Busuttil pick for EPP job is source of discontent inside centre-right – Politico

‘MEPs and EPP insiders accused Weber of favouring a close ally with little experience of the Parliament or knowledge of the group’

Insider critics of the European People’s Party have accused leader Manfred Weber, the German MEP, of having single-handedly appointed Simon Busuttil, the former PN leader and MEP, to the post of secretary-general in a bid to consolidate his power.

A reveal in Politico, the Brussels newspaper, says insiders who opened up have accused Weber – who failed to clinch the position of European Commission president in 2019 – of attempting to strengthen his grip on the EPP following his humiliating defeat last year, even as he considers other career avenues.

Despite being the EPP’s lead candidate for the top Commission job, EU leaders rejected him, turning instead to another German EPP politician, Ursula von der Leyen, even though she had not publicly campaigned for the post.

Insiders claimed Weber was “angry, resentful, bitter… There is a bad atmosphere in the group… Weber has changed, he seems to be acting like someone who’s been persecuted or betrayed, and he surrounded himself with a small team of close people.”

“Much of the criticism centres on Weber’s decision to appoint Simon Busuttil,” Politico reports on the former PN leader’s influential position as EP Secretary-general.

Both Weber and Busuttil have enjoyed a long friendship from the Maltese politician’s days in the EP. Weber publicly endorsed Busuttil’s campaign to become PN leader in 2013, calling him ‘Malta’s next prime minister’ back in 2015, and then also addressed PN mass meetings during the 2017 elections.

“Some MEPs and EPP insiders accused Weber of favouring a close ally with little experience of the Parliament or knowledge of the group. ‘Busuttil is certainly nice but his name fell from heaven for that job,’ said one MEP. MEPs have also questioned why a Maltese national – representing a party that has only two EPP MEPs – got the job, when the EPP’s largest national delegations come from Germany and Central and Eastern Europe.

“They are scared because they see Busuttil as the president’s enforcer while [former sec-gen Martin] Kamp was a staff protector,’ the first EPP insider said.”

Busuttil ally Roberta Metsola however told Politico that Busuttil’s appointment showed that “it is competence and meritocracy that triumphs over geographic realities” in the EPP.

Metsola acknowledged Busuttil’s nomination “may have taken some people by surprise”, but said Weber was a “bridge-builder” under whose leadership the EPP had grown stronger.

According to another unnamed MEP who spoke to Politico however, the EPP lacked a distinctive political identity, torn between liberal centrist parties, and the more nationalist parties that toe the anti-migration line of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, which party is currently suspended from the EPP.

Weber has now set up a working group on the EPP under the leadership of French MEP François-Xavier Bellamy to come up with a strategy to “reboot” Christian democracy and “preserving EU way of life”.

Weber could still become European Parliament president. Under the deal that distributed the EU’s top jobs last year, an EPP candidate should take over from Italian Socialist David Sassoli for the second half of the Parliament’s five-year term.