Delegates at the European People’s Party congress in Helsinki will decide today whether to choose German MEP Manfred Weber or ex-Finnish Prime Minister Alex Stubb (NCP) as their candidate to be ‘President of Europe’.
The European People’s Party EPP is an umbrella group of mostly centre-right political parties from more than two dozen European countries with broadly similar values. In Finland, the National Coalition Party and Christian Democrats are members of the EPP group.
The current EPP governing council has another former Finnish PM Jyrki Katainen (NCP) as a member, and President Sauli Niinistö is honourary president.
Two candidates, one job
There are two applicants for the job of ‘spitzenkandidat’ or chosen candidate, the man (it has never been a woman) that the EPP would nominate for Europe’s top job if its parties get the lion’s share of seats at the European Parliament elections in spring 2019.
Alex Stubb has been out of front line politics for two years, since he lead the National Coalition Party to a third place election defeat in 2015. He’s been working in Luxembourg, and took a leave of absence to travel around Europe trying to drum up support for his candidacy around the theme of being the EU’s “next generation” of politicians. Stubb is 50-years old, and hasn’t attracted the support of any EPP heads of government.
Manfred Weber meanwhile is a German MEP and leader of the EPP in the European Parliament. Crucially, he’s received the support of all eight EPP heads of government in Europe including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He is widely expected to win today’s vote.
Voting, results and looking to the future
The results of the vote should be known around 13:00 Helsinki time. Stubb’s campaigning in recent days has switched to a defiant ‘Finns never give up’ message, and some of his supporters have been urging EPP delegates to ‘vote with their heart’ and use the secret ballot to give a boost to Stubb’s election fortunes.
If Stubb is not victorious today, it doesn’t mean his political career is dead in the water. After two years sidelined in Luxembourg, he has put himself firmly back in the spotlight again with his energetic and positive campaign.
Never shy of the spotlight or television cameras, Stubb could be ultimately putting himself in contention for a senior EU job like High Representative, succeeding Federica Mogherini as the de facto foreign minister of Europe.