The European People’s Party (EPP) will decide on the morning of November who will lead the party in next year’s European elections as well as who will be chosen as the lead candidate, or Spitzenkandidat, for the European Commission.
The EPP’s chair Manfred Weber, who is believed to be the likely frontrunner to lead the party, reiterated his belief that the EPP needed to help restore a sense of European identity that is divorced from the growing nationalist rhetoric that has gained traction across the EU in recent years.
Weber also said Brussels needed to do more to increase EU citizens’ sense of security by strongly defending the bloc’s borders and to promote a common cause that would harness Europe’s research and scientific powers to be the first to find a cure for cancer.
In his most direct and strongly worded statement, Weber clearly declared that “Turkey cannot become a member of the EU”, which was followed by statements that chastised his rivals on the liberal and social side of Europe’s political spectrum.
“We don’t need the liberals or socialists to tell us what the future of Europe will be,” said Weber, who added that the European parliament groups of the Socialists & Democrats, as well as the liberals, have rejected a series of reforms Weber said are crucial for the future identity of the EU.
Weber received the widest round of applause when alluding to his religious background and emphasizing that Christianity is at the centre of European identity, adding, “we are proud and we want to protect these values”.
Weber’s challenger, Finland’s former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, urged the party congress to make their decision based on the core values, of the EPP while also taking into consideration each candidates’ experience and personality when considering who will lead the party and help set the tone for Europe’s immediate future, which Stubb wants to see as a more unified, safer, and modern Europe.
“I do not believe in the division of Europe between the North and the South or the East and the West. Europeans must feel secure. And we must be prepared for digitalisation to bring about changes in everyone’s working life,” said Stubb.
The EPP, according to Stubb, needs to defend liberal democracy and the rule of law, a statement that received a round of applause from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Afternoon vote count
The EPP’s Spitzenkandidat is expected to be revealed later on Thursday afternoon. An EU Commission source told New Europe that the chance of a Weber victory currently sits at about 70%, an assertion that was backed by EPP European Parliamentarians that attended the congress.