May 17, 2019 / 11:40 AM / 2 months ago

Pumping up the volume, conservative runs glitzy EU campaign

MALAGA, Spain (Reuters) - If top conservative candidate Manfred Weber has achieved one thing in his campaign for EU parliamentary elections that by tradition feel too irrelevant to set pulses racing, it is to introduce power chords and stage flames to his rallies.

FILE PHOTO: Manfred Weber, the EU candidate of Germany's Christian Democratic Union party CDU and Bavaria's Christian Social Union party CSU, appears on a screen as he attends the kickoff campaign for the European elections in Muenster, Germany, April 27, 2019

Often welcomed onto the podium like a rock star, Weber seeks to boost his chances not only with policy messages but by generating enough buzz to reverse falling turnouts and stem the rise of parties on the far right and left more adept at mobilising their vote.

At a rally in Athens, the German lead nominee for the European People’s Party addressed a fired-up crowd from a circular stage against a backdrop of Greek columns, flame-like lighting and giant screens.

With rock music pumping and a podium shaped like the first two letters of Weber’s surname, there was no escaping his campaign slogan: “The Power of We”. The only question was whether any ordinary Greeks in the audience knew who he was.

Many had come as supporters of Greece’s centre-right New Democracy party, which hopes to win office in a general election later this year.

With the wealth of Europe’s biggest political alliance behind him, Weber, 46, has a larger budget than his Socialist, liberal and Green rivals, all vying for the job of European Commission president.

His slick campaign videos feature emotive images of the fall of the Berlin Wall, European achievements in science, and plenty of the guitar rock that he played as a student.

A few days after his Athens appearance, he was in Spain, music pumping from the speakers again he took the stage in Malaga at a rally for the centre-right People’s Party.

“Queridos! (Darlings!)” he shouted to an audience delighted to hear the Bavarian attempt a few words in Spanish.

In one publicity video called “We are Manfred Weber’s friends”, one former schoolmate recalls how they set up a band together to play at dances and carnival balls, with Weber on guitar.

Might that flair for performance be another way to energise his supporters? Perhaps wisely, the candidate dodges the question.

“I want to reconnect with people,” he said. “I’m looking for a mandate.”

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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