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MALTATODAY 29 January 2023

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8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 29 JANUARY 2023 NEWS CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 And in selecting Metsola as a possible 'spitzenkandidat' for the EPP, Weber is hoping he can guarantee incontro- vertible victory by brokering some sort of controversial alliance with the hard right ECR (Europe of Conservatives and Reformists), which hosts Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni's far-right par- ty Fratelli d'Italia. That is a path that enrages not only many moderates in the EPP, but also socialists and democrats who feel Eu- rope must keep extremists out. And for someone like Labour prime minis- ter Robert Abela, whose own choice for commissioner in 2024 could be deputy PM Chris Fearne, would an EPP victory with Metsola at the helm force him into a magnanimous concession to instate a Maltese boss of the EU's executive? Weber's super-right alliance It is not just the star power that Met- sola commands as the EPP's rising star and compromise candidate for the lib- erals of French president Emmanuel Macron, that makes her a prime candi- date for head of the European Commis- sion. By some polling data, the EPP could stand to suffer in the 2024 elections, without as yet taking into account the Qatargate effect on the socialists, large- ly seen as necessary allies in a 'grand coalition' that keeps Europe in the sane hands of moderates and democrats, and as far as possible from extremists. But the EPP has suffered a downward trend that has them today at 176 MEPs from their 1999 high of 295. That de- cline might be stemmed, some think, with a tricky compromise deal with the hard right – the European Conserva- tives and Reformists (ECR), which in- clude members like the Italian far-right Fratelli d'Italia, whose leader Giorgia Meloni is Prime Minister of Italy. The EPP has long been a star in decline: Europe's major heads of government are not right-wing – take Olaf Scholz in Germany (SPD), Macron in France (LRM), Pedro Sanchez in Spain (PSOE), Antonio Costa in Portugal (PS), or the hard-right Mateusz Morawiecki (PiS) in Poland and of course Meloni (FdL) in Italy. Weber needs to start planning a 2024 campaign that can shore up the EPP's luck. It is no surprise that FdL MEPs like Nicola Procaccini are name-dropping Metsola as the kind of spitzenkandidat that would bridge the EPP of Manfred Weber, with the ECR. The Meloni gov- ernment is a coalition that includes EPP members Forza Italia, and whose minis- ters include the former President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, a key figure who is also tight with the Maltese Nationalist Party's luminaries inside Brussels. "Metsola is a bridge fig- ure [with the EPP] at the level of val- ues," Procaccini told Politico. "She's a conservative and it comes easily to find in her the point of balance between our group and the EPP." Just like Italy's coalition includes minor EPP member parties, so could forthcoming elections in Europe deliver right-wing governments with a com- bination of both European right-wing groups: in Spain, the Partido Pop- ular (EPP) could have to rely on the populist Vox (ECR); in Sweden, the right-wing Sweden Democrats (ECR) are in a minority government with the Christian Democrats; Greek press re- ports suggest that the populist right Greek Solution (ECR) could be a last-re- sort coalition partner of the ruling New Democracy (EPP) after the 2023 elec- tions, to avoid being overthrown by a coalition of progressive forces between leftist Syriza and socialists Pasok. Weber can now either poach right- wing parties to the EPP, or carve an alli- ance for 2024 with the ECR. But striking that kind of a deal would have to overcome opposition from key people like former European Council president Donald Tusk, at war with the Polish hard-right Law and Justice Party (PiS). Tusk wants to win the Polish elec- tions against PiS. He would not accept such an alliance. Even PiS politicians are themselves averse to the EPP, ruling out any form of cooperation. Not even German CDU-CSU officials have countenanced any possible Euro- pean alliances with the party that hosts the far-right Alternatif fur Deutschland (Afd). Two weeks ago, Manfred Weber met Meloni after the funeral of Pope Ben- edict in Rome, to further talks on a possible alliance. A key middleman is Meloni's right-hand man, the minister for EU affairs Raffaele Fitto. The talk of town is of a 'super-right' with Met- sola as spitzenkandidat, with victory at the 2024 polls meaning there would no longer be any need for compromise with the socialist S&D, the other major European bloc, to instal the next Com- mission president. While the socialists and liberals Renew have openly accused the EPP of looking to the right to succour their ailing vot- er base, Weber has had no qualms in 2022 campaigning for Forza Italia as a minority partner in the far-right Italian coalition, even while at the same time, Metsola's message to voters remained resolutely pro-Europe and in favour of stronger transatlantic relations, even critical of extremists "who want to de- stroy Europe" – a dig at FdL. Metsola remains the more recognis- able face for Europe than either of the other two institutional leaders of the bloc. In early 2022, she stole the show immediately after her election by being the first in Ukraine to visit Volydymyr Zelenskyy days after the Russian in- vasion. Her tour of the European cap- itals, and even two main interviews in the popular Italian show Che Tempo Che Fa, have cemented this appeal. Her Queen's gambit: Metsola as EC boss Roberta Metsola is being tipped for a possible lead candidature in the next European elections, in a bid to make her the next president of the European Commission should the EPP be returned to victory. But that path to power is paved with speculation and a maddening array of chess moves, writes Matthew Vella Power moves: While EPP leader Manfred Weber (right) appears to be courting the hard right, this would pit him against grandees like former EC president Donald Tusk (top), whose party is at war with the ruling PiS in Poland, while Ursula von der Leyen, who was installed as EC president despite Weber's spitzenkandidat 'victory' for the EPP in 2019, has yet to declare her candidate in the upcoming European elections if she is to seek a second term Roberta Metsola is being tipped for a possible lead candidature, 'spitzenkandidat' for the 2024 elections If the EPP wins the elections, they will propose Metsola as president of the European Commission 1 2 3

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