It was the third meeting of the top candidates Weber and Timmermans within ten days. And again they clearly distinguished themselves from each other.
It didn’t take long for the two men who want to succeed EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to get fired up. Although the German Manfred Weber and the Dutchman Frans Timmermans are on friendly terms. But that didn’t stop the two, who are leading candidates in the European election campaign, from drawing a clear line during Thursday night’s TV duel. Timmermans, the top man in the European Social Democrats, wants a CO2 tax. Weber, the top candidate of the conservative EPP party family, opposes them. "Why is there still no tax on kerosene??", Timmermans asked, drawing applause from the studio audience.
It was no coincidence that ZDF editor-in-chief Peter Frey and Ingrid Thurnher, editor-in-chief of ORF III, called up climate protection as one of the first topics during the question-and-answer session a good week before the European election. Climate protection is currently more important to voters in this country than migration and the aftermath of the euro crisis. So Timmermans and Weber worked through their differences on this issue for longer on Thursday. Timmermans sees a CO2 tax as "not a penalty," while Weber drew attention to the possible social consequences in the form of higher fuel and heating oil prices.
Timmermans against clear names on the Internet
The reform of copyright law, which the European Parliament approved in March, has attracted similar attention as climate protection. The fact that upload filters are likely to be used in the implementation of the reform brought thousands of young people onto the streets a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, even Timmermans did not want to condemn the use of the controversial technology. "Whether these upload filters are the way to go – I think they are," he said. Weber even took the controversial reform as an opportunity to make a crowd-pleasing announcement. If copyright reform really does lead to censorship on the Internet, "as president of the commission, I will present a revision of this directive."
However, the two candidates have different views when it comes to anonymity on the Internet. "Nope," Timmermans replied when asked if users on the Internet should give their real names in the future. Weber, on the other hand, argued that the network community needs to know "who is behind it".
Debate over the headscarf for elementary school-age girls
With their joint TV duel, ZDF and ORF established, at least on a small scale, what is otherwise always described as a "European public sphere". The neighboring country is currently fighting over a headscarf ban in elementary school, which the parliament in Vienna passed on Wednesday evening with the votes of the conservative oVP and the right-wing FPo. So it was up to ORF editor-in-chief Thurnher to ask the two candidates about their stance on the headscarf ban in Austrian elementary school. Timmermans showed a clear edge on this point. "This symbolic policy really hurts," he said, addressing the Viennese government led by Sebastian Kurz (oVP). Weber struggled a bit to come up with a response. He raised the question of "whether little girls should be forced from home" to wear headscarves. "I already think that the principles that make up our society apply to everyone who wants to live in Europe," he added.
Timmermans confronts Weber with Orban’s Fidesz party
Meanwhile, it is not even certain yet whether either of them will actually succeed Juncker. First of all, this is due to the fact that some heads of state and government, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, reject the top candidates. On the other hand, the majority in the future European Parliament, on which the election of Weber or Timmermans will depend, is anything but clear. Weber accused his opponent of trying to get elected by a disparate coalition ranging from the left to the FDP. "We all have this problem," Timmermans countered – pointing out that Weber’s EPP group in the European Parliament includes members of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party. However, Hungary’s head of government, Viktor Orban, has already announced that he will no longer support Weber’s top candidate.