main debates that is stirring up the entire Union is the “internal fight” in the EPP regarding the Fidesz party and its leader Orbán. In the aftermath of the EPP Summit of the 20th March, how do you think the situation will develop?

On the 20th March, the EPP members voted to suspend the membership of Fidesz without further notice. This was a necessary decision as our values are not negotiable. They have now lost their voting rights and Viktor Orbán is no longer invited to the EPP meetings. Now an evaluation committee has been set up and will decide on the position of Fidesz in the EPP, based on concrete progress on our concerns.

Talking about European economy and finance. Which reforms are you going to propose in sectors such as Eurozone governance and budgetary rules? On which kind of strategy and priorities should the next Multiannual Financial Framework be based?

Europe is a continent of opportunities for our talents and businesses. All Europeans deserve a chance to find a job and to build a future for their families at home. We can create jobs and bring a new momentum to Europe’s economy by investing in the great European potential through a strategy based on four pillars: trade, infrastructure, innovation and our social market economy.

What does the EPP think about the divergence of views among Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer and Mr. Macron regarding the future of the Union? Which side is the EPP taking? 

First of all it is important that political leaders in Europe start taking the debate about the future of Europe seriously. People have to see what our positions are. After that I believe it is important, we should be ready for compromise. That is what distinguishes us from the nationalists and egoists, that we are ready to find solutions for the people Europe.

Which is the future of the Union in your view? Do you believe that the future of the Union is within a Multispeed-Europe or within a EU+27?

To me, there is no Europe of the North, South, East and West. There are no good or bad Europeans, there are only Europeans. In some parts of Europe, people feel as though they are second-class citizens. Living conditions, social standards and job opportunities still vary greatly across EU member states. My Europe is a place where we never give up on creating good living conditions for everyone. My aim is to be a bridge-builder for Europe and keep it united. This is the only way forward.

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