March 13, 2014
The EP elections are coming in 70 days. 70. And this year also brings elections in Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and the UK. Next year marks general elections in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. That means that 2014 and 2015 will be hard years for the Commission and the Council.
2014 becomes then a reference year for EU politics – we choose our new Legislative – The Parliament – and part of our new Executive – Commission and Council, since both share the executive branch.
In what concerns the EP things are clear – we have our choices laid out before us and it’s time to listen to this or that side of the spectrum, and decide who and why we will vote. The who is of course important, but the why even more so. Primarily because it will determine the direction of the EP for the following 5 years, and secondly because it will allow each and every one of us to evaluate the actions of those we voted for. This second part is something I would like to emphasize because too little is being done in this direction – accountability in front of voters is limited and 5 years is a too long a time to allow for proper accountability. Then there is the issue of access to MEPs and the way they communicate with their electors. But if we start with knowing why we vote for this or that candidate/ list/ party at least we have a starting point. I for one would go beyond what is required as of now from a candidate – no matter the type of electoral law in his MS of origin, all of them should have at least a handful of projects or ideas for Europe that they must clearly articulate. I for one am tired of seeing people that can’t even speak properly being promoted to positions of MEPs on a party list, such as it is the case in Romania today. I want full accountability and I’d much rather have individual candidates (more than one from the same party), that I can vote for directly.
Changes in the EP will lead to changes within the Commission, notably in the manner in which it will conduct business. Each major European family, I’m trying to stop myself calling them European Parties as they are not, has a different take on how the EU is going to move forward or backwards. But what is implicitly more complicated is the conflict that will arise between members of the Council and the Parliament, and even current Commission. The Lisbon treaty conundrum on who gets to name the candidate to be voted in as Commission President by the newly formed EP is the source of this issue. Article 17, paragraph 7 of the consolidated Treaty on the European Union (TEU) states that:
Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.
To this scope most European families have already named candidates for the position, with the idea in mind that these nominations can provide an electoral advantage and, should they be the winning faction in the elections, he or she shall be directly promoted as candidate for the Presidency of the EC to be voted on by the EP. However, this candidate shall first have to go through the Council, and prominent members such as Angela Merkel has already shared her view that nomination solely upon electoral score is not at all a straight forward thing, and that consensus needs to be reached within the Council before a name is presented to the EP.
Coming to that, the Council, it is important to look at the first paragraph – many many national elections coming up across the EU this year and the next, and to some extend each national leader that is member of the Council is going to have a stake at play.It is hard to believe that someone from the EPP for example, having to face a round of elections at home would be very inclined to accept and sign off a candidate from S&D.Because as it is usually the case, as Mr. Jose Barroso has pointed out a number of times recently, what goes on in Brussels has a great deal to do with what goes on at home. So we can pretty much look forward to having a great time with the Council, EP and Commission in the months to come.
Which brings me back to knowing why we vote – it’s not only about the program – it’s about what you want for Europe. I for one, as a federalist, have to say that I might vote nationally not for the candidates that spring on the scene from local parties but for their belonging to a specific European Political Family. Which might be odd to some, but I am more interested in who get’s to be EC President than who will represent my constituency in the EP. And that is wrong on many levels, but since we lack true European Political Parties I shall have to vote for the European Project that best suits my interests and that has the higher chance of actually coming to life.
And this a trend that is growing – both with federalists and conservatives. And I think it is something that parties within the center stage, that are credited with most chances for the EP elections fail to realize. Yes there is a clear growing number of people divided between more Europe and less Europe. And the way they will vote is not so predictable. I might have voted center right so far but I might switch to center left if the signs tell me that the EU stands a better chance with the center-left in charge, and the other way around. Base point though, EP elections are about the EU, not which local politician I send to Brussels / Strasbourg. But it would be wrong to assume that I won’t be looking at the names on the list too, because I will. As always, the recipe for casting a vote is far more complicated than one might think.
National Party Discipline that works is a clear sign that the EU still has a long way to go. If people still vote for a party based exclusively on that party’s national agenda, without looking at what the European Family that the particular party is member off, we’ll be looking again at failed true EP elections. My guess is that these elections will work exactly that way. For example ALDE and S&D have been significantly more active in the past few months than the EPP or the Greens in insuring higher vote numbers. Online S&D is the clear leader, being present almost everywhere, with events and most importantly a very noticeable presence on Social Media.
The EPP has been less able to do that for some reason, and even their election of Juncker, albeit an experienced politician with significant EU experience, is curious. I’ve seen Guy Verhofstadt speak – very energetic, convinced and with a clear strong message. Then I’ve seen Schultz and Barroso at the European Ombudsman event #EUWishlist speaking, bot very fiery and passionate, inspiring to the audience. Juncker has failed to show that so far, and I was expecting the EPP to bring forward someone far more combative and young.
Concerns over the following months are high – the Ukrainian-Russian crisis, where we will be needing a solid Council determined to do a good job, as expected by the vast majority of EU citizens will be plagues by some of the MSs interests in maintaining good trade relations with Russia; Youth unemployment will will spiral out of interest as the political battles will be on the top tier in Brussels; the environment, already very disputed, with diverging point of view within leaders of the same family will become less and less visible. And since Eurosceptics and extremists are bound, according to polls, to receive quite a lot of votes, there is no doubt in my mind that we will be facing even more complicated issues in the next months.
So learn why you vote, because it matters. More than you think. Stay at home one quiet afternoon and think what you want for the EU and your future and that of your children. And then check out the manifestos of the European Political Families for the upcoming EP elections in May. And when you vote, don’t vote for this or that measly politician on the home stage. Vote for what you want, for you EUrope.
P.S. Schultz and Barroso between them would make an awesome pro and pan EUropean party.