Manfred Weber’s campaign for the top job of the European Commission will kick off in Athens.
This was proudly announced by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the Greece’s conservative party New Democracy.
There is no doubt that the news hid a deeper meaning: the beginning of a campaign in the city where democracy was born.
But is this the real reason? Or, better yet, is this the only reason that pushed Weber to choose the Greek capital for a such an important move in his career?
Especially if we take in consideration the tough (for many cruel) way he treated Greece during the economic crisis of previous years?
It is well known that Mitsotakis and his party have praised Weber’s personality and ideas more than once. It is also true that the Greek conservative party has expressed its pleasure for how Weber dealt with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Austrian colleague Sebastian Kurz.
Two important reasons associate the two political leaders: the Bavarian head of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament and the president of New Democracy. It’s the need to secure friends and, as a consequence, to gain international support.
The traits of the EC’s next president
The best and most necessary quality of the person elected to lead the next European Commission is the ability to overcome divisions and convince others about the need to unify the centrifugal tendencies of the institution.
It is no secret that there are many among the EPP’s fellow parties that question Weber’s ability to unify Europeans. Not to mention, of course, the clear negative disposition of the other political families of the ‘great coalition’, the Social Democrats and the Liberals.
Certainly Weber’s support for Orbán and Kurz, his severe criticism of the Greeks, his anachronistic views concerning the left – to mention just a few facts – over the past five years, have not contributed to building an image of a man who can inspire unity among Europeans
Throughout his long career, Weber has not hesitated to take a vociferous stance and vigorously show his support for policies he considers to be correct and for like-minded politicians. No doubt that he has proven to be courageous. It is necessary to recognise this.
However, in his efforts to support his own views, he has shown that while he is rather good as a fighter, he is not as good as a leader willing to compromise.
Many times, his interventions and the way he expresses his views, irritate not only his fellow MEPs but entire populations as well.
Certainly his support for Orbán and Kurz, his severe criticism of the Greeks, his anachronistic views concerning the left – to mention just a few facts – over the past five years, have not contributed to building an image of a man who can inspire unity among Europeans.
Compared to Jean-Claude Juncker, Weber appears to be the exact opposite.
Athens is a beautiful historic city in Europe with strong symbolic meaning. But Athens is also among the very few capitals that can offer a positive political environment for Weber.
Is it possible to imagine many European capitals where EPP members would welcome and host the beginning of Weber’s campaign? I’m afraid not.
Weber has chosen Athens because his Greek fellows need him.
Is it not true that he tried to interfere in the country’s domestic policy more than once expressing the need of the overthrow of the actual government and Mitsotakis’ victory?
Greece under a deeply polarised political environment
The government of Alexis Tsipras won two consecutive elections in 2015, the first in January and the second in September. After a perilous and heavily ideologized bras de fer with the European institutions and the German government, the Greek government capitulated and applied the programmes agreed with its foreign partners.
During the last four years, the Greek government has succeeded in applying fiscal measures while taking into consideration the needs of vulnerable parts of society. In the economic sphere, Tsipras was more than once praised by many EU conservative leaders and especially by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
On the level of diplomacy and international relations, Tsipras’ success in resolving a three-decade dispute with the northern neighbour in the so called Prespa Agreement was praised by all important political factors in the EU. The deal secured for him and his counterpart Zoran Zaev a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
During this entire period, the main opposition conservative party New Democracy has been tough and intransigent. Especially in the case of the ‘Macedonian question’ Conservatives remained in a steady negative position, heavily marked by nationalist rhetoric.
New Democracy’s leader has repeatedly called for snap elections and has accused Prime Minister Tsipras of being a liar and a danger for the future of Greece.
As a result, the political environment in Greece is deeply polarised and since the country faces this year several electoral confrontations (European, regional and municipal elections in May and national elections in the autumn), the polarisation is set to deepen.
The small parties (with the exception of the neo-Nazi and the communist parties) have become easy prey for the two bigger parties in a rather savage-like political hunt. Even the old-ruling Pasok party of Andreas Papandreou (now renamed KINAL) is facing political extinction.
Some conservative leaders expressed their satisfaction for the way the Greek government managed the many challenges of the previous years as well. The intransigent and nationalist approach of the ‘Macedonian question’ by the New Democracy party dissatisfied many conservative leaders in the EU
The findings of the polls disseminated in Greece are controversial, if not suspicious since they show vertiginous differences between the two bigger contenders during short periods of time.
It would be wise to say that the entire electoral battle will be tough and that the winner will emerge at the last moment.
But, while the ruling Syriza party managed to secure a considerable international support, the conservatives have not. Well-Known Social Democrats, such as Udo Bullman, the president of the S&Ds Group, Ska Keller of the Greens, and of course the heads of the GUE/NGL parties, have openly expressed their support for Tsipras’s party.
Some conservative leaders expressed their satisfaction for the way the Greek government managed the many challenges of the previous years as well. The intransigent and nationalist approach of the ‘Macedonian question’ by the New Democracy party dissatisfied many conservative leaders in the EU.
On March 30, Pope Francis said that the Greek PM deserves the Nobel Peace Prize over his efforts to face the migration crisis in Greece.
In the beginning of April, 33 MEPs from the entire political spectrum and representing 16 countries wrote a letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee recommending Prime Ministers of Greece and North Macedonia, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, for the Nobel Peace Prize 2019.
All the above were perceived as mortal blows by the leadership of the conservative party since it suggests the political isolation of its policies in Europe.
In addition, the conservative party is divided. Under its previous leader, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, many moderates left the party. The nationalist Independent Greeks party, who served as an ally in the coalition government of Tsipras, was a split in 2012 led by former leading politicians of New Democracy. Greece’s President Prokopis Pavlopoulos was among the conservative leaders and a minister until 2014. Bleeding continuously after 2015, and many mid- and low-level cadres left the party to join other political formations.
Mitsotakis’ post is not secure. Former political allies and an internal underground opposition undermine his leadership.
In few words, the Greek conservatives desperately need allies and international support.
This is why Mitsotakis and his party represent the best option for Weber’s campaign kick-off.