Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Finland's Stubb runs for Juncker job with jab at populists

  • Stubb said the 'hugging populism to death' tactic has worked in Finland (Photo: European Parliament)

Finland's former prime minister Alexander Stubb threw his hat into the race to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as EU Commission president on Tuesday (2 October), announcing he would run to be the 'Spitzenkandidat' for centre-right European People's Party (EPP) ahead of the European elections next May, and promising to take on populists and defend liberal values.

Stubb is the second candidate to announce his bid for the EPP's so-called 'lead candidate' (or Spitzenkandidat) to head the European Parliament's largest party into a campaign that is expected to pit eurosceptics against pro-European forces, and possibly with it take the European Commission's top job.

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

"The decision [to run] at the end of the day was very simple, and based on one word, and it was values. European values are currently under attack from the inside and outside, and from our party proper," he said, referring to the internal conflict within the EPP with Hungary's ruling Fidesz party.

"If we don't stick to our basic values, in other words, human rights, fundamental rights, human dignity, freedom, liberal democracy, rule of law, if we don't stick to these fundamental principles, including equality, we are left with nothing," Stubb said in Strasbourg announcing his candidacy.

"I intend to take on populism head on, but in a pragmatic way," he added, saying that Europe was based on "liberal democracy, a social market economy, and fair globalisation".

Stubb recalled that in 2015 when he was Finland's prime minister, the far-right True Finns were brought into the coalition government. Later that party splintered, and moderated its positions.

Stubb said this model of "hugging populism to death" might not work in all member states - but that politicians should listen to what people say.

"There are legitimate fears on migration, the digital revolution, related to the future of work, and fears need to be addressed before it is too late," he said.

He named the US, China, and Russia as external threats for the EU - and Poland, Italy, and Hungary as internal threats.

EPP battle

The Finnish politician will now run against Germany's Manfred Weber from the conservative Bavarian CSU, who leads the EPP group in the European Parliament, and who has the tacit blessing of Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel.

Stubb positioned himself as centre-left, within the party, compared to Weber's centre-right.

The party will choose the lead candidate in Helsinki on 8 November.

The European parliament is pushing member states' governments to appoint the lead candidate of the winning coalition at the European elections as the president of the European Commission.

The EPP has increasingly shifted to the right in response to populist anti-migrant parties, and the May 2019 election is expected to be a watershed moment for the centre-right party in how it will respond to the populist challenge.

Stubb said that asylum centres outside the EU would need to be established, paid for by the EU, and he supported the commission's proposal for some 10,000 more staff for the EU's border agency.

He also said that the EU needed a humanitarian asylum-based quota for each EU member state. Some central and eastern European countries have refused to take any migrants based on such EU quotas - and it is unclear how they would agree to Stubb's proposal.

The EPP has itself been struggling with its unruly member, Hungary's Fidesz, which has taken a hard-right direction in recent years.

Stubb said he has met with Fidesz MEPs on Tuesday, and said there should be a procedure with Fidesz to reach an agreement on values.

"The values issue is a very clear one, you are with us or are elsewhere. If we lose our values, we lose our identity as a party," he said, only a few weeks after the majority of EPP deputies voted in favour of a sanctions procedure against Hungary over concerns on the rule of law and rolling back democratic freedoms.

"I have zero tolerance for intolerance," Stubb remarked.

The 50-year old Stubb is a former prime minister, foreign minister, and finance minister of Finland - a eurozone country. He is currently the vice-president of the European Investment Bank (EIB). Stubb said he will take a five-week unpaid leave from the bank to run his campaign.

Stubb is graduate of the College of Europe, a breeding ground for eurocrats, speaks five languages, and is an avid sportsman, participating in triathlons.

During the Greek crisis, he was one of the hawkish finance ministers, who backed tough austerity measures in exchange for the bailouts to Athens and other crisis-hit capitals. He might face difficulties in getting votes from the southern EU member states.

Stubb said he will spend the next few weeks traveling across Europe, campaigning to gather support.

EUobserved

Weber in balancing act en route to Berlaymont

The German centre-right MEP initially refused to take press questions. Meanwhile, he will have to find a way to distinguish himself from current commission president Juncker.

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Feature

'Macron vs Orban' is no quick fix for EU democracy

A Macron versus Orbans styled election battle might lift turnout in next year's European Parliament elections, but under laying democratic problems would remain, warn experts.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Opinion

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

Orban hosts Weber in Budapest for EPP showdown

The future of the Viktor Orban's Fidesz party inside the European Parliament's centre-right EPP political group hangs in the balance. On Tuesday, Orban and EPP chief Manfred Weber meet in Budapest in a final effort to iron out differences.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us