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June 25, 2019

What’s behind the dispute about Weber

We also don’t think of Manfred Weber as a suitable candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, but we think it is strange to cite lack of experience as a reason. Emmanuel Macron had only briefly held ministerial office before his electoral triumph. Donald Trump went from zero to president in one go. Weber is, after all, an experienced legislator. 

The dispute over Weber is really a dispute over the spitzenkandidaten system directly, and German domination of the EU and its institutions indirectly. The idea conforms with the German system, where the spitzenkandidat is always the presumptive next chancellor. We recall the CDU’s outrage in 1969 when its spitzenkandidat at the time, chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, was stitched up by a coalition between the SPD and the FDP. Despite the fact that Germany has a largely proportional voting system, there is a first-past-the-post mentality in German political circles. And it managed to export it to the rest of the EU. Intellectually lazy German commentators and politicians tend to conflate support for the spitzenkandidaten system with support for democracy itself.

We noted some hostile comments from two French commentators, which might set the tone for the debate. Zaki Laidi (@ZakiLaidi) writes the spitzenkandidaten system has nothing to do with democracy, but with the CDU's wish to dominate Europe. It was the invention of two German parties, the CDU and the SPD, to guarantee that they control the European Parliament. 

The French journalist Jean Quatremer (@quatremer) addresses a German MEP's claims that Emmanuel Macron acts in an anti-German spirit by opposing Weber. He said such accusations are testimony both to the madness inside the CDU and to the acute danger emanating from Germany to the entire European project.

FAZ’s Paris correspondent, Michaela Wiegel, makes the point that the German expression spitzenkandidat is essentially untranslatable into French (and into English, for that matter) - and thus never gained traction in France. German media reported yesterday that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was now ready to concede transnational lists in exchange for French support of Weber, but we don’t think that Macron will jump at this offer. Weber was never a candidate on any French electoral list. And with a share of only 8.5% of the votes Les Républicains, the French member of the EPP, can hardly claim the Commission presidency for itself.

So this is not just a dispute about an individual candidate, but about the system through which candidates emerge. This is why we see no quick solution, certainly not at this Sunday’s summit. The chances are that the European Parliament will press ahead with the nomination of its own president, or presidents, when it meets for the first time next week.

This also means that the nomination for the succession of Mario Draghi is unlikely to happen any time soon, either. 

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