German MEP Manfred Weber has said war-torn Ukraine's EU membership is a priority, after his election on Tuesday as leader of the struggling pro-European right-wing European People's Party.
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The only candidate to succeed former EU Council President Donald Tusk, he faces the difficult task of restoring the influence of the EPP after crushing defeats in France and Germany.
"The first message we have to give at this time...yes, you can become a member of the European Union," Weber said in a speech after being elected at a Congress in Rotterdam, southwest of the Netherlands.
"The EPP supports candidate status for our Ukrainian friends and also for the Republic of Moldova", he added, in the presence of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, authorized to leave Ukraine to take part in the event.
Kyiv has expressed frustration with some EU countries refusing to fast-track its membership following the Russian invasion on February 24. The European Commission intends to give its opinion in June on whether Ukraine will obtain candidate status.
Mr Weber said the next priority was for the EPP to regain its status as the leading political power as conservative right-wing parties have been on a losing streak in the European Union.
"Let's be honest we are not at the best time in our history," admitted Mr. Weber.
EPP officials have acknowledged that the presidential election in May in France was a disaster with less than 5% of the vote for right-wing candidate Valérie Pécresse.
The family also lost its political leader with the departure of Angela Merkel from the German Chancellery. Its main components, the German CDU, the Spanish Partido Popular, Forza Italia, the French Republicans are today in opposition.
The EPP now has only 7 leaders at the table of the European Council which brings together the 27 (Greece, Austria, Cyprus, Romania, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia) and if it remains the leading force in the European Parliament, it must compose with the Renew Socialists and Liberals.
Originally from Bavaria, member of the CSU, Bavarian avatar of the CDU, elected MEP in 2004, Manfred Weber, 49, has been leading the EPP group in the European Parliament since 2014.
The EPP remains the largest party in the European Parliament in terms of seats, which would have allowed it to take over the presidency of the European Commission in 2019. But French President Emmanuel Macron thwarted this ambition by favoring Ursula von der Leyen.