With the race officially on for the top party’s top man, the numbers game is in full swing.
Kassandra’s abacus points to a race against the odds for the people’s favourite, Alex Stubb. Ladbrokes, the betting company, give the Finn a worse payout (2/1) and in turn better chances of setting up shop on Berlaymont’s 13th floor next year than to Manfred Weber (3/1). Despite the bookmaker’s calculations, the EPP Congress arithmetics look different to Kassandra. We find that Weber may have already won indeed, and his rival may indeed end up a voweless Alx Stbb.
To win the primary, the candidate must have the absolute majority of valid votes cast in the Helsinki Congress.
Being German helps
To begin with, CDU and CSU make up 12% of the vote. That’s 88 out of the 734 voting delegates. Adding member associations and the family’s groups in various parliamentary assemblies led by Germans brings in another 30 votes, to a total of 118, or 16%.
Then come the parties that have already pledged their support for the Bavarian: ND of Greece and CDA of the Netherlands (the two parties that co-signed his candidature), the Irish, the Cypriots, the Austrians, Romania’s PNL, Croatia’s HDZ, Slovenia’s SDS, and Thursday 19 October morning, Hungary’s Fidesz.
Orban’s cabinet chief Antal Rogan was quoted by Hungary’s national news agency MTI, pledging his party’s support for Weber. That brings Weber to 257 votes, or 35%. The Hungarian PM comes in a package deal: apart from his own Fidesz, there are the satellites: Hungary’s KDNP, Romania’s RMDSZ and Slovakia’s SMK-MKP, at a sum of 16 votes or another 2%, bringing the total tally to 37%.
Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov seems to be temporarily holding a grudge against his European colleagues for their initial reactions to the murder of journalist Viktoria Marinova: he said that he still has to make up his mind about the vote, and that he will only declare his support at the Helsinki Congress, despite reports that he had earlier sent a letter of support to the EPP leadership in Weber’s favour. He will eventually come around. And that brings the count to 40%.
Add to this other parties from the conservative wing of the EPP that identify with CSU’s culturally-Christian vision of Europe, not already mentioned above. The smaller members of that category are the Czech, Slovak and Slovenian Christian-Democrats (10, 7 and 5 votes, respectively), the Slovenian People’s Party (5 votes), Portugal’s CDS-PP (5 votes) and the Polish People’s Party (11 votes). With their support, Weber’s candidature will be propelled to 45%, or 333 votes.
Then come two big players that proudly claim affiliation to the anti-immigration camp Stubb can’t and won’t represent: Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (needless to remind you what Silvio thinks of the Finnish cuisine) and Wauquiez’s Les Républicains, holding 31 and 45 votes each. Cumulatively, that’s another 10%, that would elevate Weber to 56% or 409 votes.
Then come three Bulgarian parties that are not represented in the country’s parliament: UDF, DSB and BCM, together having 13 votes, and three Italian parties in a fluid state: UDC, AP and Popolari per l’Italia, holding another 14 voting cards; it is difficult to think why they would not vote for the leading ticket or why they would go for the Finn (even if absent, they will just lower the threshold, which also works for Weber). With Romania’s PMP in a similar situation, Weber could easily reach 60%.
To make it comfortable, Manfred will only have to appeal to the newly re-found conservativism of Spain’s Partido Popular under Pablo Casado (the fourth biggest delegation, or another 6%).
From the big delegations yet to pronounce themselves, Poland’s Civic Platform, the second strongest, with 7% of the votes in hand, could go either way. Same for the more liberal Social Democratic Party of Portugal (another 2%). Weber could try to get both on his good side: leverage the benefits of the German connection (and, by extension, the support of the Chancellor) to both. The Flemish Christian-Democrats could also be an option (1% of the votes).
Weber might drop a couple of votes here and there (think of Les Républicains, a heterogeneous delegation) but could as well win a few more along the way.
On Wednesday, the morning before the EPP closed the candidacies and announced the two finalists, the Finn gathered about 100 people to launch his campaign. There is no doubt Stubb stands as the people’s favourite, with many very significant personalities in attendance (yet notably and perhaps even strangely, no one Kassandra noticed from the EPP Party upper echelon).
The numbers leave Stubb with little room for manoeuvre. His intellectual force, experience, and charm may not be enough. While he may be the better candidate on paper, it is unlikely we’ll see him come head to head with Weber in a debate that would show each candidate’s strength. The German is more than reluctant, though the EPP Party does claim that by election day we’ll be tired of having all these debates.
The Brussels irony
The prevalent opinion of several people close to the EPP that Kassandra polled is that Weber will most likely end up being the Spitzen candidate of the EPP, but not the European Commission President.
Stubb is believed to have more chances of getting the top job, if he wins the primary. If EPP leaders begin to feel that is a reality, the tide may start to turn in Stubb’s favour.