January 24, 2014
The political family in Europe has a wide variety of colours, representing the diversity of our continent also at the level of the ideas. In the European Parliament there are seats for hosting all the options of the political arc; and under the roof of the plenary room, eurosceptics exchange ideas with pro-Europeans, nationalists debate with federalists, and different political groups ally themselves to approve their proposals since no group has a majority to do it on their own.
As a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty, and following the recommendation of the European Parliament known as the Duff Report, in 2014 many political groups will campaign with a visible figure on the European level, which represents their candidate for the position of President of the European Commission. This is a great innovation that AEGEE and the Y Vote 2014 project welcome enthusiastically. We believe it will have a very positive effect in both keeping the focus of the campaign on European issues; at the same time it can be a decisive factor to increase participation in the elections by increasing the relevance of this election process on the eyes of citizens. This idea, however, has faced criticism from relevant politicians such as Herman Van Rompuy, European Council President, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany.
It is interesting to see how, facing such a new situation inside the political groups, each one of them adopted a different approach. We present you with a brief analysis of the methods used by the five groups which have announced they will have a candidate for the position of President of the EC .
The first announcement of a frontrunner came from the Party of the European Socialists. From the very beginning, Martin Schulz (president of the European Parliament) never hid his intention to become the candidate of all the European social-democrats. Even when Schulz had promoted the idea of having primary elections to elect the socialist candidate, nobody else among the socialist ranks postulated a candidature; therefore, as early as Schulz was chosen on the 6th of November, he unofficially continued with his campaign.
A similar situation happened within the Party of the European Left. At their congress of December in Madrid, they approved the only candidature of Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza party in Greece. He had been proposed by their Council of chairpersons in October and he got more than 80% of the votes. The European Left opted to present a candidate for President of the Commission not because they believe this new system will bring more democracy to the Union, but because they did not want to leave the monopoly of speaking to their rival parties.
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe party faced a dilemma, with current commissioner Olli Rehn competing for the leading position on one side, and the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on the other. Some analysts feared that the tension between these two figures, which represent two different trends inside the Liberal family (Rehn representing the more pro-austerity sector, and Verhofstadt the more pro-European), could break the liberals in two factions. The mediation of Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, and Christian Lindner, the leader of the German FDP, ended up in an agreement that places Guy Verhofstadt as the Liberal candidate for Commission Presidency, and reserves another big position, related with economic of foreign affairs, for Olli Rehn.
Among the christian-democrats of the European People’s Party, the situation is still far from being clear. The decision will be taken in Dublin during their congress on 6-7 March. Until then, negotiations will take place internally and they promise to be arduous. Already in December there were “at least 6 interested people”, according to Joseph Daul, the EPP president. The names of the interested people are not officially announced, but once Barroso seems to be discarded, the rumours signal to Jean-Claude Juncker (former prime minister of Luxembourg, with a clear opposition of the CDU of Angela Merkel), Jyrki Katainen (Prime Minister of Finland), and Fredrik Reinfeldt (Prime Minister of Sweden), as the ones with bigger possibilities. Other names on the rumours are Latvian ex-PM is on that list- Valdis Dombrovskis, Lithuania’s President and winner of the Charlemagne prize in 2013 Dalia Grybauskait?, Commissioners Vivianne Reading and Michel Barnier, or the IMF president Christine Lagarde. But we should not discard the option of a surprise candidate as a result of a consensus decision, and it’s very likely that nothing will be known until the group announces it in Dublin. Until then, you can guess at the poll organised by Europe Decides, an initiative to help Europeans follow all the changes to happen in 2014.
The European Green Party, on their side, have launched a pioneering process of primary elections open to all Europeans. They have an online voting system where anyone (it is not necessary to be member of a Green party to participate) can choose up to two candidates for the position of President of the Commission. Every EU resident who is 16 or older can vote at the website www.greenprimary.eu until 28 January 2014 at 18:00. On the website you can also find the profiles of the four candidates: José Bové, the famous activist, with a profile oriented to the rural world; Monica Frassoni, co-Chair of the European Green Party, with a more Europeanist profile; Rebecca Harms, anti-nuclear militant with a wide experience in the EP; and Ska Keller, from FYEG (Federation of Young European Greens) and with a more social agenda.
It would be relevant to analyse if the method chosen to select their candidate had any impact in the election results that each political option will achieve, although it will also depend vastly on the resources they invest and in the attention that the national media pay to their messages. In any case, AEGEE welcomes the initiative of these political groups to readily follow the guidelines marked in the Lisbon Treaty, since these change brings us closer to the so-much wanted (but still so far away) scenario of real transnational European Elections with pan-European lists. We encourage the remaining political groups to follow the lead and select, according to their own favourite methodology, a visible head for the campaign. That person would be able to represent their views on equal conditions on the European level, and participate on the discussions about the relevant European topics of the campaign. This will be necessary if we want to avoid the risk of getting entangled in national debates. Moreover, this will make easier for the regular citizens to understand the implications of casting a vote and to make a choice, bringing Europe closer to them.
You can read more about the Y Vote 2014 campaign in our website.