March 5. 2024. 1:01

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Concerns over EPP chief’s leadership style, second salary

Officials of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) are concerned about Manfred Weber’s leadership style, his unilateral collaboration attempts with Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and the way his second salary was decided, which the EPP insists it is “significantly below €20,000”.

They have also raised questions about the German politician’s effectiveness at the helm of both the EPP party – the oldest European political family – and the group in the European Parliament.

An EPP official told EURACTIV that there is frustration in the party because of some of the moves and statements made by Weber were done without consulting his partners in the Party.

One example are the recent discussions with the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party is affiliated with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

Weber met with Meloni on in Rome 5 January and discussed potential collaboration at the EU level. This prompted a strong reaction from other EPP partners, especially Germany’s influential centre-right.

“There is no reason for further cooperation with the other parties of the Italian government in the European Parliament, as long as they cooperate with openly anti-European forces such as the German AfD,” Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesperson of the CDU/CSU party group in the Bundestag, told EURACTIV Germany.

While the Italian coalition government also includes the EPP sister party Forza Italia, the positions of the two other Italian coalition parties [Brothers of Italy and Lega] “are largely incompatible with those of the EPP,” he added.

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The EPP official made clear to EURACTIV that Weber’s move to hold talks with Meloni was “neither discussed nor approved at the EPP Party level”.

‘Clear majority’ against turn to Meloni

“There is a clear majority against a collaboration with Meloni”, the official said, reiterating that such political moves require prior coordination.

Asked about the possible EPP-ECR rapprochement, EPP Secretary-General Thanasis Bakolas, a close Weber ally, recently told Politico that he was “keeping an open mind”.

“I want to increase my tent … I don’t understand why I can’t play this political game like it’s played in every other country.”

However, things changed last week following a meeting in Munich, according to Dpa, CSU leader Markus Söder said he had held a “long” exchange with Weber on the subject.

“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 from our common point of view,” Söder said.

Weber’s second salary

Officials have also raised concerns with EURACTIV about the salary that Weber has been receiving since becoming president of the EPP party on 31 May last year, in addition to his post as leader of the EPP Group in the European Parliament.

An official told EURACTIV that there was no prior internal consultation and decision on the salary, although this was contradicted by an EPP spokesperson.

“The President’s remuneration was approved by the EPP presidency in September 2022 and the EPP political assembly in November 2022 in Lisbon,” an EPP spokesperson told EURACTIV, adding that “the monthly pre-tax remuneration is significantly below €20,000”.

The spokesperson also said the same bodies – the EPP presidency and the political assembly – also approved the salary of Thanasis Bakolas, a former advisor to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis who was appointed as EPP Secretary General last June.

An EPP source familiar with the issue told EURACTIV, however, that “the EPP presidency was just informed, there was neither a vote nor a discussion about the remunerations of Weber and the secretary-general”.

The source said that at that meeting in Lisbon, there “was no discussion at all either”.

The Greek elections effect

The EPP official explained that Weber currently has two strong backers in the party: Mitsotakis and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

“A lot will depend on the result of the Greek elections due by summer […] If Mitsotakis loses, then Weber will be in a very difficult position,” the official said, hinting that Weber would probably struggle to keep both positions.

Elections in Greece are due this summer, and although Mitsotakis’ New Democracy is leading in opinion polls, the result is hard to predict because the new electoral law will be applied for the first time, making a coalition government almost impossible to avoid.

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However, against the backdrop of the so-called “Greek Watergate”, Mitsotakis may struggle to find a coalition partner even if his New Democracy party tops the poll.

The Greek socialist Pasok party, which is expected to play the kingmaker’s role, has said it will not join a government with Mitsotakis as prime minister.

(Nikolaus J. Kurmayer contributed to this article – Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic)