by Yana Prokofyeva. Originally published on 2014/04/16
Contrary to most countries of the world which were quite successful in tackling the global economic crisis of 2008, the challenge proved to be more tougher for the European Union. A financial crisis followed the economic one. Today, almost 6 years since the beginning of the recession, economic recovery is still very week (in 2013 the GDP growth was of 0.1% with the rate of -0.4% for the Euro zone). The crisis was harder on some countries than on other and provoked the exacerbation of Europhobia and nationalism all over the continent. The idea of maintaining peace, that the Union is based on, no longer seems relevant to newer generations, while no other idea is put forward. In this critical time some are trying to regain citizens’ attention by politicizing the upcoming in May elections to the European Parliament and relating them to the nomination of the Commission’s President.
According to the Lisbon treaty, the European Council has to propose a candidate for the Presidency of the Commission “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”. Even though the mystery remains if the Member States would actually carry out this blurry provision, in light of this opportunity major European parties came up with their candidates. Let’s see who has the chance to be appointed to the highest executive post in the EU.
First of all, although there are currently 13 political parties represented in the European parliament, only five of them have nominated a candidate for the Commission’s Presidency should they obtain a majority.
European People’s Party (EPP)– Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, 59 years)
Party of the European Socialists (PES) – Martin Schulz (Germany, 58 years)
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) – Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium, 60 years)
The Greens– José Bové (France, 60 years) and Ska Keller (Germany, 32 years)
European Left – Alexis Tsipras (Greece, 39 years)
Jean-Claude Juncker is a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg (a post that he held for almost 18 years) and belongs to the biggest party of the country, Christian Social People’s Party. He also used to be President of the Eurogroup – an informal forum of utmost importance, bringing together finance ministers of the Eurozone, whose main aim is to coordinate the Euro area’s economic policies. The paradox of Juncker’s appointment as the party’s candidate consists in the fact that he showed himself quite indifferent about the position.
He announced several times that he would prefer to take Van Rompuy’s post of the President of the European Council; it was the Commissioner for Internal Market and Services (and the party’s vice president) Michel Barnier who, on the contrary, claimed being interested in the Commission’s Presidency. In this light, the candidature of Juncker seems quite strange and rumours are growing that if elected, he might give up the Commission’s Presidency, paving the way for a person chosen by Member States.
Key words for the campaign: a better Europe, growth and jobs, young people, security. “Experience, solidarity, future”.
As for the Party of European Socialists, its nominee, Martin Schulz, is for now, the most active personality of the European campaign. First of all, there is no doubt that his being the current President of the European Parliament gives him much more visibility. By the way, Martin Schulz is not planning on resigning right after the end of the upcoming plenary session but intends to keep his position while campaigning, which has already provoked criticism from most political groups.
Secondly, the Party of European Socialists was the first one to start the campaign in March (contrary to its contenders whose campaigns took off just last week), with Martin Schulz already “in the field” mobilizing his electorate. Many perceive this as an unfair advantage.
Key words for the campaign: passion, conviction, a team ethic, determination, openness. “Towards a new Europe”.
Guy Verhofstadt, has been the leader of the ALDE group since 2009 and is now the candidate from this party. He is the former Prime Minister of Belgium, member of the national party Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten. He is the founder of the Spinelli Group, which unites different personalities, NGOs and think-tanks in order to promote the idea of federal Europe.
Key words for the campaign: a new and better Europe, beyond the old divisions, prosperity and security for its citizens. “Growth, hope, and perspective”
The Greens have two candidates: Ska Keller and José Bové. Ska Keller (full name – Franziska) has been a MEP from the age of 27. During her whole political career, she has been with the Greens, going all the way from the Youth Green via the German Greens and the European Green Party. As for José Bové, he is a prominent figure in French political life, known for being a die-hard anti-globalist, syndicalist, and protestor against GMO. He was one of the presidential candidates in 2007 and entered the EP in 2009.
One can think of several reasons why the Greens have two candidates. First of all, it was certainly done for the sake of gender equality: presenting one male and one female nominee is positive for the party’s progressive image. At the same time, upon a more detailed analysis of their site devoted to the electoral campaign, one can see the name of Ska Keller as more visible, especially in relation to the party events, while the name of M. Bové is rarely mentioned. Can this mean that his name is being used mainly to attract French voters? The further development of the Greens’ electoral campaign may cast more light on that.
Key words for the campaign: citizens, anti-nationalism, democracy, new convention for Europe. “Change Europe, vote green”.
European Left has chosen Alexis Tsipras as its candidate for the EC Presidency. He is currently the party’s vice-chairperson and he also heads the main opposition party in Greece, Syriza (one of the most influential among the Member parties of the EL). Tsirpras actively advocates the necessity to overcome the South-North division in Europe and end austerity.
Key words for the campaign: anti-austerity, democracy, a new deal for Europe. “Change is possible and will happen!”
To conclude, the very idea of “personification” of the European campaign was designed in order to inspire people to go to the polls from the 22 to 25 of May. To achieve it, choosing a candidate for the Commission’s presidency may be a good initiative (or it may not be – we will only know well after the elections), but is certainly not enough. People should be given more information about the elections that ought to be topic of discussion in national media. This year, the TV debate between the candidates will be organized for the first time in history and this is a good first step to give the campaign more visibility.