Weber: EU parliament needs coalition to keep out radicals
Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right EPP group, made a last effort on Tuesday (10 January) to rally socialists and liberals behind his group's candidate for president of the European Parliament.
He insisted that the two other blocs in parliament should honour a 2014 deal to allow an EPP member to take up the position when they vote next Tuesday.
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"Let me make it clear: anyone who wants to break that pact between pro-European forces will be responsible for allowing eurosceptics and radicals to influence the decisions in this house," Weber said.
"We don't want that to happen and we will fight with every breath in our body to prevent it from happening. But unfortunately that will be one of the consequences of breaking with the pact."
Following European Parliament elections in 2014, a deal on the presidential post was carved up between the parliament's two largest groups, the EPP and the socialists. They agreed to fill it for half a term each.
The liberals, the fourth largest group, also backed the arrangement in exchange for other positions.
But neither Gianni Pittella nor Guy Verhofstadt, who lead the socialist and liberal groups respectively, are currently standing by the deal.
Both believe they are better candidates to lead the parliament for the rest of the term.
Weber condemned his colleagues and said they relied on anti-European forces to strengthen their hand.
"Pittella negotiates with the communists and Verhofstadt tried to form an alliance with Beppe Grillo," Weber said, referring to the leader of Italy's populist, anti-euro Five Star Movement (M5S).
On Monday, liberal MEPs rebelled against their own boss after he tried to bring 17 M5S members into the group.
Not all socialists are convinced, either, that it's worth ruining their relations with EPP colleagues just so Pittella can become president.
At the last Strasbourg session, in December, Pittella urged his MEPs to vote for amendments tabled by the green and left-wing GUE/NGL groups in an effort to sway their support, but many ignored the call.
Weber said the grand coalition of EPP and social democrats had successfully steered through many important dossiers, which was now endangered by the behaviour of his allies.
In a bid to show just how unreliable Pittella and Verhofstadt were, the centre-right leader circulated a copy of the 2014 pact, which was signed by Weber and Martin Schulz, the former socialist leader and outgoing president of the European Parliament. The liberal leader later signed an annex to the deal, which was also disclosed.
"If the signature of people like Guy Verhofstadt isn't worth the paper it's signed on, what does it say about the future," Weber said.
He said the EPP wouldn't be willing to sign another cooperation pact after the 2019 elections if the socialists and liberals didn't stick to the deal.
Meanwhile, German socialist MEP Jens Geier struck back at Weber's criticism, saying that the parliament didn't need a grand coalition.
“The policy-making process and European integration has worked effectively without the input of racist or xenophobic forces. Support for the adoption of legislation can and does come from various pro-European and democratic groups with whom we cooperate in line with our values," Geier said in a statement.
He also said that EPP candidate Antonio Tajani, contrary to Pittella, hadn't so far publicly ruled out the idea of accepting support from from racist or xenophobic forces.
Tajani wasn't present at Weber's press conference. But Weber said the vote was a secret ballot, and he couldn't be held responsible for the way MEPs from different parties voted.
“Manfred Weber's comments rather seem to show that he and his group are getting nervous about the ongoing election campaign for the future president. Therefore, we would recommend to Mr. Weber: breathe and stay calm," Geier said.