There was hardly any suspense on Wednesday at the Zagreb Arena, where the EPP, the family of the European right center of which the Republicans are members, met. But it was necessary to make it last so that the ranks of this gigantic concert hall are not too sparse when the Chancellor Angela Merkel and the elected president, Ursula von der Leyen, would speak. So it was only in the early evening that the results for the presidential election of the party fell.
The Polish Donald Tusk was elected with 93% of the votes of the party delegates. "A Soviet score", according to a heavyweight party. He had no competitor against him. "You did your job so well that there is no other candidate," said Donald Tusk to his predecessor Joseph Daul, who has led the party since 2013 and made a promise to his wife that he would drop out of the EPP presidency in late 2019.
This 62 year old man ticks a lot of boxes. Former Prime Minister, outgoing President of the European Council, his stature will undoubtedly allow him to shine the party more than did Joseph Daul, who, by character, cultivated discretion while skillfully managing this huge coalition of 84 parties. 43 countries. Because the author of the corrosive tweets about the Brexiters does not have the slightest intention to modify his direct and sometimes rough communication. "After five years, I'm tired of being the European leader of the bureaucracy." Thus he concluded his very conservative speech, which gave pride of place to security and sovereign issues.
In the corridors of the Zagreb Arena, many welcomed his election. Michel Barnier boasted a leader "Bold", "not traditional" and "courageous". "He's a free man," summed up Brexit's chief negotiator for the EU. Mezza voce, some emitted some criticisms. "Daul was very close to the field. He knows the farmers, the bosses of SMEs, the citizens. Tusk will no doubt be further away from the questions of everyday life ", slips a MEP. In any case, the challenges facing the new president are numerous. Starting with the much-awaited decision on Viktor Orban's party, Fidesz, still suspended from the EPP because of its vitriolic campaigns against the EU and repeated breaches of the rule of law. The question should be decided in mid-January 2020.
But Tusk, also at war with the Polish PiS, led the charge on Wednesday. "Under no circumstances can we abandon the sphere of security and order to political populists, manipulators and autocrats who make people believe that freedom is not compatible with security," he hammered, also anxious to demonstrate that he will not be a president of the EPP too marked in the East. No question of sacrificing "values such as civil liberties, the rule of law and decency in public life on the altar of order and security".
Will it go all the way, knowing that the exclusion of Fidesz would ultimately deprive the EPP of 13 MEPs, a European Commissioner and a Head of Government and that there is no of unity on this issue within the party? Many doubt it. And it is not only on this question that the European right is divided. It is also on the climate, especially between East and West. Is it for this reason that Tusk stayed away from the subject in his speech? Daul himself stepped on the plate, calling for a "Honest speech". "We have to tell people: here's the cost, that's the number of jobs we lose and we win," hammered the Alsatian, probably at the address of Ursula von der Leyen, eagerly awaited on his "green deal".
Beyond these questions, the main challenge will be to give back to this party which has undoubtedly too institutionalized. Stuck between the extreme right and the liberal formations of the LREM type, the number of seats it has in Strasbourg has again melted in recent European, from 217 to 182. At the European Council, they are now nine leaders of this political family, compared to fourteen five years ago. The EPP must reinvent itself.