Why the EPP Congress helped the party to win the next European elections

, by Riccardo Moschetti

Why the EPP Congress helped the party to win the next European elections
Manfred Weber will be the lead candidate of the EPP in next year’s European elections. Photo: European People’s Party // Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With 79% of the votes (492 out of 619 valid votes cast), on Thursday Manfred Weber became the lead candidate of the European People’s Party for the next European elections in May 2019. And, even if the campaign for the EP elections has just officially started, Weber is in fact the most likely man in Europe to win the Commission presidency as there’s no reason to doubt that the EPP will be, again, the largest group inside the European Parliament.

It is not because the so-called EPP family, at the moment, includes 80 parties from 42 different countries and 8 EU and 3 non-EU heads of government. It’s because the party itself came out stronger than it was at the beginning of its Spitzenkandidat election. Sometimes party congresses are tough, representing a moment where a perfect storm could come out of nowhere. But in Helsinki, exactly the opposite happened.

  • The party played on a win-win strategy: Alexander Stubb had no chance to win this challenge, but the EPP managed to organise a contested election in order to facilitate debate inside the party. Unity was never put into question, but instead the debate rather had a positive effect because in this way the EPP succeeded on two points: firstly, obviously, electing with a very large majority their lead candidate with no internal problems, and secondly, investing in the future of the party’s political cohesion. Stubb demonstrated coherence and perseverance, he never thought, or at least never showed, there was no real challenge to Weber’s candidacy in the end. Given this, Stubb’s 127 votes are a decent starting point for his future ambitions.
  • The biggest trouble for the EPP is the presence of Viktor Orbán inside a party who perceive the battle for a more united Europe as their key point. Orban would be a perfect enemy for the party, if he was not a member, and a head of State. It is important to underline that the membership of Orban’s party is not a particular problem for the EPP, but could be a weak point where another party, particularly ALDEt, could attack them. Anyway, the Christian democrats did a great job, or at least this is what it seems. They split the attention in two different factors: the first, the congress itself due to the fact that it was the first of this campaign season, the second, as mentioned above, Stubb’s candidacy. The policy was clear: do not touch the Orbán problem, even if Donald Tusk, not exactly a normal member of the party, dedicated all of his speech indirectly to the Hungarian PM (the now-famous “you’re not a Christian democrat.” speech).

In conclusion, the biggest force of the EPP party is the weakness of everybody else. The party did a great job keeping everyone happy in its congress, and now the EPP have at least 5 months of time for the campaign. Not even Merkel’s speech, given not long after a disappointing outcome in the latest state elections in Germany, scratched the EPP’s strength. The brave decision to “use” Orbán’s popularity to gain votes at European level, the mysterious decision of the PES to unite behind one candidate before the congress itself, and this autumn’s uncertainties within ALDE concerning the membership of En Marche and Verhofstadt’s leadership bring us to an ever stronger conclusion: no matter what, the EPP is so far the likely winner of this European election campaign – considering that they are the only ones who are running one.

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