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article imageEurope's rightwingers choose suitor for EU top job

By CĂ©line LE PRIOUX (AFP)     Nov 7, 2018 in Politics

Europe's rightwing parties will choose their candidate Thursday for next year's European elections, on the second day of a major political gathering in Helsinki.

The European People's Party (EPP, the largest in the European Parliament) will choose between Germany's Manfred Weber and Finland's Alexander Stubb to lead them into European elections next May.

The winner of the secret ballot among 758 EPP delegates gathered in the Finnish capital, will be in the running to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission, the EU bloc's executive arm.

Juncker's role is a key prize in the horse-trading of top jobs that will follow EU elections on May 26 next year.

Also in the mix are plum spots to lead the European Council -- which represents national governments -- the European Parliament, the European Central Bank, and the bloc's new foreign policy chief.

Little known in Germany, Weber has an intricate knowledge of EU institutions but little experience in government in his homeland, while Stubb has held high government positions in Finland.

On Wednesday, in the pair's only debate of the campaign, they sought to avoid confrontation and stayed clear of the most painful subject of all: the presence of Hungary's Viktor Orban in the EPP ranks.

Orban and his Fidesz party are accused of trampling over European values, particularly through strict anti-migration policies and repeated clashes with Brussels over human rights issues.

Weber and Stubb insisted on their friendship and likemindedness before exiting the stage after half-an-hour to the sounds of Sister Sledge's "We are family".

Their styles are, however, radically different: Weber, 46, appears more discreet, preferring to build his networks in the shadows, while Stubb, 50, is a marathon-running polyglot who seems to bask in the media spotlight.

- Key nods -

Weber, who leads the EPP group in the European Parliament, has received the key nods of Merkel and the head of France's centre-right Republicans party, Laurent Wauquiez.

Weber is also counting on Austria's right-wing Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Orban to rally to his cause.

Even if Weber does win the nomination, his place as president of the European Commission is not fully assured. In the face of populists on the right and left, some polls predict the EPP could lose its status as the European Parliament's largest party.

A number of EU leaders, including Merkel and France's President Emmanuel Macron, have also expressed a desire to change the nomination process whereby the lead candidate of parliament's largest party is automatically appointed Commission president.

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