PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

, by Åsa Gunvén

PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

This Tuesday the Party of European Socialists (PES) launched their election manifesto. But as long as PES fails to nominate their candidate to the position as Commission president we have to ask our self how serious they are in profiling themselves as one political party and giving Europe’s voters a real choice?

The question is in no way unique for PES – the fact is that none of the European parties have yet nominated a candidate for the Commission president. The result is clearly that they indirectly support conservative Barroso as the next Commission president, irrelevant of their party colour. How is the voter in Europe then supposed to have a democratic say on the leadership of the EU? And how are we supposed to see a real result of our votes? Eurobarometer clearly shows that voters stay home as they see no real impact of their votes – nominating a party candidate to the Commission president could hence also contribute to changing the shockingly low voting turnouts.

At the press conference the PES president Rasmussen talked about the need to “politicize” both the EP election as well as the Commission. Rightly he pointed out that the point of discussion should be about political options rather then national interests. But this fits badly together with PES failure to nominate a candidate.

I asked Rasmussen why PES has chosen not to nominate a PES candidate along their election manifesto and interestingly enough he stated that there has been no decision NOT to nominate, and opened up for possibility to nominate a candidate later in spring. This means that PES does see their unique opportunity to make the EP elections and the Commission composition more democratic – the question is of course why they not act accordingly.

Fact remains that Rasmussen’s “we don’t do it, and we don’t NOT do it” did not manage to produce a face to the campaign when it was launched this Tuesday.

Your comments
  • On 13 February 2009 at 14:31, by DamienRM Replying to: PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

    Hey Asa,

    Thanks for covering the launch, and of course you are very right about the PES still not having selected a candidate.

    At the risk of exposing my party’s own dirty washing, I’d like to add my two cents: the response about still not having ruled out selecting a candidate by Paul was the one he already gave Matteo and me when prompted in Madrid. In fact, the rumours at the Madrid council were the following and seem to be much more to the point:
     Zapatero and Socrates have more or less backed Barrosso already. Even though this is obviously a nationality-based choice and has nothing to do with the PES’ policies, everyone seems to be reluctant to lash at them for it. The fact that these are two of the only popular centre-left governments in Europe must play a strong role in that.
     Martin [Schutz, group chair in the EP] is also strongly against, for reasons that he explained to us in Madrid too (and he mentioned, quite irritated, that he already put that explaination to JEF activists before without obtaining a reaction. Since he explained it all in fast and complicated German and rushed off somewhere else afterwards, I didn’t have time to offer him one. ) the reasons Martin gave make sense from his point of view: he cited on top of the list that forcing the PES to choose a candidate would divide his political group (due to Spanish and Portuguese opposition) and would make his job of following through PES policies in the EP more complicated if not outright impossible. My feeling is that Martin’s opposition is centered around not wanting to get Zapatero on his back. Fair enough, but is that really what is best for the PES? Martin made a 3-language passionate speech at the council to try and whip up the ardour in the room and make us believe we were on cruise to win the elections. But does he himself believe it, when all the polls point to a PES defeat? More importantly, does Martin realise that the PES doesn’t stand a chance if it doesn’t present a clear cut from Barroso’s five wasted years at the Commission, and offers an actual alternative to citizens? How can that be better done than by putting forward a PES candidate? Shouldn’t every PES activist prefer a PES group in the majority, even if it is harder to manage and less united, than a smaller PES group in opposition? At a time when pressure is intense to stop job-trading at the EP and to make sure that the majority party does occupy (all, or at least most) of the parliament’s top jobs, isn’t it therefore a must for the PES to become the biggest group if it wants to really influence policy-making? Or maybe Martin has some less obvious, more personal reasons for being among those who are trying to stop the PES choosing a candidate.

     Finally the big rumour in Madrid was that it wasn’t happening because Paul was rumoured to not want the job. I think this has now proven to be wrong, given the central place in the campaign that Paul has accepted to take (the picture you show, neat and center on the PES’ website startpage gave me a good feeling about this.) I think Paul would be an outstanding candidate as well as EC president. His social-democratic track record in Denmark is spotless, and he hasn’t alienated any important wing or national party within the PES (yet). He’s articulate, can speak the union’s three working languages (if I can remember well), and he could and should become a household name everywhere in the EU before june 7. I think only if people are headed to the polls with a clear Barroso/Rasmussen choice in their head and if Paul’s personality, carrure, experience and principles are well advertised, can the PES stand a chance to win. Our excellent manifesto is -as everyone knows- no guarantee of voter confidence, but having someone like Paul explain it to citizens in all member states would be an incredible advantage. I am cautiously optimistic that Paul sees and understands this, the question is now: can he convince Zapatero?

  • On 13 February 2009 at 16:25, by Emmanuel Replying to: PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

    well, we all know why they don’t act accordingly: the Spanish and the Portugese socialists seem to have positionned themselves along national lines by supporting an Iberic candidate (Barroso), thus marring any prospect for the PES to have a genuine European stance....

  • On 13 February 2009 at 18:11, by DamienRM Replying to: PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

    Yeah. I wonder if Zapatero and/or Socrates has ever been asked the question directly.

    I really do think that the success of our campaign depends on Zapatero. He is the most powerful socialist in Europe and wants to back another five years of the same failed right-wing policies and continue to lose day after day the confidence of Europe’s citizens? I think Barroso can safely be called the worst EC president in the history of the institution. Even the doomed Santerre had more weight. Add to that the most pro-deregulation internal market commissioner ever (though Bolkenstein wasn’t bad either) in a time when markets need more regulation if anything, and you have a terrible direction for Europe. And Zapatero wants to back *that*? As a socialist? Maye it should be asked to him on those terms if we ever have the opportunity...

  • On 16 February 2009 at 00:09, by till Replying to: PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

    The need of “giving a face” to the European elections campaign of PES through the appointment of a top candidate is certainly a positive thing. This is a common practice in almost all elections regardless if there is a top position to be filled or not. It is te proof that the party has a common position and that it can be explained with a common voice. For the European citizen it means that if s/he votes for the PES he can count on the fact that there will be a solid group in the Parliament using its dimension and its strength to defend a common agenda. Obviously, this person would be considered to take over a key position (possibly the President of the Commission, but also a key position in the Commission, the President of the Parliament or the group leadership in the Parliament).

    Nevertheless, the transformation of the Commission into an Executive branch of the Parliament chaired by its majority leader could seriously jeopardise its authority and its effectiveness. If the legitimacy of the Commission essentially comes from the Parliament majority, it seems clear that another Parliament majority could withdraw this confidence to the Commission for merely partisan reasons risking to destabilise the European Union at its top.

    For a culturally, socially and historically diverse system as the European Union a system based on a checks-and-balances system seems to be more suitable. The current system, in which the heads of state and of government act as “head hunter” and the European Parliament has the final word on the names of the President and the Commissioners is not bad. The government leaders can make sure that the team can cope with the diversity of sensibilities across the Union. The Parliament has to confirm that the designated President and all the members in his team tick in the same direction as the majority elected by European citizens.

    The “Who is your candidate campaign?” originates by the frustration of Federalists about the lack of leadership of the current President of the European Commission. Yet, a good President does not necessarily come from the majority group in Parliament: parties that are unlikely to arrive first, like the Liberals and the Greens have certainly potential outstanding candidates for the EC Presidency (Guy Verhofstadt, Joschka Fischer, ...). However, why should a Socialist citizen vote for a Liberal or a Green agenda just because they have a better top candidate?

    The risk of pushing through the principle “first party leader = President of the Commission” is to destabilise the Commission and the Parliament. The Parliament should have the right to approve or not the profile of the President and the Commissioners. However, once they are in office, they should be able to act freely. The Majority-approach risks to transform the Commission in a miserable and weak minority government.

  • On 16 February 2009 at 12:47, by Federico Brunelli Replying to: PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

    Dear Till, in my opinion the current setting of the Commission is not compatible with it to become the Government of the European Federation, as we have long been asking. The current method of appointment of the President of the European Commission feeds the propaganda of Europe far from citizens, unfair, unclear and so on…and we can’t complain of this propaganda if we keep things as they are now.

    A Government of the European supranational democracy will be necessarily expression of a majority, and this is not a problem, but an aim we should push for. If the Commission is to become the European Government, it will represent Europe in foreign policy and in managing the federal budget. To act this way, it needs a political colour and needs to depend on the vote of citizens.

    EPP, PES and other parties must adopt a manifesto with their ideas for Europe (PES just did it), but this will not be credible if they do not declare before the elections that THEY WANT TO WIN in order to have a centre-right or centre-left Commission lead by a president legitimated to realise the program.

    If we manage to have 2 or more candidates for the presidency of the Commission people will realise that their vote is not worthless and that democracy does not necessarily stops at the national level. To change people’s mind and create a real European public debate would be a revolutionary success for federalists.

    I don’t want the European elections to become once more a poll on my national government.

    I don’t want the national Governments to have again the right to put onto that chair someone that will admittedly create no problems to the sovereignty of the national states, irrespective of the results of the elections.

    I agree that democracy does not work always well and many people belonging to small parties would deserve more and more, but we haven’t still invented a better system than this. Whoever the next president and whatever his abilities and vision for Europe, we must want him to be elected democratically. If he will not be a good president, at least we will have the power to send him home and vote for another one.

    Ciao Federico

  • On 17 February 2009 at 09:50, by Fabien Replying to: PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

    I’ve asked this question to Harlem Desir (frensh european deputy) : his answer is that he’s agrea with us...

    In France the leaders as Martine Aubry, Harlem Désir and Pervenche Berès try to make success our revendication. But in the others socialist party ?

  • On 6 July 2009 at 09:21, by Frank Replying to: PES campaign launch without flesh - where is their candidate?

    I believe an excellent candidate for Europe and for all parties would be Hans-Gert Pettering.

    He has been President of the EP. He is an European Union supporter. He is honest and qualified and can bridge the European Commission and European Parliament work better than anyone else.

    Socialists could also support Hans-Gert Pettering.

    For sure EPP cannot vote against :)

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