If the EU had a hall of fame, the first ever candidates to the presidency of the European Commission elected by the European Parliament would have probably already won their star. During their pre-electoral periplus across Europe, they have met hordes of journalists and participated in numerous national political rallys held in a Babel of languages. Some have tried their best to communicate in the same language as their audience (e.g. Schulz delivering a speech in Spanish, see min.38), while others have stuck as much as possible to their mother tongue (i.e. Tsipras). In turn Juncker, who often integrates ‘love’ into his political discourses, maybe as a way to compensate for his dull interventions, has confessed through his Twitter account: ‘J’aime la langue de Moliére’ – Conservative winks to the francophones.
Languages and minutiae aside, their attempt to support their national partisans, and thereby catch the interest and gain the trust of the European constituents, is no mere trifle. The fact that now there is a face for each of the main parliamentary groups, and that the future Commission President has already begun their pilgrimage to various national media sets and political events, is already a step forward. ‘Brussels’ has been making an effort to get closer to its citizens. Whether this will contribute to reversing the trend of ever lower turnouts (only 43% in 2009), is still to be seen.
One of the highlights of this electoral campaign has been the launch of various EU presidential debates. The Eurovision debate was the last one, and was launched by the European Broadcasting Union on the 15th May. It was the biggest and most multilingual of them all: Ska Keller, Martin Schulz and Guy Verhofstadt debated in English, Alexis Tsipras in Greek and Jean-Claude Juncker in French.
The dancing queen in this oratory festival was the crisis and its multiple expressions (austerity, bank bailouts, youth unemployment). The rhythm was frenetic, as the candidates had only one minute to answer the questions of the moderator, and 30 seconds for the rebuttals. In spite of this, most of them dodged the risks of being too superficial, and delivered clear and condensed message.
You can find all their key arguments in this chart.
Who said what?
Jean-Claude Juncker (EPP) is the standard-bearer of sound public finances and austerity. In a phlegmatic style, he defended the bailouts, as containment walls against the collapse of the real economy and the crash of the Eurozone. Given the budget constraints, he proposed to focus on new ideas rather than on investment, and on worker mobility as a means to reduce unemployment.
Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE) focused on the need to integrate key markets, such as the digital market. Through various energetic interventions, he advocated for a stronger position of Europe in the world, picking on the lack of leadership of Barroso’s Commission.
Martin Schulz (PES) seems concerned about the distrust of European citizens. He talked about a fair Europe, in which fiscal discipline is combined with investment, and with strong measures against fiscal evasion and fiscal fraud. He highlighted the importance for SMEs to access credit in order to generate growth and jobs.
Ska Keller (Greens), green jacket and a pin against nuclear power, was as idealist as in previous debates, but much more combative. She presented a Europe that ‘does not let anybody fall anymore’. She argued that the only way to create sustainable and quality jobs is by investing in the green economy, health and education.
Alexis Tsipras (EL), who was absent in previous debates, focused his intervention on the disastrous management of the crisis by conservative, socialists and liberals. Tsipras proposed to bring austerity measures to an end, to dismantle the Troika and to respect democracy. He thinks a new deal for employment is needed.
What they all agreed upon, is that European integration is the only way forward. Regarding the possibility that the Council would not choose any of them as Commission President, the answer was also unanimous: “That is unthinkable.” First of all, because the Lisbon Treaty, signed by the 28 Prime Ministers, states that the Council should take into account the elections of the European Parliament. Second, because if they would dare to nominate another leader, they would never get the necessary supporting majority in the European Parliament.
The five candidates agreed as well on the need for coherent European legislation on immigration, asylum and refugees, as well as on the need to respect individual expressions of religious faith.
Have you decided?
The time to vote is approaching. You are starting to feel the indigestion of political messages like when you eat too many candies. But you have decided who you will vote for. Whether you are attracted by the place-based discourse of regional or national representatives, or by the big words of the European leaders, you do not usually experience any difficulties in choosing a party. In general, national parties which belong to the same European group propose similar ideas among the different European constituencies.
However, it is possible that you want to give your vote to one of the European parties, and you will not find a proper equivalent in your constituency. Along these lines, the journalist Iñaki Gil published an article last Monday entitled: “I want to vote for Verhofstadt, what can I do?”. The answer is not easy: The ALDE political family will potentially be represented in Spain by CiU (Catalan nationalists) and PNV (Basque nationalists). As Mr. Gil points out, UPyD (national centrist party) could eventually even join the ALDE family, but there are no guarantees.
Several small parties have not yet decided with which European political group they would ally, should they get a seat at the European Parliament. Thus, in particular cases like this, deciding who to vote can become a difficult dilemma.
*Following this post, we will publish tomorrow a short guide on the European parties.