Tuesday 2 December 2008

European Union: Nobody but Barroso?

Even if José Manuel Barroso happened to be the best Commission President ever, the European political families should be hard at work competing for the next five year stint at the helm of the Commission. If political parties at European level, representing 500 million EU citizens, are unable to find one qualified candidate each, they betray both their calling and the voters.

However, progress has been slow and the preliminary discussions mainly confined to intergovernmental discussions brought to light by snippets of information to the public.

Consequently, blogger friend Jon Worth launched the campaign Anyone But Barroso on his Euroblog, in order to kick-start the democratic impulses among the European parties:


The aim is commendable, but the results are dismal.


European People’s Party

One of the few things we EU citizens have seen, is that José Manuel Barroso seems keen to take on another five years as Commission President.

But the latest news item from the European People’s Party is EPP President Wilfried Martens commending the Commission’s economic stimulus package under Barroso’s leadership (26 November 2008). But this still falls short of a public nomination or even an endorsement of Barroso’s candidacy:


In other words, even Barroso has not been nominated as yet, although a number of members of the nominating European Council from different political families have spoken out in favour of him.


Party of European Socialists

Yesterday the Party of European Socialists (PES) published its manifesto for the June 2009 European elections ‘People first. A new direction for Europe’. The election manifesto was adopted by the PES Council in Madrid (1 December 2008):


Martin Schulz, the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, is positively brimming with confidence in an EurActiv interview today:


Schulz argues that the socialists are going to become bigger than the conservatives and the liberals combined after the June 2009 elections. He seems oblivious of the current predilection for centre-right parties in EU member states and of internecine warfare among French socialists, split three ways. But most of all, he fails to address how his boundless optimism is going to be transmitted to European electors by a faceless campaign without a top-drawer candidate for the Commission Presidency.


European Liberal Democrats Party

The great annual event for the European Liberal Democrats Party (ELDR) was the party congress on 30 and 31 October 2008 in Stockholm. The congress adopted resolutions with a view to the European elections, but not a word was communicated on the party’s candidate to take over the post as President of the European Commission:



European Green Party

I tried to find a press release on the leading Green candidate on the web site of the European Green Party:


Hardly surprising by now, but I found nothing (nobody).


Election results

The Treaty of Lisbon is not going to be in force in time for the European Parliament elections in June, but Article 214(2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community requires the approval of the European Parliament for the President of the Commission:

Article 214(2) TEC

2. The Council, meeting in the composition of Heads of State or Government and acting by a qualified majority, shall nominate the person it intends to appoint as President of the Commission; the nomination shall be approved by the European Parliament.


Even under the current rules, a European Parliament with backbone could ensure open nominations in advance, public campaigns interacting with the citizens of the EU and respect for the outcome of the EP elections.

Nothing prevents the heads of state or government (European Council) to proclaim that they are going to take into account the elections to the European Parliament, because they already committed themselves politically when they signed the Constitutional Treaty in 2004.


Political parties

Still under the existing rules, Article 191 TEC sets out the important task for the European political parties, the one for which they and their foundations can draw funds from EU taxpayers:

Article 191 TEC

Political parties at European level are important as a factor for integration within the Union. They contribute to forming a European awareness and to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.

How can the political parties at European level even pretend to fulfil their basic tasks, if they fail to field candidates for the Commission Presidency?



After this depressing perusal of the state of the union, I have to return to the Anyone But Barroso slogan.

Instead of ruminating about my preferred candidate, I don the cap of an independent political tactician.

If I happened to be in Declan Ganley’s shoes, I wouldn’t hesitate a moment before becoming or launching the Libertas candidate for President of the Commission.

The European level parties have, as it seems, rejected the voters and created a vacuum waiting to be filled. In the case of Libertas this gift from heaven would give them at least three aces on a silver tray: one positive campaign message instead of only negative ones, a face to project to millions of television and PC screens all over Europe and the potential for a real break-through in the EP elections.

If this happens, the established European political parties have brought it upon themselves.

Ralf Grahn


  1. The Holy Roman Emperor, in the 18th century, was elected by nine Prince Electors. The President of the European Commission, in the 21st century , by 27. The European Parliament could at the very least influence the appointment, but it prefers to bow to the will of its national political masters

    Eu-level politics is so depressing to defy description. I can't even explain to myself why Eu parties have such a compulsive suicidal wish. Too many people keep ranting about the example of the election of Obama, but if I remember well Democrats supported Obama and Republicans McCain. In Europe, instead, it's likely that both our "Democrats" and "Republicans" are going to support the reelection of Mr Bush.

    Is someone going to rebel to this situation? Or just the ones charged to stop the engine, like Mr Ganley?
    Worth's campaign may sound like a bitter work of frustration, but I see it like a generous, quixotic deed to fight against a self-fulfilling prophecy. Giving some powers to normal electors, not just The Electors.
    Best regards,
    Igor, Italy

  2. Igor,

    Yes, the Holy Roman Empire was neither Roman nor Holy, so there are too many similarities with the European Union for comfort.

    First I reacted mildly to the basic problem of Jon Worth's campaign: that it lacked a positive message.

    But the longer I have had time to follow the failures of the European political parties, the more I find myself in agreement with the necessity to show their total failure as representatives of citizens' political aspirations.

    That is why I looked at the main parties myself and wrote the post, to do my bit to keep the campaign alive.

    The current situation is utterly depressing.

  3. Its a pity that the European level political parties and their leaders fail to see the significance of these elections.

    Considering all the well founded or misguided criticism by people all around Europe, I believe we are pretty much at a crossroads. One that could very well lead to the failure of this great project.

    I must say that after the established parties seem to be unable to rise to the task, I beginn to see more and more positive things in Mr. Ganley political ambitions. Maybe by standing as candidate in the elections, he will force the European political parties down the way they don't dare to walk ... intentionally or unintentionally I don't know.

  4. Michael,

    Perception or reality, but the European level parties through their groups in the European Parliament all too often give the impression that they are more interested in keeping up the facade of the EP than in putting businesslike controls in place with regard to expenses, for instance.

    If they prefer to play games with the other institutions, they positively beg outsiders to fill the void among EU citizens.

    Libertas, for one, could profit substantially, although Declan Ganley seems to be building his new European party on negative messages and nationalistic rejectionists of the European idea.

    In that sense Ganley's occasional calls for a strong and democratic Europe look like rhetorical devices instead of a serious commitment.

  5. Don't misunderstand me, I am not sure what to make of Ganley and I would tend to agree with your assessment.

    My view is merely that his actions may spark something in the other political movements that seem to have so little incentive to give people a real choice. I hope the prospect of a President Declan Ganley will do the job.

    I would prefer if some other movement would be able to actually to do this, but at this point I don't see anyone having the necessary means appart from Ganley and the established parties to run EU wide.

  6. Michael,

    You may be right about Declan Ganley's resources to field candidates in a number of EU member states and the campaign budget he has mentioned is stupendously high, although we don't know if there is any realism behind it.

    Paradoxically, no ideology is as international as nationalism, although each one's nationalism tends to exclude that of the others.

    Hence, it is difficult to know if a Libertas group in the European Parliament would have more in common than the negative glue to oppose the 'establishment' and the Lisbon Treaty.

    Without a positive platform opposing the Lisbon Treaty means investing much time and effort in retaining the Nice Treaty, hardly an uplifting goal, in my humble opinion.

  7. You are probably right, but I won't give up hope that it will have positive effects. Its just devestating. Another EP elections goes to waste (in my humble opinion).

    This economic crisis will most likely have extrem consequences in terms of unemployment. Nationalism will be on the rise and I may put this too dramatic, I fear for the future of the EU. Maybe I have to put things into perspective, but seeing the far right in Austria being almost in reach of claiming the Chancellor for themselves is very frightening.

  8. Michael,

    As it looks now, we are facing the prospects of dull and only half meaningful election campaigns, low general turnout and high proportions of protest votes in several member states.

    Five more years of missed democratic opportunity seems to be in sight, regardless of if the Nice Treaty continues to be in force or if it is replaced by the Lisbon Treaty.

    As long as the heads of state or government are the real constitutive element of the European Union, it is basically the same as the Holy Alliance.


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