German bid to head EU commission wants to ‘work with’ far-right

Germany's Manfred Weber, who is targeting the European Commission's top job, wants to work with everyone including Hungarian nationalist firebrand Victor Orban and Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini, he said in an interview Friday.

German bid to head EU commission wants to 'work with' far-right
Manfred Webber announced his bid to run as European Commission head of Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Weber, who on Wednesday announced his bid to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as commission head next year, said it was necessary “to sit down at a table, to listen to each other and find compromises”.

“We should work with everyone, and listen to everyone so we can find a common vision,” Weber, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told  Italy's La Stampa newspaper.

SEE ALSO: Merkel seeks to have German head the European Commission 

Orban's Fidesz party is a member of Weber's centre-right European People's Party (EPP) bloc in the European parliament. 

Juncker also belongs to the group as does Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.

Known for his nationalist rhetoric, Orban, who has been in power in Hungary since 2010, is fiercely anti-immigration and has had frequent run-ins with EU institutions, accusing the bloc of not representing all interests fairly.

Italy's anti-immigration Interior Minister Salvini met his “hero” Orban last week in Milan, where the two men said that French President Emmanuel  Macron was their main adversary ahead of May's European parliament elections.

Asked whether Weber would accept Salvini's League party in the EPP, he  refused to comment “on an individual party”.

Weber noted that it was Britain's then-prime minister David Cameron's 2009 decision to take his Conservative party out of the EPP grouping that heralded Brexit.

“Let's not forget that the beginning of Brexit was Cameron's decision to leave the EPP,” he said.

Weber has received the support of Merkel and of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose conservative party has governed together with a far-right party since late last year after winning votes on an anti-immigration platform. Kurz's party is also an EPP member.

There has not yet been a German head of the European Commission, which has only existed in its current form since 2009.

However, during the commission's early stages as the nine-member Commission of the European Economic Community between 1958 and 1967, its president was Walter Hallstein of former West Germany.

Weber, a member of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, has headed the European People's Party in the European Parliament since 2014. 

Elections to the European Parliament are expected to be held on May 23rd to 29th, 2019. 



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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.