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EPP votes on nominee for EU top job

Reuters

Manfred Weber, left, and Alexander Stubb attend the debate at the EPP congress in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Reuters HELSINKI (Reuters) — A reserved Bavarian and a Finn known for doing Ironman triathlons will vie for the backing of Europe’s center-right parties on Thursday in the race to become European Commission president.

German EU lawmaker Manfred Weber and former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb will make their pitches at a congress in Helsinki to become the European People’s Party (EPP) top candidate for the European Parliament elections next May.

The EPP vote will make the victor the front-runner for the EU’s most influential job, the head of the bloc’s executive overseeing laws and trade deals.

But with the EPP losing influence in France and Spain, the rise of far-right parties across Europe, and with populists in its ranks in Hungary, Europe’s biggest political force faces accusations that it represents out-of-date politics.

“This is not the old Europe that some accuse us of. The EPP is the most credible political group to lead Europe,” EPP President Joseph Daul told reporters on Wednesday.

Stubb and Weber “represent the new generation,” Daul said. Outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, an EPP veteran of European politics over three decades, steps down next year.

Fifty-year old Stubb, a prolific Twitter user who cuts a youthful, sporty figure, is the clear underdog against Weber, 46, who leads the EPP group in the European Parliament and has the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Almost two-thirds of the EPP members’ 734 votes could go to Weber, according to informal projections by party officials, counting Germany’s outsized presence in the composition of the group, with more than 80 votes.

“This is a football match between Germany and Finland. I wish it was ice hockey,” Stubb said, referring to his country’s national sport.

Stubb could benefit from the secret nature of the ballot amid concerns that Weber’s victory would entrench strong German influence in the European Union as Britain leaves the bloc next March, given that several Germans are already in top EU jobs.Speech

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