Germany's CDU and CSU have kicked off their European election campaign with a demonstrative display of unity, pledging to fight for European values, stability and peace.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have launched their first joint European election campaign with a call to resist the forces seeking to undermine the European Union.
"Today, Europe is under pressure; it is on the defensive," Manfred Weber of the CSU told a conference of the two parties in the western German city of Münster on Saturday. Europe must "be defended against the nationalists and the egoists," he said.
Weber, currently the leader of the European People's Party (EPP), is hoping to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission after elections to the European Parliament from May 23-26. Among other things, he pledged in his speech at the conference to work toward establishing a European FBI and to strengthen Frontex, the EU's border security force.
Frontex protects the borders of the European Schengen Area jointly with border and coast guards of Schengen Area member states.
At the same time, however, Weber stressed that the CDU and CSU would continue to "pursue a humanitarian approach in refugee policy."
Message of European belonging
His anti-nationalist appeal was seconded by CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who described the EU as a "peace project" that needed to be protected from people who support authoritarian ideas. She said it was now vital for a strong and stable Europe that the "joint family" of the CDU and CSU, and Weber's team, fight for every vote.
"We all belong to Europe together. That is the message that we are sending from here," she said to strong applause.
CSU leader Markus Söder (top photo, right) voiced the same pro-European sentiments, but first he welcomed the new unity between the two German conservative parties after a rocky period in their relations, largely over refugee policy.
"What was important to me and Annegret (Kramp-Karrenbauer) was to end a quarrel between CDU and CSU that has run for the past three, four years, to reposition ourselves, and to work together for Europe," he said. At a time when so many were trying to divide Europe, he said, it was all the more important to look for commonalities.
Difference of opinion
No mention was made at the conference of Weber's differences with the CDU and CSU over the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Weber has said that if elected president of the European Commission, he would stop construction work on the German-Russian project, which is supported by the government in Berlin.
Chancellor Merkel, the former leader of the CDU, did not take part in the conference, but she will make a one-off election campaign appearance in Germany on May 24. She will, however, also appear with Weber at a number of campaign events in other EU countries.
tj/amp (AFP, dpa)