Candidates spar for European Commission president job

Candidates spar for European Commission president job
The candidates to take over from Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission have clashed in a televised debate broadcast across the EU.

It was part of the spitzenkandidat - or "lead candidate" - process, where contenders for the role are put forward by the pan-European groups of like-minded political parties in the European Parliament.

Each applicant has to be running in the European elections which will be held on 23-26 May.

The job comes with a staff of more than 30,000, a seat at summits of EU leaders and the right to propose new European laws.

The concept was tried for the first time in 2014. It is meant to make the appointment seem more democratic by putting the winner through something resembling an election campaign.

Image caption Mr Weber, Mr Timmermans, Ms Vestager, Ms Keller, Mr Cue, and Mr Zahradil

Six candidates were on stage in Brussels:

Manfred Weber has been a high-flyer in the EU s influential bloc of centre-right parties from a young age. He often stresses his Bavarian roots as he promotes his 10-point plan for Europe.

He is the closest the contest has to a front-runner but the only thing he has ever run is the EPP delegation in the European Parliament.

He promised to appoint a commissioner to oversee a new relationship with Africa to help control migration to Europe. He said future trade deals with other countries would include clauses banning child labour.

But he had to fend off accusations that his centre-right colleagues had voted against climate change measures.

He is the supremely multilingual First Vice-President of the European Commission. The Dutchman steered through EU legislation banning plastic straws and negotiated the EU s deal with Turkey to reduce the flow of migrants.

His signature proposal in the debate was a minimum rate of corporation tax across the EU of 18%.

Margrete Vestager, Liberals

Ms Vestager, from Denmark, currently oversees competition policy at the European Commission, where she led investigations that ended in big fines for Google and Apple.

But she admitted that the Commission had alienated voters.

"Last year we got digital citizens rights. That we called GDPR. How can we expect people to appreciate that?"

Unusually the Liberals have fielded a slate of six others for the EU s top job, including the European Parliament s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt.

This is Ska Keller s second time as a spitzenkandidat. Although she is a Green, she is as likely to talk about the rights of migrants as the plight of the environment.
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