The largest European political group, the center-right European People's Party, has chosen the German MEP Manfred Weber, a long-standing candidate to lead the European Commission, one of the best jobs in the EU.
Weber, who was supported by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is the favorite to lead the commission, the powerful executive that draws and applies the law of the EU, but has exceeded expectations, winning the 80% of the 619 votes of the party delegates.
A calm-hearted Bavarian who has spent most of his career in politics, Weber leads the EPP to the European Parliament, but is little known in his country of origin. He once described European values as "inspired by our Christian roots" and led a campaign emphasizing his love for his native village.
He defeated Alexander Stubb, a former Finnish Prime Minister who attended the London School of Economics. Stubb takes part in the triathlon, jokes saying that he is "a middle-aged man in Lycra" and likes to talk about the "fourth industrial revolution".
Weber's strong victory leads him to pole position to succeed the current commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, if the EPP wins the highest number of MEPs in the May European elections.
The winner was elected after a two-day conference in Helsinki that contained a warning from Brexit's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that the blockade was threatened by "a [Nigel] Farage in every country ".
The second political blockade of the Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats, this week chose the current Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, as the main candidate for the job.
The EPP vote came amid the tensions within the group on how to manage the increasingly authoritative Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who sparked alarm with accused nationalist rhetoric and laws addressed to NGOs.
Stubb claimed that Orbán should leave the group if it does not sign up for a European declaration of values agreed Wednesday by EPP delegates.
The guide states that block money should not be spent in countries "where core values of the EU and the rule of law are not met", or where there is no collaboration with the investigation of the Anti-fraud Office of the EU – an implicit reference to Orbán, who has been accused of treating the EU as a cash register.
The EPP hierarchy is opposed to throwing Orbán out, fearing it might strengthen the nationalist right. "In every family there is a enfant terrible", Said Joseph Daul, the president of the EPP." But since I am a Christian Democrat, I prefer to keep my enfant terrible inside the family and try to talk to him, reason with him ".
The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, who does not like the anti-EU populists in his native Poland, has offered a veiled rebuke in Orbán. Standing on the podium, away from him, Tusk said: "If you do not like free press and NGOs, if you tolerate xenophobia, homophobia, nationalism and anti-Semitism, you're not a Christian- democratic".
In his speech, Orbán was intransigent about what he saw as failed policies. "We have to take responsibility for not being able to keep the British and the migrants out," he said.
Following his victory, Weber recalled that he had voted to launch an EU sanctions procedure against Hungary. "The EPP does not need any kind of lesson from anyone," he said, underlining concerns over corruption in Romania's socialist government.
The German MEP will also wonder if the candidate of the largest political group should automatically take charge of the commission, once the election results are clear.
EU leaders do not like the system and have insisted that there is no instant connection, which means that the main candidate of the largest group after the election is pushed to the max. The supporters say that it is more democratic, because the electorate of nearly 450 million can choose. "The key question now is what people think," Weber said. "Nobody on the European Council [of EU leaders] I can say that I do not care. "
This argument was rejected by national governments. "It's bullshit," said a senior European source, arguing that there is nothing anti-democratic about democratically elected governments that choose people to manage EU institutions.
In 2014, government leaders did not have much choice. Luuk van Middelaar, who at the time was a senior adviser to the President of the European Council, recalled: "They felt put at the corner, they did not like the system, but they had to swallow the appointment of Juncker. the paper was writing that the EU would look like a banana republic if it did not name Juncker. "
While the competition has the campaign's equipment, it remains a matter of insiders. The EPP decided not to organize a public debate.
Candidates, however, produced two-minute conflicting videos to present themselves. Weber, in soft light, was shown in his native village, greeting people in local shops, walking on the fields and making the sign of the cross in a decorated church. The video, which focuses on Weber the man, lasts more than a minute before it cites the institutions of the EU. "Europe has always been my passion, but frankly coming home is really what makes me happy," he said.