German CSU party chooses Weber as European leadership candidate

Nuremberg (dpa) – The German CSU – a sister party of the Christian Democratic CDU that only operates in the German state of Bavaria – is heading into the 2024 European elections with EPP leader Manfred Weber at the helm and wants to score points with a clear, but also critical pro-European course and a hard line against the far-right AfD party. Weber, who was chosen as the CSU’s top candidate on Saturday, and party leader Markus Söder swore the party in for a tough fight, particularly against the right and populists. At the delegates’ meeting in Nuremberg, Weber spoke of Nazis and neo-Nazis, particularly with regard to the AfD – and said they would not allow Europe to be destroyed by them. Both Söder and Weber described the election as a choice of destiny for the continent.

Weber was elected first on the CSU list in Nuremberg with 96 per cent of the vote. The 51-year-old had already stood as the lead candidate in the 2019 European elections – at that time for the entire European People’s Party (EPP) as a Christian Democratic party family and the office of Commission President, which he did not end up winning. Since 2022, Weber has also held the EPP party presidency in addition to his position as group leader in the European Parliament.

Weber said that prominent AfD politician Björn Höcke had claimed that this Europe must die and had thus expressed “what the actual substantial thinking of these Nazis is.” Europe was certainly not perfect, he added. “But our Europe, which is the most beautiful we have ever had in the history of this continent, the best we have ever had in the history of the continent, we will not let you neo-Nazis destroy it,” Weber said. He also distanced himself from – in his words – left-wing and green ideologues. Weber described migration policy and securing lasting peace and prosperity as key challenges for Europe. (26 November)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives Belgian and Spanish Prime Ministers Alxander De Croo and Pedro Sanchez. Photo: EFE/EPA/GPO/KOBI GIDEON HANDOUT HANDOUT

De Croo and Sanchez mission triggers diplomatic tensions with Israel

Jerusalem (Belga) – The Belgian and Spanish Prime Ministers Alexander de Croo and Pedro Sánchez travelled to Israel last week for a joint visit. Spain currently holds the Council of the EU presidency and Belgium will take over that post in January. There’s no unified European position on the Israel-Hamas conflict, but Spain and Belgium, along with six other EU member states, are on the same page condemning Hamas, while at the same time holding Israel accountable for the many civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip.

The Belgian-Spanish duo also conveyed that message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday. The latter chose to start the meeting in the Israeli parliament with a half-hour of gruesome footage of the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, after which he wanted to listen to “the comments.”

De Croo condemned the violence after the pictures were shown. He said he knew that Netanyahu would not rest until every hostage was released. At the same time, the Belgian premier wanted to take a moment to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, citing the destruction of homes, the internal displacement of 1.4 million persons and the killing of thousands of innocent people.

The actual meeting, behind closed doors, went more amicably than expected, according to those who were there. But during a conversation beforehand, in front of cameras, Netanyahu said, among other things, that Israel could not be held to standards that no one had to meet and that the country was in compliance with international law. The Israeli prime minister reasoned that the army had tried by all means to get civilians out of northern Gaza, but that Hamas was keeping them there and using them as human shields.

De Croo’s and Sanchez’s visit, the initial plans for which predate the formation of the new Spanish government, coincided with the announcement of a humanitarian pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. That went into effect on Friday morning and in the meantime has led to the release of 24 hostages, including 13 from Israel, 10 from Thailand and one from the Philippines.

That the release took place on Friday afternoon via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, where only moments before Sanchez and De Croo had held a press conference to call for a smoother influx of humanitarian aid, was unforeseeable. And although the Belgian Prime Minister once again condemned Hamas terror and called for the immediate release of all Israeli hostages, the press conference afterwards led to a diplomatic tailspin with an angry tweet from Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and a summoned Belgian ambassador. De Croo later spoke to the Belgian press travelling with him of a misunderstanding on the Israeli side and stressed that he had strongly condemned Hamas’ actions. (24 November)

Austria wins an EU #BeActive Award 2023

Brussels (APA) – Austria is one of the winners of the European Commission’s #BeActive Awards 2023, which promote initiatives for a healthy and sporty lifestyle. The Eversports platform won the #BeActive Workplace Award with a project that promotes an active lifestyle for employees and a healthy work-life balance. This was announced by the Commission on Friday in Brussels. Other award winners came from Spain, Bulgaria and Portugal.

A total of twelve finalists competed for the main prizes in four categories: Workplace, Education, Local Hero and Intergenerational. Each winner receives 10,000 euros for their project. Eversports Austria says it connects sports enthusiasts with studios, sports centres, coaches and teachers via a central platform. Founded in 2013, the company has the “vision of enabling access to sport at any time and from anywhere.”

The #BeActive Education Award was won by the responsible local authority in Martorell, Spain, for a project to combat inequalities in the education system. The winner of the #BeActive Local Hero Award 2023 is Bulgarian Kalin Vasilev, who, according to the Commission, has inspired thousands of Bulgarians to adopt a better lifestyle on a voluntary basis. The #BeActive Across Generations Award went to Portugal for a project that promotes the health of older people. (24 November)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Tuesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.