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EU socialists will not back von der Leyen if far right forces shape priorities - secretary-general

Giacomo Filibeck, secretary-general of the Party of European Socialists (PES)
Giacomo Filibeck, secretary-general of the Party of European Socialists (PES) Copyright Luis MILLAN/ European Union 2024 - Source : EP
Copyright Luis MILLAN/ European Union 2024 - Source : EP
By Isabel Marques da SilvaMared Gwyn Jones
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Giacomo Filibeck tells Euronews that von der Leyen's 'ambiguity' on the far right is 'not acceptable.'

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The secretary general of the Party of European Socialists (PES) Giacomo Filibeck has said his political family will "not be sitting at the table" with the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) if it allows far-right forces to shape the priorities of the next mandate.

Days after the EPP emerged as the biggest party in the European elections - paving the way for its lead candidate Ursula von der Leyen to have a first shot at securing a second term at the Commission's helm - Filibeck said she will not be able rely on the centre-left's backing if she continues to open up to radical right-wing forces.

Von der Leyen needs to be nominated by the bloc's 27 leaders and secure the backing of an absolute majority of 361 newly-elected MEPs to clinch a second term - the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group could offer up to 135 votes.

"If in the negotiations, we see that ECR or ID are playing a role in setting the priorities for the next five years, then it will be us socialists and democrats and progressives that will not be sitting at the table," he said.

"If instead, we open up to the support and the contribution of the green parties, we are more than welcoming them," Filibeck added.

The two most radical right-wing groups in the European Parliament - the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) - made some gains in last week's European elections, but the pro-European parties at the centre retained their majority despite warnings of a far-right surge.

While early indications from the EPP camp suggest they want to stay faithful to their traditional, mainstream partners, they have also refused to rule outworking with certain far-right forces on a case-by-case basis.

Filibeck suggested that his party will seek assurances that the EPP will not form ad-hoc majorities with right-wing forces in the next mandate before they offer their votes to reinstate von der Leyen in the role of Commission President.

"There cannot be an institutional majority to elect the president of the Commission, and then a political majority à la carte on the different policies to create an alternative parallel programme," he said. "Once we agree that we are together in supporting the next mandate of the next commission, it means also that we agree on the clear priorities."

For decades, the European Parliament has been able to pass legislation because the three mainstream parties at the centre have agreed to work together in a so-called grand coalition, with the Greens also propping up the grand coalition during the past mandate.

But deep rifts have started to appear between the EPP and its traditional partners in recent years as it tried to water down key environmental files - most notably a bill to restore 20% of the EU's land and seas by 20230 - part of the landmark European Green Deal that von der Leyen had herself championed.

In the run-up to last week's ballot, von der Leyen expressed her willingness to collaborate with some lawmakers sitting with the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) who she considers to be pro-European, pro-Ukraine and pro-rule of law.

Sources within the EPP group say that lawmakers from Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy and Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala's Civic Democratic (ODS) party are considered potential constructive partners over the next five-year term.

But this has sparked fears among centrist and left-leaning forces that von der Leyen is slowly dismantling the so-called sanitary cordon that has kept far-right forces in check at the EU level.

"What is not acceptable for us is the ambiguity with which the EPP has been playing during the course of the campaign, and to a certain extent also Madame von der Leyen in the public debates (...) when she was hinting that it's a possibility to open up this coalition to other forces," Filibeck explained.

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Parties belonging to the EPP group have already entered government or signed agreements with the far right in Italy, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and more recently in the Netherlands. On Tuesday, the president of the EPP's French member party sparked fury when he also indicated his willingness to enter an alliance with the French far right ahead of this month's French legislative elections.

Socialists eye European Council presidency

As EU leaders begin jostling for the top jobs in Brussels, European socialists are eyeing the presidency of the European Council, which brings together the 27 heads of state and government, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez representing their European party in the negotiations.

The Council presidency has traditionally been granted to a former EU head of state with a track record of navigating complex negotiations.

Asked whether former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa - who was forced to step down last November amid a sprawling corruption probe involving his chief of staff - was the Socialists' top pick, Filibeck said: "We have many former and present prime ministers who have all the cards in order to perform (...) the task of the president of the European Council and Antonio Costa is surely one of them."

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He refused to confirm whether Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen could be another potential pick.

"As I said, we have present and past prime ministers who are all entitled to perform that role in the interest of the whole European Union," he said.

Portuguese premier Luis Montenegro has already thrown his weight behind the potential candidacy of his predecessor Costa, for the presidency of the European Council.

Speaking shortly after his centre-right coalition - Aliança Democrática (AD) - was narrowly edged by the socialist opposition in the European ballot, Montenegro said: “It’s possible for the presidency of the European Council to be destined to a socialist."

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"If Dr. António Costa is a candidate for that position, the AD and the Government of Portugal will not only support but will do everything so that this candidacy can be successful.”

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