There is due to be a generational shift at the top of the European Commission after the European Parliament elections in May. The veteran Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is likely to be succeeded by 46-year-old Manfred Weber, the lead candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP), the German-dominated centre-right grouping in the EU Parliament.
Since 2014 the European Union has operated the German Spitzenkandidat (lead candidate) system, where each of the pan-European political groups nominates its candidate for president ahead of the Parliament elections. The top job should fall to the largest group, which will almost certainly be the EPP.
Though young, Weber is already a veteran in EU politics. A member of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), he became the youngest member of the Bavarian parliament in 2003 when only 29. He has been an MEP since 2004, and has steadily risen to the top of the EPP group.
The CSU is more populist and closer to its Catholic roots than its sister party, the Christian Democratic Union. Weber fits a profile that is common in Bavaria but much less so in the rest of Germany. An active Catholic, he is a former member of the Katholische Landjugendbewegung, a youth movement, and is a member of the Central Council of German Catholics, the country’s main lay organisation.
Weber is known in the CSU for advocating EU integration. However, he has a reputation as a tough negotiator and a defender of some national rights. In 2009 he opposed an expansive EU anti-discrimination directive as an intrusion into the nation state’s powers. He also has a warm relationship with the EPP’s most controversial member, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, and has opposed EU measures to censure Hungary over civil liberties.
But Weber also has a moderate style and is popular within the EPP group as well as being a skilled power-broker with other groups in the fragmented Parliament.
He will be an important player in the Brexit period, and likely so for years to come.