The European People’s Party (EPP) lead candidate to head the European Commission, Manfred Weber, kicked off a new phase of his campaign at Athens’ Zappeion exhibition hall with new slogans and a pledge that he will block the construction of Russia’s controversial Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, should he succeed Jean-Claude Juncker for Europe’s top job.
Weber, whose hawkish tone towards Moscow puts him at odds with most of the German political establishment, the majority of whom have been overly accommodating towards the Kremlin, said Nord Stream-2 is not in the interests of the EU. “I’m not the German candidate for the head of the European Commission, but a candidate for the European People’s Party,” said Weber, who added that that the pipeline’s construction poses serious security risks to the bloc’s energy independence.
“I am against the Nord Stream-2 project,” said Weber, who added, “It will increase the dependence of the EU on Russian gas and not decrease it. And we need more independence not dependence on Russian gas.”
Earlier this year, the EU executive also came out against the Russian pipeline project as the Commission hoped to amend the bloc’s gas directive that was signed in November 2017. The proposed amendments were aimed at Nord Stream-2 and warned the project’s main shareholder, Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, that it had to respect the EU’s competition rules or it would be blocked.
“Nord Stream 2 is seeking non-discriminatory treatment by being treated equally to other comparable import offshore pipelines in which investments have already been made before the adoption of the amended Gas Directive,” Nord Stream-2 EU representative Sebastian Sass told New Europe.
The controversial €11 billion new energy link between Russia and Germany is to run under the Baltic Sea and set to double Russian gas shipments to the EU. The United States, UK, and many countries in Eastern Europe, as well as Ukraine, are opposed to the pipeline.
As part of his campaign launch, Weber said his candidacy “gives us a clear idea that strength means unity…that we open a new chapter for the European dream, a new chapter with optimism” that is based on hope, unity, and in favour of “a strong Europe”.
Topping his 12-point plan for a Commission under his watch, Weber promised to increase the EU’s border guard service with 10,000 more personnel and enhanced technology by 2022. He also plans to combat terrorism by doubling the number of officers working for Europol, the EU’s answer to the FBI.
”We will enable our national police forces to catch terrorists before they can carry out a first strike against our citizens,” promises Weber.
In what will be seen as a decisive move in the growing rift between the West and the autocratic rule of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Weber promised to permanently stop accession talks with Turkey but said Brussels and Ankara “should focus on partnership and cooperation” with regards to economic ties and a comprehensive migration agreement.
“EU membership is not an option for Turkey, and negotiations must be stopped,” he said citing Erdogan’s embrace of authoritarianism and Islamism, both of which are counter to core European values.
He also promised to create, though Weber did not go into specifics, a rule of law mechanism that is “shielded from political pressure” and is empowered to “ensure the independence of judiciary, freedom of press, and the fight against corruption are upheld the EU,” adds Weber on the struggle to protect the bloc’s rule of law.
In an effort to improve the EU’s infamous quagmire of regulatory bureaucracy, Weber cut over 1,000 “outdated” regulations, which he claimed would “Make the system more efficient”.