March 5. 2024. 2:47

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EPP chief causes uproar after questioning Spain’s EU Presidency


The centre-right European People’s Party leader Manfred Weber triggered strong reactions in Madrid and Brussels after he questioned the upcoming Spanish EU Presidency over internal disagreements in the left-wing coalition government on the war in Ukraine. His statement is a sign of “weakness”, the EU socialists responded.

Since Russia’s war against Ukraine started, Spain’s governing coalition party Podemos (The Left) has been adamant about sending arms to Ukraine, whereas PSOE (S&D) has reiterated its preference to keep providing military aid.

Podemos is firmly against “warming up” the Ukraine war “with more and more weapons”, and opposes participating in the “NATOist war furore”, spokesperson Pablo Echenique said on 21 January.

In fact, Podemos officials participated in anti-NATO protests during the NATO Madrid Summit in June 2022.

Ione Belarra, secretary general of Podemos and minister of social rights, called on their coalition partner PSOE on 17 February to reconsider their pro-arms position, fearing an escalation of the conflict and mobilisation of troops.

On the other hand, PSOE has insisted on their support to sending weapons as part of a common European response to the conflict, and on 23 February, the socialist-led ministry of defence delivered six Leopard tanks.

On 9 March, a majority in the Spanish parliament voted in favour of further arms deliveries, including PSOE. However, Podemos voted against it.

Weber, who faces severe internal problems with his EPP leadership, lashed out at the leftist coalition for Spain’s “uncertain” support to Ukraine ahead of the country’s EU Council presidency in the second half of 2023.

“Podemos must clarify their position, they are part of a government ahead of the Council presidency, and I would ask PM Pedro Sánchez to clarify what is the opinion of the Spanish government with regards to Ukraine. We cannot accept any kind of uncertainty at such a moment in history”, Weber added.

“I am not talking about party politics, I am talking about the responsibility of a government that is about to take over the presidency of the Council,” he stressed.

Sign of EU centre-right ‘weakness’

Asked by EuroEFE, the President of Socialist and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament and a close ally of Sánchez, Iratxe García, reassured Spain’s government commitment to the defence of Ukraine and to providing military support.

At a briefing in Strasbourg, García invited Weber to “relax” and described his insinuation that the Council presidency is at risk as “stupid”.

“Using this issue to try to break the unity that Europe has today in terms of support for Ukraine is a demonstration of weakness of the Partido Popular [EPP], which seeks arguments to attack left-wing governments”, García said.

Podemos MEP Idoia Villanueva defended the party’s commitment to seeking peace and advocating for a ceasefire in Ukraine.

“When did Weber abandon the EU’s values of human rights, diplomacy and peace?” Villanueva wondered.

Villanueva also hit at the EPP, saying it has double standards when it comes to protecting the rule of law in member states.

“Weber says they [EPP] defend the rule of law, citing Poland, Romania […] but they avoid talking about Greece or Italy”.

In the case of Greece, governed by centre-right New Democracy party, the Spanish MEP referred to the critical situation of the rule of law, for which Weber has so far remained silent.

EU Parliament mission: Rule of law in Greece faces ‘very serious threats’

The rule of law situation in Greece is on the edge, given the poor media reporting, threats against journalists, and severe shortcomings in the justice sector, a mission of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) has concluded during a visit to Athens.

In the case of Italy, Weber was recently strongly criticised by his own party after he attempted to forge ties with conservative Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (ECR). Following a backlash from the German right and others, Weber was forced to take a step back.

Villanueva emphasised the resilience of Spain’s leftist government and concluded that “it is normal that the Partido Popular [EPP], which has lost almost all governments in Europe, tries to attack this example [Spain leftist government] by all means”.

Better deal with Berlusconi

Weber’s comments also frustrated the Greens, who called on Weber to fix first his own political family’s issues.

“The Greens recommend Manfred Weber to spend his time asking Berlusconi, an EPP member, to stop blaming Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the war”, Greens/EFA MEP Ernest Urtasun told EURACTIV.

“The Spanish government stands firm in its solidarity with Ukraine. Mr Weber cannot say the same of his allies”, he added.

Forza Italia’s chief Silvio Berlusconi recently caused shockwaves in the centre-right family after he attacked Zelenskyy and openly backed Moscow in the Ukraine war.

Forza Italia up in arms after EPP chief hits at Berlusconi

European People’s Party (EPP) leader Manfred Weber has distanced himself from Silvio Berlusconi after the latter’s statements against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but centre-right Forza Italia strongly defended the former Italian prime minister, even questioning Weber’s leadership.

Weber’s concerns were also opposed by centrist Renew Europe, which stressed that Spain’s commitment to Ukraine is evident because the country keeps on providing financial assistance and military aid, a spokesperson told EURACTIV.

“This is the first time such an argument [governing coalitions’ disagreements] has been used to cast doubt on a Council presidency”, the Renew Europe spokesperson noted.

EURACTIV also contacted the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) but did not respond by the time of this article’s publication.