June 23. 2024. 2:25

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Knives out in the EPP

At least €300,000 worth of contracts between the European People’s Party (EPP) and a company allegedly related to Mario Voigt, the EPP digital campaign manager during the 2019 EU election campaign, are on the radar of the German authorities, EURACTIV has learnt.

Although many EPP sources confirmed that EPP chief Manfred Weber was not involved “administratively”, politically, the damage is heavy.

The Belgian and German police raided the EPP headquarters on Tuesday (4 April) as part of an ongoing inquiry into alleged corruption during the 2019 EU election campaign.

In the spotlight is Christian-Democrat (CDU) lawmaker Mario Voigt, the digital campaign manager for EPP leader Manfred Weber during the 2019 EU election campaign.

According to German media reports, the inquiries centre on awarding contracts for the digital campaign to a company in Thuringia, Germany.

Mario Voigt has consistently proclaimed his innocence.

On Wednesday (5 April), an interrogation took place with two German investigators and one Belgian, who had the lead considering that the interrogation was in French. New rounds of interrogation with EPP staff are coming up, EURACTIV was informed.

During the raid, the police checked computers and took photos of invoices and handwritten papers.

A source present during the raid told EURACTIV that the contracts -through different tenders – signed between the EPP and the company allegedly related to Voigt were worth “at least €300,000”.

Asked to confirm this amount, an EPP source said the amount is lower than €200,000.

EURACTIV has learnt that the German authorities, which lead the investigation, are searching whether Voigt had any “shady” deal with the company that outsourced those contracts and not whether these contracts with the EPP were legitimate.

Weber ‘not involved’

Several EPP sources made it clear that before the 2019 campaign, Manfred Weber had no personal relations with Voigt and it was Udo Zolleis, the current EPP’s head of strategy unit and Weber’s right hand, that suggested working with him.

According to EURACTIV’s information, Dara Murphy, the then campaign director, was mainly signing the outsourcing contracts “up to an amount”.

But the political green light was given by Mario Voigt.

“Weber was not involved administratively, but he cannot avoid the political responsibility […] damage has been done, the whole party suffers”, said a source that participated in the campaigns of both Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014 and Manfred Weber in 2019.

The same source went further, explaining that after the campaign, many employees’ contracts were terminated “overnight”, and since then, “outsourcing has been flourishing”.

First political impact

The first sign of turmoil in the EPP following the raid was the cancellation of its group meeting scheduled for next week in Warsaw.

EURACTIV was informed that the Polish delegation of the EPP expressed severe concerns about the developments and the political damage to the centre-right family after the raid.

EPP cancels meeting in Warsaw following Belgian police raid

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) has canceled a meeting of its group scheduled for next week in Warsaw, following the turmoil created after the Belgian police raided the party’s headquarters on Tuesday (4 April).

The Polish centre-right Civic Platform (PO) party allegedly asked the EPP leadership to cancel the meeting following heavy criticism of pro-government media in Poland, which tried to link PO with the scandal ahead of the general elections.

The ruling PiS party belongs to European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), whose president is Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (Brothers of Italy).

PO’s leader Donald Tusk had already cancelled his participation in the meeting on Wednesday as “since the raid, media close to PiS have been trying to bring Donald Tusk into the scandal”, leading to him even wanting to cancel it to “avoid the political damage its leader Manfred Weber is currently suffering,” an EPP source said.

A second source told EURACTIV that Weber initially wanted to continue the meeting but has since changed his tune.

German right ‘up in arms’

EURACTIV reported in January that the German centre-right parties (CDU, CSU) expressed their frustration with Weber after the latter, without prior consultation, decided to build bridges with Meloni.

In early February, at a meeting in Munich, CSU leader Markus Söder said he had held a “long” exchange with Weber on the subject.

Concerns over EPP chief’s leadership style, second salary

Officials of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) have voiced concern about Manfred Weber’s leadership style and his attempts to collaborate with Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni without prior consultations.

“That states must talk to each other, or that one is in conversation is one thing. But formal ties do not make sense from my point of view and our common point of view,” Söder said in a statement, after which no discussion over partnership with Meloni was made again.

For its part, CDU seems to be nagging over Weber’s stance toward EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

A CDU source told EURACTIV that Weber’s “passive-aggressive” attitude toward her is not seen in positive light in Berlin.

“According to the current coalition agreement, the Greens will have the right to nominate Germany’s next European commissioner […] as long as the Commission president is not from Germany”, the CDU source said, adding that such an attitude puts a second von der Leyen mandate to the test.

The CDU source also expressed concerns over the lack of a policy-oriented EPP strategy under Weber.

“There are no working groups anymore, but just political assemblies […] the EPP as a major political force should primarily focus on policies and then politics”, the CDU source noted.

(Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)