One of the frontrunners to take up the next EU Commission Presidency, Manfred Weber, responded to concerns over the US Trump administration on Wednesday (9 January), saying that the President “is not America”.
Weber is the lead candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) for the May European elections. His comments came a day after the US downgraded the EU’s diplomatic status in America.
While Weber highlighted the importance of maintaining a close relationship with the US, he noted that the current US President doesn’t necessarily represent the country as a whole.
“Donald Trump is not America,” he said, talking to reporters on the presentation of his upcoming ‘listening tour’ ahead of the crucial European parliamentary elections in May.
“America is still our partner and a friend of ours and we have a lot of things is common, values and principles and a way of life,” Weber insisted.
On Tuesday, the US government lowered the official status of EU diplomats, meaning that fewer representatives from the bloc could be able to attend high-level meetings with Washington counterparts.
“We understand that there was a recent change in the way the diplomatic precedence list is implemented by the United States’ Protocol,” Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Tuesday (8 November).
“We are currently discussing with the US administration possible implications for the EU Delegation in Washington. We were not notified of any change.”
Weber’s EU Army
Weber further drew attention to two areas of policy on Wednesday that will be prioritised under his Presidency: external affairs and defence.
Both fields require “more Europe,” Weber said, adding that cyber defence measures need to be bolstered in particular, as well as a common approach on the regulation of drone use.
Weber applauded the efforts of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in advocating for greater unity in defence, and said that he approves of their backing for a potential EU army.
However, he said that the bloc is “lacking concrete approaches” in rolling out such ambitious proposals.
The German called upon defence ministers from across the EU to look into practical ways in how Merkel and Macron’s pledges could be put into action.
On external affairs, Weber said that “Europe is totally absent” in some areas in which the likes of the US and China are major players. He highlighted the crisis in Syria as somewhere in which the EU could assert itself with a greater political clout than it is currently doing.
He added that the rules for external affairs decision making processes need to change, highlighting the need to make more issues in this field dealt with by Qualified Majority Voting, rather than unanimity, a move that current Commission President Juncker has also sought to pursue.
Weber was crowned Spitzenkandidat of the EPP in November in Helsinki, after he cruised to victory in a contest that saw ex-Finnish Prime minister Alexander Stubb defeated with a small share of the votes. Weber secured 492 votes, while Stubb was well behind on 127.
The German now embarks on a tour of all EU member states, travelling into the “suburbs, rural areas and villages…visiting local businesses, farms, schools and community organisers,” a statement distributed on Wednesday reads.
The first stops on Weber’s tour include Cyprus from Thursday (10 January), and then onto Spain in mid-January and Lithuania at the end of the month.