Wednesday

19th Jun 2019

Analysis

Germany's CSU eyes centre-stage in Europe

  • The CSU's 'Political Ash Wednesday' rally in Passau saw Manfred Weber campaign for the commission presidency (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Germany's regional powerhouse, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is gearing up to take over the EU executive.

Only last year, the Bavarian party was entangled in a bruising fight with its sister party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), that threatened to bring down the government in Berlin.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Interior minister and then-CSU leader Horst Seehofer, in an effort to push back against the rising far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) chipping away at CSU voters, was pushing a much more strict migration policy, piling pressure on chancellor Angela Merkel on the issue.

Now the CSU is promising to be the "people's party for Europe", and is campaigning for its vice-chairman Manfred Weber to clinch the EU Commission presidency after European elections in May.

The about-turn, marked by the new CSU leader Markus Soder, after a poor show at the polls last October, was on display in full force on the traditional Ash Wednesday rally, a kind of "political Octoberfest" in Passau on Wednesday (6 March).

Besides being a Bavarian feast of beer and pretzels, a reinforcement of Bavarian identity and life-long CSU commitment, the Ash Wednesday rally also offered "a Bavarian for Europe" in Manfred Weber.

"We made mistakes last year, but we learned from them," Soder told the 10,000 party enthusiasts who had been downing beers since the morning.

And he had a message for AfD moderates: "Come back to us and leave the AfD to the Nazis alone!"

Weber, the leader of the largest political group in the European Parliament - a soft-speaking Bavarian who has served in the EU parliament since 2004, but still flies back to his home country every weekend from Brussels or Strasbourg - wore the traditional Bavarian leather jacket to address the crowd.

Weber, who campaigns on being a man of compromise and building bridges, argued that CSU as the 'people's party' knows how to fight populists.

"Politics needs to be shaped from the middle. Not from leftists, nor from the right-wing," he said.

Weber, however, is entangled in a deep rift with its own populists of the centre-right European People's Party.

The Fidesz problem

The EPP's parliamentary group leader has been criticised for having been slow to put pressure on Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban to change course. Orban's Fidesz-led government has run a series of anti-EU campaigns.

Weber set out his demands to Orban to allow Fidesz stay in EPP, as the party discusses its Hungarian member's future on 20 March - but it remains to be seen if those conditions will be pushed by the entire EPP.

Top Fidesz officials in Hungary said the party rejected Weber's demands for an apology, or stopping the anti-EU campaigns or allowing the Central European University to stay in Budapest - but at the same time said they are seeking a compromise to avoid being kicked out of EPP.

The CSU and Orban's Fidesz have had close ties. The Hungarian PM was a guest at a CSU party conference last year and he is admired for his tough stance on closing the borders of the EU to migrants.

Hungary and Bavaria have also close ties in manufacturing, as the German region's two automaker giants, Audi and BMW, have both invested heavily in Hungary.

Weber in his speech on Wednesday did not mention Orban. On populism he pointed to AfD and praised Bulgarian prime minister, fellow EPP member Boyko Borissov, for keeping migrants out with a fence at the Turkish border.

"We will defend our Europe against its enemies. This is the AfD in Germany. I don't want a country, I don't want a Europe where the AfD has a responsibility," Weber said.

Taxes

Weber received one of the biggest applause when he pledged to stop Turkey's accession talks with the EU, that have already been stalled for years.

"If I become president of the commission, I will instruct the services to end the EU accession talks with Turkey," Weber said. In the EU, member states have the final say on which countries are allowed enlargement talks.

Weber also tapped into another deep-seated fear of Bavarian voters, trade wars with the US which has threatened to raise tariffs on German cars that Washington suggested are a national security threat and unfair competition from China.

"We, as Europeans, do not allow ourselves to be blackmailed," Weber told the cheering crowd in the manufacturing heartland of Bavaria.

"I want not only the Europeans to pay fair taxes, but also the Apples and Facebooks of this world," Weber said.

The rally ended with the Bavarian, German and European anthems, hammering home the point that these identities belong together and are not exclusive in the CSU - which has won every election in Bavaria since 1945.

"This party did so much for Bavaria, for its success," the local CSU chairman in the town of Hauzenberg, 24-year-old Simon Bloch, told EUobserver on the sidelines of the Political Ash Wednesday. Bloch said Weber is the "best guy to lead Europe".

"He would bring a new European spirit, one of unity, and this is what Europe needs now. He would bring a better understanding of regional interests," he added.

Underestimated?

One of Weber's biggest assets is that he is constantly underestimated, EPP officials argue.

When he announced his candidacy to lead the EPP's campaign and run for the EU commission top job, many pointed to Weber's lack of executive experience compared to previous commission presidents, who had served as prime ministers of their countries.

But once the campaign kicked off, EPP leaders, including Merkel and Orban, lined up to lend their support to Weber.

The EPP is expected to come first in the European elections, and if Weber manages to build a coalition in the EU parliament, it would be politically difficult to push him aside - especially with no consensus alternative candidate visible.

The European parliament will however push to the end to have its candidate, once again, at the helm of the commission.

Weber's commission presidency would not only mean that a regional political party with a national and European ambition gets centre stage in Europe.

It would also mean a tighter relationship between the EU executive and the European parliament, with plans to give the assembly an indirect role to initiate legislation, now reserved exclusively for the commission.

Orban rejects Weber's plea to stop anti-EU posters

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has pledged to put up new anti-migrant posters - despite hopes in his centre-right EU family that he might "apologise and put an end" to the campaign.

EU's centre-right make Weber their man to replace Juncker

The centre-right EPP party's congress wanted to show unity - but divisions remain after the political alliance lined up behind Germany's Manfred Weber as their 'Spitzenkandidat' ahead of next year's European election.

EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit

Political bosses of the European Parliament's groups, hoping to assemble a majority coalition, are eyeing putting forward an political agenda - and possibly a name for the commission top job - before EU leaders gather in Brussels.

News in Brief

  1. China 'most trade-restrictive partner' for the EU
  2. EU court rules against German highway toll for non-residents
  3. French most sceptical on safety of vaccines
  4. Facebook 'currency' met with scepticism in Europe
  5. New socialist group leader to push for Timmermans
  6. Romanian ex-PM frontrunner to head new liberal group
  7. France, Germany and Spain in fighter jet deal
  8. Tusk grilled in Poland over role as PM

Spanish socialist leader strengthened by EU vote

The Spanish social democrats becomes the biggest national group among the European socialists, after winning the Spanish European election - which also sees a Catalan separatist in jail elected as MEP.

EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit

Political bosses of the European Parliament's groups, hoping to assemble a majority coalition, are eyeing putting forward an political agenda - and possibly a name for the commission top job - before EU leaders gather in Brussels.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. What's going on in Moldova - and what next?
  2. EU officials prepare for US extravaganza on Palestine
  3. EU urges Swiss to move on talks or face sanction
  4. Frontex transparency dispute goes to EU court
  5. Commission goes easy on scant national climate plans
  6. Macron and Mogherini decline to back US accusation on Iran
  7. EU summit must give effective answer on migration
  8. Spain's Garcia set to be next Socialist leader in parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  3. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  4. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us