weber is a right-wing pro-EU integrationist

Germany’s Weber will block construction of Nord Stream 2 if chosen as EU chief executive – paper
Reuters, Apr 23 2019

Weber at the European Parliament in Brussels, Apr 3 2019.
Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

WARSAW – Manfred Weber, German candidate for the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, will try to block the construction of the NordStream 2 pipeline if he becomes the next President of the EC, he told Polska Times in an interview published on Tuesday. He said:

I am against this project. It’s not in the interest of the EU. As the head of the EC, I will use all available laws to block NordStream 2.

His position goes against that of the German government, and he said in response to a question on this differing position:

I’m not the German candidate for the head of the European Commission, but a candidate for the European People’s Party.

Opinion polls ahead of the May 23-26 European elections show the EPP would remain the biggest party in the European Parliament, giving Weber a solid chance of becoming Commission president, though he may face resistance from governments who do not want to be bound to choose from among party leaders.

Greek PM’s criticism takes shine off Weber’s push for EU’s top job
Helena Smith, Gruin, Apr 23 2019

ATHENS – Manfred Weber has launched his campaign to become president of the European commission in Athens, but faced excoriating criticism from the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, before he had even arrived in the Greek capital. In a tweet intended to cause maximum embarrassment for the German leader of the conservative European People’s party group in the European parliament, Tsipras insinuated that Weber harboured racist and authoritarian tendencies. He said that at the height of Athens’ debt crisis, Weber had pushed for “Grexit” and thus proved himself to be “anti-Greek.” The prime minister wrote on Twitter:

A vote for Mitsotakis’ New Democracy means a vote for anti-Greek Weber. It means a vote for the transformation of democratic Europe into an authoritarian and racist Europe, which will close the door to the oppressed, but also to a deeply neoliberal Europe.

The tweet, written in Greek and posted on Apr 20, set the stage for an inauspicious start to a campaign. Mitsotakis & New Democracy have had the edge on Tsipras & Syriza for the past two years. Ahead of a general election later this year, polls have shown them leading by as much as 15 points. As close political allies who regard themselves as anti-populist reformists, Mitsotakis and Weber made the “battle against populism” a key message in speeches later on Tuesday. Opening his speech to rapturous applause, Weber said there was no better place to convey his ideas for a future Europe than Athens, and lambasted the “empty answers and sweet promises of populists,” in reference to Syriza. Tsipras, who was elected in Jan 2015 as Greece’s first leftist prime minister, has openly called for a progressive front to be formed to prevent Weber, whom he calls “the ultra-right Bavarian,” from taking on the EU’s top job. But at a time of deepening political polarisation in Greece, his combative language has been met with cool disdain and, some have said, may even be welcomed by Weber in a pan-European arena that has become ever more toxic and pugilistic. The fact that Weber is no friend of Tsipras, calling the leftist leader a “populist” while lambasting his economic policies, is a source of delight for Greek conservatives. Speaking in December about Tsipras’s anti-austerity rhetoric and his government’s handling of negotiations over Greece’s third EU bailout, Weber said:

Tsipras lied to the Greek people, who had to pay the bill for his government. I believe in New Democracy’s programme and Mitsotakis has a strong voice in Europe … New Democracy will push populists aside and restore the credibility of this wonderful country.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine a familiar face suddenly reemerges:

Is Kolomoisky the puppet master of Ukraine’s new president?
Igor Ogorodnev,, Apr 23 2019

It doesn’t actually matter if Ukrainian-Israeli billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is the real power behind Volodymyr Zelensky. The president elect has to get rid of the oligarch if he is to make a break with the country’s corrupt past. The plots, deceits and conflicts of interest in Ukrainian politics are so transparent and hyperbolic, that to say that novice politician Zelensky was a protégé of his long-time employer was not something that required months of local investigative journalism. It was just out there. Zelensky’s comedy troupe has been on Kolomoisky’s top-rated channel for the past eight years, and his media asset spent every possible resource promoting the contender against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, a personal enemy of the tycoon, who hasn’t even risked entering Ukraine in the past months. Similarly, the millions and the nous needed to run a presidential campaign in a country of nearly 50 million people had to come from somewhere, and Kolomoisky’s lieutenants were said to be in all key posts. The two issued half-hearted denials that one was a frontman for the other, insisting that they were business partners with a cordial working relationship, but voters had to take their word for it. Now that the supposed scheme has paid off with Zelensky’s spectacular victory in Sunday’s run-off, Ukrainian voters are asking: what does Kolomoisky want now, and will he be allowed to run the show?

Born in 1963, in a family of two Jewish engineers, Kolomoisky is the type of businessman that was once the staple of the post-Soviet public sphere, but represents a dying breed. That is, he is not an entrepreneur in the established Western sense at all. He did not go from a Soviet bloc apartment to Lake Geneva villas by inventing a new product, or even setting up an efficient business structure in an existing field. Rather he is an opportunist who got wealthy by skilfully reading trends as the Soviet economy opened up, selling Western-made computers in the late 1980s, and later when independent Ukraine transitioned to a market economy and Kolomoisky managed to get his hands on a large amount of privatisation vouchers that put many of the juiciest local metals and energy concerns into his hands, which he then modernised. What he possesses is a chutzpah and unscrupulousness that is rare even among his peers. Vladimir Putin once called him a “one-of-a-kind chancer” who managed to “swindle Roman Abramovich himself.” In the perma-chaos of Ukrainian law and politics, where all moves are always on the table, his tactical acumen has got him ahead. Kolomoisky’s lifeblood is connections and power rather than any pure profit on the balance sheet, though no one actually knows how that would read, as the Privat Group he part-owns is reported to own over 100 businesses in dozens of Ukrainian spheres through a complex network of offshore companies and obscure intermediaries. The oligarch himself says, straight-faced:

There is no Privat Group. It is a media confection.

Unsurprisingly, he has been dabbling in politics for decades, particularly following the first Orange Revolution in 2004. Though the vehicles for his support have not been noted for a particular ideological consistency, in reportedly backing Viktor Yushchenko, then Yulia Tymoshenko, he was merely putting his millions on what he thought would be a winning horse. But at some point in the post-Maidan euphoria, Kolomoisky’s narcissism got the better of him, and he accepted a post as the governor of his home region of Dnepropetrovsk, in 2014. The qualities that might have made him a tolerable rogue on TV, began to grate in a more official role. From his penchant for using the political arena to settle his business disputes, to creating his own paramilitary force by sponsoring anti-Russian battalions out of his own pocket, to his somewhat charmless habit of grilling and threatening to put in prison those less powerful than him in fits of pique. One viral expletive-strewn rant against an overwhelmed RFE reporter begins:

You wait for me out here like a wife for a cheating husband!

There is a temptation here for a comparison with a Donald Trump given a developing country to play with, but for all of the shenanigans, his ideological views have always been relatively straightforward. Despite his Russia-loathing patriotism, not even his fans know what Kolomoisky stands for. The oligarch fell out with fellow billionaire Poroshenko in early 2015, following a battle over the control of a large oil transport company between the state and the governor. The following year, his Privat Bank, which at one point handled one in four financial transactions in the country was nationalized, though the government said that Kolomoisky had turned it into a mere shell by giving $5b of its savings to Privat Group companies. Other significant assets were seized, the government took to London to launch a case against his international companies, and though never banished, Kolomoisky himself decided it would be safer if he spent as long as necessary jetting between his adopted homes in Switzerland and Tel Aviv, with the occasional trip to London for the foreseeable future. But the adventurer falls, and rises again. The London case has been dropped due to lack of jurisdiction, and only last week a ruling came shockingly overturning the three-year-old nationalization of Privat Bank. Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good. Zelensky must disabuse him of that notion.

It doesn’t matter that they are friends. Or what handshake agreements they made beforehand. Or that he travelled to Geneva and Tel-Aviv 13 times in the past two years. Or what kompromat Kolomoisky may or may not have on him. It doesn’t matter that his head of security is the man who, for years, guarded the oligarch, and that he may quite genuinely fear for his own safety. It’s not like nothing bad has ever happened to Ukrainian presidents. Volodymyr Zelensky is now the leader of a large country, with the backing of 13.5 million voters. It is to them that he promised a break with past bribery, graft and cronyism. Even by tolerating one man, and one who makes Poroshenko look wholesome, next to him, he discredits all of that. He will have the support of the people if he pits himself against the puppet master, no one would have elected Kolomoisky in his stead. Whether the oligarch is told to stay away, whether Ukraine enables the financial fraud investigation into him that has been opened by the FBI, or if he is just treated to the letter of the law, all will be good enough. This is the first and main test, and millions who were prepared to accept the legal fiction of the independent candidate two months ago, will now want to see reality to match. Zelensky’s TV president protagonist in Servant of the People, also broadcast by Kolomoisky’s channel, obviously, would never have compromised like that. What hinges on this is not just the fate of Zelensky’s presidency, but the chance for Ukraine to restore battered faith in its democracy shaken by a succession of compromised failures at the helm.

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