Published 19:32 May 16, 2019
Updated 07:13 May 17, 2019
EU top job candidates clash in debate ahead of vote
The lead candidates, or so-called Spitzenkandidaten, chosen from the European political families to compete in the upcoming European elections took to the stage on Wednesday evening to debate policy issues and to make their case to become the next Commission president.
Nico Cué for the European Left, Ska Keller for the European Greens, Jan Zahradil of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), and Margrethe Vestager for the liberals and ALDE were joined by Germany’s Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party (EPP) and Frans Timmermans from the European Socialists (PES) as they engaged in a verbal debate about the future of Europe.
A week shy of the bloc’s elections, the six of the candidates for the EU’s top position faced-off with the EPP’s Weber struggling to match Timmermans’ verbal powerhouse performance. Weber found it difficult to get the Socialist and the Liberal candidates, and his more important rivals, to fall in line with his talking points. The bloc’s top position candidates debated on a wide scope of EU politics agenda items, including migration, climate change, taxation, social policy, and the EU’s position in the US-China trade war.
Timmermans proposed an 18% minimum standard of pan-European corporate tax and said that empty warehouses are not the future for the EU’s economy, a sentiment echoed by Vestager who said, “We need to put a floor under corporate taxation as such, because otherwise, it will just be a race to the bottom”.
Weber tried to push back against Timmermans, saying the latter will push for a minimum wage and added that when he visited the Portuguese city Porto during his campaign, the city’s younger voters asked him about “jobs that pay well” and not about a minimum wage.
“The young generation wants good jobs, with good wages, to establish their families. For that we need good economic policies,” he said.
Timmermans, who didn’t miss an opportunity to call for a left-wing coalition, recalled the results of the policies promoted by Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, which were in direct contrast to those pushed forward by the EPP. He also attacked Weber for insisting on austerity measures to tackle the financial crisis, and reminded him that he had an even harder position than Juncker on the issue.
With 116 seats predicted to go to far-right populists and pro-Brexit parties, the candidates discussed whether they should cooperate with the incoming parties. Zahradil of the ECR advocated for a Europe that does a better, slimmer version of the bloc that would put more emphasis on loose cooperation between its members rather than Weber’s plan for an “ever-closer” union that Zahradil said was “outdated”.
With jobs in the automobile or coal industry in danger, Keller suggested that she would stop all subsidies that contribute to climate change, a notion that Zahradil backed.
Keller, in fact, went a step further and supported setting the Paris Agreement goals as part of any policy aspect, including trade. According to Keller, the EU needs “to take into account the emissions caused by the trade agreement and therefore make sure that the Paris agreement into the trade agreements.”
“One does not attack the big polluters, these multinationals, who are responsible for almost 70% of the world’s pollution, do absolutely nothing! On the other hand, I am totally opposed to moving the problem towards the taxation of the weakest citizens, as Emmanuel Macron does in France, it is totally unacceptable,” said Cué, the Belgian candidate of the radical left, who commented on Macron’s measures that have sparked the Yellow Vest demonstrations late last year in France.
The EPP supports the bloc’s 2050 decarbonisation plan, according to Weber, as the Commissioner for Environment, Miguel Arias Cañete is an EPP member. His position about Cañete’s contribution was challenged by Vestager who said that “Cañete did not do great things because he is EPP, but because he is part of the Commission. [Transport Commissioner] Violeta Bulc did not decarbonise transportation because she is ALDE,” Vestager replied Weber.
By the end of the debate, it was clear hat Timmermans had clearly outperformed all but Weber. It is possible, however, that none of the six candidates at the debate will be one of the real finalists after the 23-26 May vote, and ahead of the 28 May extraordinary meeting of leaders, who will have the final say over who the EU institution chairs pick.
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