Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, and European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Alexander Stubb squared-off in a highly anticipated debate on November 7 in Helsinki during the EPP’s congress to showcase their individual visions for what a future European Commission would look like if either were to be elected to the EU’s top job in May 2019.
Stubb and Weber are vying for the votes of the EPP’s 734 delegates in order to become the party’s lead candidate, or Spitzenkandidat, a position that most would put them in a favourable position to succeed current Commission head, Jean-Claude Juncker.
In what proved to be more of a discussion and less of a fiery debate, both candidates appeared to have similar takes on many key policy areas.
The German-born Weber opened with strong words for Russia and China, saying Moscow “wants a weak Europe” divided by internal schisms caused by populism and extremism. As a countermeasure, Weber believes it is necessary to “preserve the European way of life” and the gains that both Europe and the EPP have made.
“Our common values have been attacked – in Poland and Italy, for example – concerning human rights and the rule-of-law…democracy is a package, without which we are lost”, Stubb said.
Weber and Stubb are both staunchly pro-EU politicians and believe that European cooperation can solve many problems, including migration. Weber suggested that a new massive aid and development plan for Africa, modelled o the US’ Marshall Plan for post-World War II Western Europe, would help control migration, a position that Stubb supported while adding that he wants to see asylum centres that are “outside the borders of the European Union” created in cooperation with the UN.
Stubb also listed the fight against climate change as a priority for Europe. “If global warming cannot be prevented, the immigration crisis in 2015 will be seen as child’s play compared to future waves of migration,” he said Stubb, whoappeared to get the better of Weber during the low energy debate.