Berlin - German conservative EU lawmaker Manfred Weber formally announced his bid on Wednesday to become president of the European Commission in 2019, as the bloc gears up for next year's EU elections.
The May 2019 elections come as the European Union faces tough challenges including Britain's exit, the rise of populism in mainstream politics, intractable migration challenges and threats to the geopolitical order under US President Donald Trump.
"Can I master the challenges? Can I personally contribute?" Weber said as he announced his candidacy in Brussels. "My answer is yes. Yes, I am ready for it," he added.
Ready to take over the task
The European elections will be about "the self-preservation of Europe," Weber said, noting that the continent needs a "new plan."
"I will help bring Europe back to the people and re-establish the bond between citizens and the European Union. I want to kick-start a new chapter in the EU," he wrote earlier on Twitter.
Weber - a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) - has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004.
The 46-year-old, who has led the parliament's centre-right European People's Party since 2014, has the backing of the CSU and reportedly also of Merkel.
"It has never happened before that a CSU politician has taken this step," said German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who also heads the CSU. "It underlines our ambition for the CSU to be a Bavarian party of national reach and European responsibility.
Should Weber also receive the endorsement of the EPP at a party congress in Helsinki on November 8, he has a strong chance of succeeding incumbent Jean-Claude Juncker, whose term runs until the end of October 2019.
who will lead the EU after 2019?
A successful candidacy would make him the first German in the powerful role in more than 50 years. The commission is the EU's executive arm, proposing new laws and implementing the bloc's rules.
Walter Hallstein led the institution between 1958 and 1967, when there were just six member states. Today there are 28, although they will be down to 27 after Britain leaves the bloc in March.
Weber told the CSU of his decision to run on Tuesday. He is expected to pitch his candidacy to the CDU leadership on September 10.
To become commission president, candidates also need to secure the support of EU heads of state and government. The final decision is taken by the European Parliament.
No other EPP politician has so far announced an intention to run, but former Finnish premier Alexander Stubb, former Irish premier Enda Kenny and Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, are considered as potential candidates.