As expected, former prime minister Alexander Stubb confirmed on Tuesday evening that he will vie to become the conservative candidate for European Commission President.
As the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group is the largest bloc in the European Commission, its candidate is considered likely to take over from incumbent commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, also from the EPP. It is tipped to remain the biggest group after next May’s European Parliament elections.
Stubb told Yle that the prime candidate or “Spitzenkandidat” of the largest group after the election will probably become either the commission president or be chosen for another high-ranking post such as central bank director or Speaker of the European Parliament.
Before his formal announcement in Strasburg on Tuesday, Stubb sent a letter to fellow members of the European People’s Party (EPP) saying he wanted to run to defend European values and to push the EU to fill a power vacuum left by the “voluntary marginalization” of the US and UK from world politics.
“It is time to rally around our cause for a strong Europe. This means mitigating unnecessary divisions between East and West, North and South. We must be better at highlighting what unites us instead of what differentiates us,” wrote Stubb.
Stubb is the second candidate to throw his hat into the ring. The first was Germany’s Manfred Weber, who leads the EPP group in the European Parliament.
The EPP is to pick its candidate in Helsinki on 8 November. Any other potential candidates still have two weeks to enter the EPP race.
The former front runner, France’s Michel Barnier, said last week that he would no longer seek the post. Barnier is now busy as Europe’s chief negotiator with London over Brexit.
Weber is backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose CDU/CSU group forms the largest delegation within the EPP. The largest other groups are from Poland, France and Spain. Stubb’s advantages over Weber could be his executive experience, which the German lacks, and his linguistic skills – the Finn speaks five European languages fluently, including German and French.
Stubb, 50, who studied in the UK, US, Belgium and France, was chair of Finland’s conservative National Coalition Party, finance minister, foreign minister and prime minister. However he held the premiership for less than a year before being ousted as party chair in a leadership challenge by Petteri Orpo, who is now finance minister and deputy PM. He has also been an MEP and worked for President Romano Prodi at the European Commission for many years. He has also been a visiting Professor at the College of Europe in Bruges and a columnist for various publications such as the Financial Times.
Stubb is taking five weeks off from his post as vice-president of the European Investment Bank to campaign for the EPP nod.
“I’ve always been strongly pro-EU,” says Stubb. “At the moment we’re in a situation where the EU’s basic values are being questioned.”
Stubb says that what he calls these “liberal” values are being questioned from outside the EU by China, Russia, the US and others. Within the union, there is pressure against these values from Poland, Hungary and Italy.
The EU should take “a strict line” on moves within Poland and Hungary to undermine the rule of law, he said.
“Europe is not a banana republic where values and rules can be interpreted in just any which way,” he said.
Finland, meanwhile, will choose its next European Commissioner candidate after next April’s parliamentary election.