October 18, 2018 / 10:37 AM / a month ago

Hungary PM Orban backs Germany's Weber for top EU job

FILE PHOTO: Manfred Weber, Chairman of the European People Party group (EPP) looks on, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is backing Germany’s Manfred Weber to be the centre-right’s candidate to head the European Commission, national news agency MTI quoted Orban’s cabinet chief Antal Rogan as saying on Thursday.

The current president of the EU executive Jean-Claude Juncker will stand down next year.

Former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb is so far Weber’s only rival to be the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) lead candidate, and secure the nomination to replace Juncker. Orban, a nationalist, has clashed with the EU over immigration and other issues.

Orban’s Fidesz party, which won Hungary’s elections by a landslide in April, is expected to dominate the Hungarian vote in European Parliament elections in May.

That group can have an important say in the EPP which currently holds 219 seats as the biggest group in the 751-member assembly and hopes to promote its lead candidate for the top EU job.

However, the selection process is uncertain as many national leaders reject pressure from the European Parliament for them to nominate a winning party leader as the successor to Juncker, saying the want to have a free choice on who they put forward to run the EU executive.

Weber, who can also be confident of support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized the Hungarian government last month when the European Parliament voted to sanction Hungary for flouting EU rules.

Reporting by Marton Dunai and Sandor Peto; Editing by Toby Chopra

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