A good three weeks before the European elections, FOCUS Online wants to know: "What sets you apart from other politicians, Manfred Weber??" The 46-year-old CSU politician explains how he wants to unravel the deadlocked refugee debate, lead the fight against the right-wing fringe and how he wants to bring this "distant Europe" closer to citizens. Today top candidate of the European People’s Party, from summer EU Commission President?
Germany, abroad, south, west, north – Manfred Weber is really getting around these days. Tuesday Bamberg, Wednesday Rostock and Husum, today it goes to Bolzano, then to Florence. Saturday Vienna, Dusseldorf, Hanover, and so on, and so on. The CSU politician’s schedule is tightly scheduled. After all, the 46-year-old wants to become EU Commission President, and the election of the European Parliament at the end of May is a crucial hurdle in this respect.
And so Weber is not only on the road in Germany, but all over Europe. Because he is not only the candidate of the Union in Germany, but also of the entire European People’s Party (EPP).
However, there is no sign of hecticness or nervousness when Weber stops by FOCUS Online this week. He appears relaxed, takes plenty of time. What makes the 46-year-old from Lower Bavaria tick? What are his plans for Europe? In an interview with FOCUS Online, Weber revealed how he wants to create justice across Europe in the refugee crisis and what answers he wants to provide to an impending climate catastrophe.
FOCUS Online: Mr. Weber, you aspire to the most important office the EU has to offer. But in Germany, only one in four people knows you, and in Europe, there are probably even fewer. What sets you apart from other politicians?
Manfred Weber: I would like to ground European policy. That’s what I want to do with my Bavarian background. I am rooted and anchored here, I have my friends here. And it will stay that way.
How does home feel in Europe?
FOCUS Online: You like to call yourself a "bridge builder," a man of quiet tones. Are you perhaps too nice to be heard in the noisy political arena??
Weber: I am the way I am. I have been leading the largest group in the European Parliament for five years and am very satisfied with the result. And – yes – I want to be a bridge builder. I want to hold the EU together.
FOCUS Online: In your election campaign, you emphasize that you are Bavarian, German and European in equal measure. They still swarm from Wildenberg, their home in Lower Bavaria. How does this place, their homeland, feel??
Weber: To come to rest, to feel a sense of security, to talk to people you can assess because you’ve known them since your youth. I also take many issues with me when I talk to people on the ground.
FOCUS Online: Europe, however, is very far away for many: can you explain how Europe feels like home? Does the normal Lower Bavarian, who first had to develop such a feeling, know what "Heimat Europa" feels like??
Weber: Many people are dissatisfied with the cumbersome and complicated structure of the EU. But they also see us in Europe strongly as one in the world. Surprisingly many have already got to grips with Europe.
FOCUS Online: Also the Lower Bavarian farmer?
Weber: Absolutely. The polls confirm that many want this togetherness. There is much more that unites us than divides us. As politicians, we can do something about this.
What Europe has to offer .
FOCUS Online: But at the same time, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the way the European Union is currently being structured.
Weber: Brussels seems far away to many people. Too technical, bureaucratic and incomprehensible. That’s exactly what I want to change. We can build on an excellent foundation.
FOCUS Online: Excellent foundation?
Weber: Yes, for sure. We take many things far too much for granted. Where in the world do you find social security systems, equal rights for men and women, democracy and the rule of law?? In the U.S., there is still debate today about whether Obama Care is good. Elsewhere there is no rule of law. We are in a global competition of systems. It’s about whether we can live our values in tomorrow’s world. There is no alternative but to defend it together.
FOCUS Online: Like?
Weber: It’s about fighting for good compromises and cohesion, for example. This is the core idea of Europe, and this is my way. There are already enough forces building on egoism and nationalism. I want to counter this with something.
The main thing is not to vote for the radicals?
FOCUS Online: Against this background, do you see votes for the SPD, the Greens and the FDP as the lesser evil – along the lines of "the main thing is not to vote for the radicals"??
Weber: (laughs) We are united by the feeling that we think the European project is right. There are forces that reject our European values. Who wants to abolish parliaments and co-decision?? That’s what only AfD politicians in Germany want. They want to destroy Europe at its core. After all, they have included Germany’s exit from the EU as a concrete option in their election program. We need a European Parliament that compromises and says yes to partnership. What a parliament that only says no can do can currently be seen in Great Britain.
FOCUS Online: So are you pulling in the same direction with the SPD, the Greens and the FDP on this??
Weber: I campaign with all my might for CDU and CSU! The people decide in the election in which direction things will go. Because a left-wing Europe, for example, with a debt union and European unemployment insurance, is a very real danger. I stand for a Europe that is civic-minded.
Clear message to Turkey
FOCUS Online: Some people don’t know what to make of the term "bourgeois".
Weber: "Civic" means: for the people, from the center. In concrete terms: We rely on individual responsibility. Unity in foreign and security policy. And: I also stand for the clear message to Turkey that it cannot become a member of the EU.
FOCUS Online: Don’t worry that Turkey will then drift away completely?
Weber: Have the accession talks brought Turkey closer to Europe in recent years?? On the contrary. Since the coup attempts, President Erdogan has led Turkey further and further away from Europe. I pledge to end the accession talks and initiate a reasonable partnership. Commission president has directive authority over his services here.
FOCUS Online: Turkey is also a NATO partner. The country is important.
Weber: That’s why I will make proposals on how we can improve relations. Concrete: Strengthening the customs union. We can also move closer together in the joint fight against terrorism, the reconstruction of Syria or even in culture, in student exchanges. Dishonesty in relations has caused damage.
Chance for fair burden sharing in refugee policy
FOCUS Online: Anyone who talks to people in the country will see that many potential CSU voters are also interested in the AfD. With a slight shudder, to be sure, but also connected with a longing for clear announcements. Have the leading parties, including those of the Union, lost the people?
Weber: We take concerns seriously, but we actively take up the fight against the right-wing fringe. We have led Europe through two serious crises, the euro crisis and the migration crisis. We have created 13 million jobs in ten years. Those who act also make mistakes. But we have proven that we can do it: Stability instead of experiments.
FOCUS Online: Many doubt that the migration crisis has been successfully managed. You yourself recently called the refugee issue the "open wound" of Europe.
Weber: With this election, we have the chance to get results. The proposals of Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in the Austrian Council Presidency last year are a good basis: strict external border protection and flexible solidarity to start with – that can lead Europe out of the blockade. Leftists fail to protect external borders and are unwilling to crack down. But effective external border protection is a prerequisite for any compromise. We finally need the 10.000 Frontex officials. 2022 at the latest, not 2027.
FOCUS Online: Why should the turnaround in refugee policy suddenly succeed? In 2015, when it came to Europe standing together on the refugee issue, Europe did not stand. This has made many bitter.
Weber: We have the chance for fair burden sharing. This includes border protection, taking in refugees and financial aid for Africa. If Italy does a lot in external border protection, it could play a role in accommodating refugees. When states strongly support Africa, that is also a contribution.
Simply buy your way out through development aid?
FOCUS Online: So through development aid, countries can buy their way out of taking in people?
Weber: We first have to unblock the completely deadlocked situation. In the long run, we cannot do without a quota to achieve fair burden sharing. No one can say the issue is none of their business.
FOCUS Online: There is so much talk about "European values". Do you believe that such common values exist at all? Many Eastern European heads of government – including those like Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who like to invoke Christianity – have not seen themselves as responsible for the refugee crisis. Don’t you wince there yourself sometimes?
Weber: Sometimes yes. Anyone who speaks of the Christian image of man must also listen to Pope Francis, who reminds us of our European responsibility in the face of drowning people off Lampedusa. Human dignity, willingness to help and social commitment are part of the foundation of our values.
"Don’t stand by and watch people drown"
FOCUS Online: People are drowning in the Mediterranean to this day.
Weber: We must not and cannot stand by while people drown. Satellite and drone technology can help us monitor the Mediterranean more effectively. By the way: Germany was also hesitant on the refugee issue for a long time.
FOCUS Online: What are you aiming at?
Weber: The German government has also rejected any quota in Europe until 2015. This is what changed after 2015. For me, it follows that we must not become active only when we ourselves have a problem right now.
FOCUS Online: How do you want to break this up?
Weber: We all have to learn that we see the neighbor’s problems. My party has also talked a lot about the stability of the euro. Rightly so. But there was hardly any debate about youth unemployment in Italy, for example. Today we see that populism ignites in Italy. We need to develop more empathy. If young people in Italy can’t find a job, that’s not really a German issue. But indirectly it is certainly also our cause.
How do you want to achieve performance in climate protection??
FOCUS Online: Europe could also come up to speed in climate protection. There is always little to be heard from the CSU. You said the other day, "We Germans are not going to save the global climate". But doing nothing can’t be an alternative, can it?. What should the German, the European contribution look like?
Weber: We Europeans should be proud of the Paris climate agreement. Because we have decisively driven this forward. We are leading the way. It wasn’t Obama, it wasn’t Putin, it wasn’t the Chinese: it was us.
FOCUS Online: Well, as a mere promise on paper it won’t do much good now either.
Weber: Of course, we also have to deliver on "Paris". With clear targets for the car industry, airplanes and trucks, and also for the heating sector in the home. And with new technologies. It’s also clear to me that we should be talking about incentives, not higher taxes.
FOCUS Online: So: CO2 taxes are taboo for you?
Weber: As a physics engineer, I believe that, in principle, incentives are the better way and taxes the worse. At the beginning of the demonstrations of the yellow vests in France was the protest of people against higher fuel costs, who do not have the money. Climate protection also has a strong social component. We must not think only of those who can afford climate protection and fancy e-cars.
FOCUS Online: What about certificate trading?
Weber: This is an existing system that works very efficiently.
FOCUS Online For example, for traffic, that doesn’t exist yet.
Weber: The idea is strong. CO2 is being reduced where it is most efficient in economic terms. You can talk to me about strengthening and expanding certificate trading. This is definitely the right approach.
Fridays for Future? "I appreciate the young people"
FOCUS Online: Many are at the end of their patience and are now taking to the streets week after week.
Weber: Yes, we feel the growing emotionality. Because it is a real danger that we are facing. The climate change deniers, like some right-wing populists, who want to hide the problems, can present us – not only economically – with gigantic problems. The consequences of failing to protect the climate are not foreseeable at all. I appreciate the young people who are demonstrating there at Fridays for Future. We have to take it seriously. But: we don’t just have to look at the climate ..
FOCUS Online: … but also?
Weber: For example, also on the extinction of species or on the oceans. In my twelve-point plan, I emphasize that there are other global environmental issues beyond the climate issue. That’s why I’m fighting for a global ban on single-use plastic. 90 percent of the plastic waste in the oceans does not come from Europe. So we need a global signal here similar to the Paris climate agreement.
FOCUS Online: Many are looking at the Balkans with concern again right now. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are possible EU accession candidates. How do you see the perspective?
Weber: The developments are really very worrying. A situation could quickly arise again that would mean instability for Europe. So: either we try to bring European stability to the Western Balkans, or the insecurity of the Western Balkans radiates to Europe. I want the European perspective for this space. But that doesn’t mean there will be a membership for them quickly.
FOCUS Online: What can we currently offer the people there?
Weber: We should be concrete soon. We could waive roaming fees for the Western Balkans and include students from there in the Erasmus program. The EU could finance this for a limited period of time. Let’s do it. People should see right away: Hey, we are better off if we stick closely to the EU.
"SPD wants to shift Europe to the left"
FOCUS Online: Your opponent from the Social Democrats, Katarina Barley, now wants to organize a left-wing majority in Europe against you. Disappointed?
Weber: We are competing with the SPD on whether the EU should be shifted to the left or remain a Europe of the people and in the political center. Whether you then have to call others unelectable is perhaps another question. But election campaign is election campaign. I’m fighting for a strong CDU and CSU.
FOCUS Online: What is your current view of the SPD?? In view of the recent statements by Juso leader Kevin Kuhnert on property, a few very fundamental questions arise ..
Weber: This is exactly what I mean when I say that the SPD wants a left-wing Europe. This will not work. A Europe of debts, prohibitions and redistribution can only fail.
FOCUS Online: On 16. July we know who will be EU Commission president. The way to get there is very complicated. When we do an interview with you in the summer: Let’s talk to the new Commission president then?