May 16, 2019
Will the social democrats try to block Weber with an anti-EPP alliance?
The most and arguably the only interesting moment in last night's spitzenkandidat debate, the last before the European elections, came when Frans Timmermans argued in favour of a left-wing coalition in the next European Parliament, sidelining the EPP. Seizing on the fight against climate change as the issue to underpin the new strategy, the social-democratic spitzenkandidat said that an alliance could be formed on the issue stretching from Alexis Tsipras all the way to Emmanuel Macron. The remark came amidst a polite but relentless barrage of attacks against past EPP positions and Manfred Weber personally, with Timmermans playing off his forceful rhetoric against the more soft-spoken Bavarian.
Does such an alliance against the EPP have any chance of becoming a serious option in the next EP? We doubt it. The only argument for it is that a social-democratic led coalition of MEPs might weigh more in terms of votes than the EPP and its right of centre allies outside it. But the new centrist-liberal group in the next EP will number many MEPs from parties like Ciudadanos and the FDP who see themselves as natural allies of the centre-right rather than the centre-left. Moreover, Weber has been going out of his way to signal his readiness to work with left-of-centre political forces, in particular with the greens.
What we were seeing last night is an attempt by Timmermans to weaken Weber’s spitzenkandidat claim should the EPP, as all polls predict, emerge again as the largest group. The interesting question after the elections will be whether the social democrats and other groups in the EP will conform to Weber’s warning that, were EU national leaders to ignore the spitzenkandidat process in their appointment of a Commission president, the result would be a constitutional crisis between the Council and Parliament. What Timmermans said last night would suggest otherwise – but then again Timmermans, a former foreign minister and current Commission vice-president, has never been an MEP.