Humble Socialists will never make Europe democratic

, by Åsa Gunvén

Humble Socialists will never make Europe democratic

Socialist leader Martin Schulz is not interested in power. Not for Europe’s Socialists nor for its voters. This very humble position might help against the picture of politicians as power maniacs, but it will hardly contribute to a more democratic EU.

Schulz is against the notion of a Socialist President of the Commission even in the case that the Socialists would get a majority in the European Parliament, Financial Times Deutschland reports. Europe’s governments are mainly conservative and hence, Schulz concludes, the Commission President should be conservative no matter how Europe’s voters cast their votes in June. It is clear that for Schulz the Commission represents Europe’s governments rather than its people. But does he really think it is just a coincidence that the Commission President is appointed immediately after the election of the European Parliament? Or that it has been a struck of luck that the Commission President has always been chosen to represent the majority of the European Parliament? It is hardly an accident that the European Parliament is the institution that has the final approval power on the Commission President.

With the Lisbon Treaty the Commission President has to be picked to reflect the composition of the Parliament. But there is nothing stopping this from happening already before the Lisbon Treaty is ratified - it is already now up to the European Parliament and its majority who they appoint. Schulz is suggesting to give up the power of the Socialist and the voters to appoint their Commission President without any need for, or anything given in return, for this humbleness. But maybe there is something in return – not for the Socialist Group that Schulz is the leader of, but for Schulz himself. As likely commissioner in the next Commission Schulz seems to trade in this full-fledged support for conservative Barroso for a comfortable seat in the Commission where he could enjoy a bigger support by this conservative majority of governments he refers to.

The outspoken refusal to take on the Commission President from the Socialists seems to take the problem of democracy in Europe to another level.

The outspoken refusal to take on the Commission President from the Socialists seems to take the problem of democracy in Europe to another level. Not only are the parties unable or unwilling to nominate candidates for the highest executive post in Europe – they would not even want it if they were offered it. Whereas me as voter expect to influence the composition of the Commission with my vote, Schulz wants to remove even my potential to democratic influence. This highlights the importance of real institutional reforms that reduces the chance of individuals in the party leadership to determine my opportunities for democratic influence. I say ‘individuals in the party leaderships’ as it has been very clear in the federalist campaign for multiple Commission President candidates that the party members outside the leadership are not even aware of the debate, nor the possibility, to nominate their own candidate.

The Commission should represent the voters of Europe – a first step is to make the President elected through the European Parliament elections. A second step is to make all commissioners accountable to the European Parliament and European voters rather then each one to his/her national government (that by the way often change color throughout the time of the Commissioners mandate).

Good for Barroso that he can run a highly visible election campaign, fully paid by EU and its taxpayers, centered around his own website with a snazzy picture of himself. Probably he could ease down slightly in his eccentric campaigning though, as he seems to stand completely unchallenged by the other European parties.

What I ask myself is who I should vote for if I don’t want Barroso? Schulz’s answer seems to be that I shouldn’t worry at all – Barroso will stay safely no matter what we vote.


 German MEP Martin Schulz, source: Google Images

 blog image of Commission President/Candidate Barroso, source:

This article is also published at the European Federalists Blog of

Your comments
  • On 8 May 2009 at 16:54, by Federico Brunelli Replying to: Humble Socialists will never make Europe democratic

    Great article!

  • On 8 May 2009 at 20:52, by Chateauelise Replying to: Humble Socialists will never make Europe democratic

    Fantastic, on the spot. More of that please! Has Schulz really said that? Maybe it was a bit out of context...? This latest article on FTD holds taht the socialists want to get rid of Barroso.

  • On 10 May 2009 at 10:41, by Maël Brunet Replying to: Humble Socialists will never make Europe democratic

    Sad, but spot on indeed.

    From what I’ve heard Schulz is hoping to get the parliament’s presidency (instead of a seat in the next Commission), but one way or the other the result is the same.

    But what do you mean by “the party members outside the leadership are not even aware of the debate, nor the possibility, to nominate their own candidate”? The PES (along with many socialist MEPs) has always been very clear that the next president of the Commission will have to be chosen according to the election’s results. The problem is that no one in the party is willing to step up as the official candidate because it is now too late in the campaign and that he/she would take the blame for the (very likely) non-socialist majority in the future legislature.

    There was a lack of coordination and planning right at the beginning of the campaign. I think the socialists have learned their lesson and will pay it in the elections, so hopefully that won’t happen again.

  • On 11 May 2009 at 10:30, by Asa Gunven Replying to: Humble Socialists will never make Europe democratic

    I also think that the socialist (and also the other European parties) have started an important process, debate and also learned some lessons that means that the situation will look different next election. And this is exactly what we are campaigning for - not necessarily to see the results this elections but at least next one.

    But I still see a problem that the issue has not been properly put into process and discussion throughout all of the party memberships. In Sweden for example, the idea of parties nominating their candidates is completely revolutionary and new. Many people I have spoken to at from different national parties find it an exciting idea but something that is completely new to them. So even if the PES as such, and indeed many MEPs from different parties, are discussing the potential to nominate a candidate, the question is how democratic the decision NOT to nominate a canididate is?

    Also the difference of believing the COM president should be nomintaed by the Council to reflect the majority of the EP (as has been the case as well) is quite different from each party actually putting forward their own candidate and politizising the election even more.

    By the way you can see an answer from Schulz to the article at the Federalist Blog:

  • On 11 May 2009 at 13:56, by Manu Replying to: Humble Socialists will never make Europe democratic

    How to make a fuss about an article bottom-line...

    Don’t worry, there are plenty of brave Socialists, be it Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, or Pascal Lamy, or Catherine Trautman, or Pervenche Bérès, or Jo Leinen, you name them!

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