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Posts tagged with: European Commission

At least 4 televised debates between Schulz and Juncker, more to come? (update: now 7!)

topcandidates-partycoloursOne of the supposed advantages of the European Commission top candidate / Spitzenkandidat process is that it gives some personality to the European Parliament election campaigns for the first time. I am hence very happy to see that televised debates between the main candidates are now also starting to take shape.

At the time of writing 4 7 such debates are currently known about:

  1. 9th April at 1710 CET on France24 TV, and 1910 CET on RFI radio (France), a debate between Schulz and Juncker, presumably in French (details here)
  2. 12th April at 1100 CET on TV5 Monde (global, in French), and repeated evening of 13th at ?? CET on RTBF, in French, and pre-recorded and edited (only details in this tweet)
  3. 28th April at 1900 CET on Euronews, with Juncker, Schulz, Verhofstadt and Keller, details and a live stream here, and the Twitter tag is
  4. 8th May, 2015 CET on ORF (Austria) and ZDF (Germany), a debate between Juncker and Schulz on the “Duell” programme, presumably in German (details here)
  5. 9th May at 1830 CET on RAI (Italy), a debate between Schulz, Juncker, Bové and Verhofstadt at EUI Florence, I presume in English, interpreted? (details here (scroll down to the bottom)), follow on Twitter #SoU2014
  6. 15th May at 2100 CET from Eurovision and EBS, and made available to national broadcasters (inc. BBC!), predominantly in English but also with interpretation (details here), and to be debated on Twitter using the tag #TellEurope, with 5 candidates – Schulz, Juncker, Verhofstadt, Keller and Tsipras
  7. 20th May, 2100 CET on ARD (Germany), a debate between Juncker and Schulz and the leading candidates of German political parties for the election on the “Die Wahlarena” programme, in German (details here)

I’ll add others here (and please leave a comment if you know of more) if and when I hear of them, but this is starting to look good!

9 April, 1447 – I’d missed the Euronews debate. Now added above! Thanks @kosmopolit on Twitter.
9 April, 1519 – I’d missed the EUI debate, now added. Thanks @DijkstraHylke.
10 April, 2311 – Now added the pre-recorded TV5/RTBF debate. Thanks @NatashaBertaud and Dana in the comments below.

How is David Cameron not going to be marginalised this summer in the EU’s political games?

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.05.18I’ve previously written about how the UK is absent from the EU’s Presidential Election (otherwise known as the top candidate, or Spitzenkandidat process), and while the essential content of that earlier post remains valid, I have reflected further about the implications for UK-EU relations from this process, and cannot see how the whole game this summer can play out in David Cameron’s favour and, if played badly, could result in a major UK-EU spat.

The starting point is the process (summarised here) – the Commission President needs a Qualified Majority Vote in favour of his/her nomination in the European Council. This means that no country has a veto over who the Commission President should be. This seems to have been (wilfully?) ignored by people like Daniel Hamilton from the Tories – this debate on Twitter is illustrative. Hence as I see it the UK has to make a positive case for the candidate it wants, rather than try to throw around its weight to stop a candidate it does not like.

Tie this to the Spitzenkandidat process and Cameron has a problem on his hands.

This problem is most acute if the S&D group emerges as the largest after the EP elections and tries to force through Martin Schulz as Commission President. Countries like France and Germany, already invested in the process to a certain extent, could live with this (even Merkel I think, who apparently gets on quite well with Schulz). Yet even the Labour Party in the UK has problems with Schulz and refused to back him – I hence cannot see how Cameron could be anything other than against his nomination as Commission President. “We will have to work with him” is going to be about the best Cameron would be able to muster in such a situation, and the words his backbenchers will use will be more fragrant than that I think.

The situation if the centre right wins the EP elections would be only slightly easier. As the Conservatives have left the European People’s Party they have very little leverage there, and the EPP’s candidate – old style, quasi-federalist, Euro-integrationalist Jean Claude Juncker is not the sort of Lagarde or Katainen style candidate that Cameron would more easily be able to live with. Indeed EUObserver reports that Juncker is a no-go for Cameron. Here too Merkel’s position could be at odds with the UK’s position – her CDU were Juncker’s most prominent backers.

Now I personally have my doubts about the extent to which the EPP will back Juncker when push comes to shove, and indeed on the left rumours that Schulz could be replaced by Helle Thorning-Schmidt continue to abound. But having said that the two most likely candidates for Commission President – Schulz and Juncker – remain unpalatable to the UK, yet the process grants Cameron very little power to do anything.

Could this be the next UK-EU crisis to happen?

Britain is absent from the EU’s Presidential Election


So the lineup for the first-ever Presidential Election in Europe, to select the Commission President 2014-2019, is complete – Martin Schulz for the Party of European Socialists (PES), Jean-Claude Juncker for the European People’s Party (EPP), Guy Verhofstadt for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), José Bové and Ska Keller for the Greens (EGP) and Alexis Tsipras for the European Left (EL). Spiegel English has more about the tensions the process is arousing here.

OK, so the election is not a direct plebiscite, but the principle is that whatever party ‘wins’ the European Parliament elections at the end of May will put forward its candidate for President of the European Commission (see the procedure here). Of course a lot of different things can happen between now and the President taking office, not least the problem that the EPP has a majority in the European Council, and the PES might be the biggest in the EP after the elections.

There will at least be some classic media interest in the election as a result of the parties putting forward nominees for the Commission – the EBU will screen a debate, presumably with all candidates, on 14th May. German broadcasters ARD (and its regional components) and ZDF, together with the Austrian ORF also have a whole range of different events planned.

So what about the UK in all of this? That the EU has a democratic deficit is a common refrain in the UK. Yet when it comes to the decision as to who should be President of the Commission, British voters have very little choice.

The Labour Party, although it still remains a member party of the Party of European Socialists, did not back Martin Schulz in the PES’s internal procedure to choose him, and Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander have spoken out against Schulz’s vision for the EU. Nevertheless Labour could not muster an alternative. When it comes to an eventual vote in the European Parliament after the elections I would be astounded if Labour’s MEPs did not back Schulz to give him a majority, but there will be no mention of Schulz in the election campaign in the UK.

The Tories left the European People’s Party in the European Parliament in 2009 to establish the European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR). The AECR choice for Commission President? Nobody.

That means that among the UK’s main parties, only the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are part of the process to select top candidates for the Commission, and the Lib Dems actually initially favoured Verhofstadt’s rival, Rehn.

So when it comes to the selection of the Commission President, just like on so much else about the European Union, the UK doesn’t know if it’s in or out, and voters in the UK will hence not be able to really express their view on the future direction of the European Union. That’s a sad state of affairs.

Image rights: the image used to illustrate this post is my own work, drawing on Creative Commons images from Flickr. Full attribution details can be found on Flickr for the 3 versions of the image (Party colours (as shown), colour and black and white). Full resolution versions available to reuse (with attribution) and download are on Flickr.

BREAKING: first picture of EPP’s winning candidate in Dublin, Jean Claude Juncker


So the European People’s Party has a candidate for Commission President – Jean Claude Juncker. Tweet announcing the result is here.

He’s going to be Merkel’s poodle.

Image above is Creative Commons, Sharealike Licensed – can be used, for free, but must be attributed to Jon Worth, with a link back to this blog or to my Twitter account @jonworth.

Component parts of the image are drawn from other Creative Commons Licensed Images – Il Presidente Enrico Letta, a Berlino, con il Cancelliere, signora Angela Merkel by Palazzo Chigi, poodle pup by chuck_heston and Floor of the Santa Maria della Salute by TracyElaine.

Candidates for President of the European Commission – where we stand in January 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 15.00.34Back in the early summer of 2013 I wrote a detailed series of blog posts about the future President of the European Commission. There were posts about EPP, PES and other candidates. Overall those posts have stood up well over the last 6 months. But with the EP elections just over 4 months away, and with the new Commission to be decided shortly after, and with more and more jostling for top positions being covered by the newspapers (see FT earlier in January and FAZ today for example), it’s time to update the state of play.

Party of European Socialists (PES)
For the moment the PES position is clear: Martin Schulz is the top candidate, and if the PES wins the European elections they will seek to nominate him as Commission President. There were quite some problems with the transparency and democratic credentials of the process to select Schulz (as I analysed for Policy Network) but, for the coming months at least, Schulz’s position will not be challenged, formally at least, within the PES. He also was part of the negotiations to form the Große Koalition in Germany, and it seems Merkel can get on with him. Also as Derk Jan Eppink points out, Schulz can be strategic, has an instinct for power, has nothing to lose and only lacks the experience some other candidates bring.

For reasons I do not altogether understand – perhaps because she’s the only social democrat anyone’s heard of who’s not unpalatable? – the name of Helle Thorning-Schmidt keeps on coming back. The UK Labour Party would prefer her, Kinnock’s daughter in law, to Schulz. After all someone who’s been a principle-free, reasonably unsuccessful Prime Minister of Denmark is better than an old fashioned German social democrat, right? I suppose the selfie helped.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
Here I must admit I was wrong, for I could not previously foresee how the Liberals would possibly want Olli Rehn, the Economic & Monetary Affairs Commissioner, as a Commission President candidate. But it seems he is in pole position to be their leading candidate. This of course could well be because the other candidate is Guy Verhofstadt, and choosing between those is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Anyway, Euractiv has an update on the state of play, and ALDE will decide which one to go for in a delegate vote from the member parties on 1st February.

As Dario Čepo and I have discussed on Twitter, Rehn could somehow slip between the PES and the EPP in the event of a very closely balanced electoral result. The prospect fills both Dario and I with dread – and we thought Barroso was bad!

The Greens
Maybe because the Greens know they are not actually going to get the Commission President job they have actually designed the best process to select a top candidate. The #GreenPrimary is an online poll, open until 28th January, open to anyone (even non-Greens) to select their two top candidates. There are 4 candidates standing – Rebecca Harms, Ska Keller, Monica Frassoni and José Bové. I have no idea who the favourite is among the four.

European Left
Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA is the candidate. He’s going to bring some fire to debates in the next few months, but he has even less chance of becoming Commission President than a Green.

European People’s Party
The prominent political force in the EU for at least the last decade, and the party of the current Commission President Barroso, it is nevertheless the EPP’s process to choose a candidate that is leading to the most head-scratching in Brussels at the moment. The party is supposed to choose a candidate with a delegate vosting system at its Dublin Congress 7-8 March. Merkel, apparently with some backing from Van Rompuy, is not too keen on a close connection between the EP election result and the Commission President nomination, fearing it will strengthen the Parliament cause inter-institutional conflicts (see the FT). This would only be a particular problem if the PES won the elections, yet the European Council remains dominated by EPP parties.

The challenge here too seems to be how to find a viable candidate. People like Michel Barnier (currently a Commissioner) and Jean Claude Juncker (former Luxembourg PM) have nothing to lose by putting their names forward. Viviane Reding also wants the job, but I think she’s about the only person who wants her to have it. Prime Ministers from the party such as Donald Tusk and Enda Kenny have distanced themselves from the role, not wanting to kill their national political careers by throwing their hats into the ring, only to then find another party wins the EP elections. Others like Jyrki Katainen and Christine Lagarde should not be fully ruled out either. Thankfully a third term for Barroso now seems totally out of the question though.

As the situation changes I will do my best to blog about it.

[UPDATE 15.1.2014, 1000]
I’ve been asked on Twitter about numerous candidates not mentioned in this blog entry – people like Valdis Dombrovskis, Dalia Grybauskaitė and Anders Fogh Rasmussen. This blog entry in no way excludes those people. If they are not mentioned it means I simply have heard no more about them that makes me change my views on them since the original blog entries on the subject of the EU’s top jobs. I was also asked about why there is no mention of the ECR in this blog entry – it’s because I see the future of the group in Brussels as being under some threat, as explained here.

So Martin Schulz, are you, or are you not, a federalist?

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and wannabe Commission President, was on BBC World’s Hard Talk yesterday (4th December 2013), and used the following words:

You used the term that I am a European federalist. I have never in my life used it that I am a European federalist.

Here’s the video of it, timed to start at the right moment:

Here is Martin Schulz being interviewed on The Daily Politics of the BBC, on 14th September 2012, and he uses the following words:

The Members of the European Parliament are, with a broad majority, European federalists, like myself.

He also goes on to say that he would go further than José Manuel Barroso did – Barroso had called for a ‘federation of nation states’.

Embedding the BBC video doesn’t work, so click the screenshot and you will be taken to the video on the BBC’s site:
Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 20.54.36

So then Martin, which one is it? Are you a federalist or not?

(Note: this case was pointed out to me in this tweet by Paolo Vacca – he deserves all the credit for the story!)

Who owns a Commissioner’s Twitter account, and its followers?

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 14.47.332014 is the big change-over year in the EU institutions. A new European Parliament will be elected in May 2014, and a new European Commission will take office in late autumn 2014. Some Commissioners will stay on, but probably with new portfolios, and others will not return after 2014. Some of the new Commissioners may come into the job already with social media presences of their own.

The problem for the Commission is that no-one really yet knows what to do with the Twitter followings of current Commissioners once their term ends. As the table below shows, only one Commissioner – Michel Barnier – had a Twitter account prior to the 2009 elections, and this was just ‘officialised’ at some stage. All other Commissioners have built up their presences while in office. In 2014 it will be much more complicated.

The question then comes: how have these audiences of Commissioners been built? Have they been built with administrative resources (i.e. Commission staff have been doing the work), or through the engagement of the Commissioners themselves? And does that even matter? Does Malmström have more right to keep her followers as she tweets herself, while Reding has less right because she lets her staff do all of it? This takes us very close to the William Hague case – the British Foreign Minister’s account is a horrible mess of party political and governmental communications, and the decision has essentially been taken to live with that mess.

Further, do people follow a Commissioner because they want to follow that person? Or want to follow that person only because of their role? How many of the 85000 following Kroes would do so if she were the Commissioner for Agriculture rather than for the Digital Agenda? And if a Commissioner changes portfolio in 2014, what should happen to the followers? Should they be left to the next Commissioner with the same portfolio, or taken with the Commissioner when he or she moves? We do not have answers to these questions.

Further, with some Commissioners trying to jostle for top political positions in the future (rumours circulate about Barnier and Reding at the very least), will we suddenly be seeing a lot more party political communication on these accounts? If so, the Boris Johnson case would be worth bearing in mind, where the mis-appropriation of an administrative account for political purposes prompted quite a backlash.

Other examples include:

So what do you think should happen? Do comment below!

(note: some of the suggestions for this piece come from a conversation I had with Matthias Lüfkens on 24th October in Geneva, and Matthias has a related post about Barack Obama)

Data used for this piece
All Twitter data was accumulated on 25th October. Days on Twitter is calculated from the middle of the month a user joined, to today, so may be up to 15 days incorrect.

User Tweets Following Followers Joined Days on Twitter Tweets per day New followers per day
@borgton 65 86 575 July 2013 102 .64 5.64
@MimicaEU 216 295 1617 June 2013 132 1.64 12.25
@JHahnEU 373 699 2225 December 2012 314 1.19 7.09
@GOettingerEU 140 107 6535 October 2012 375 .37 17.43
@AlmuniaJoaquin 57 24 2232 September 2012 405 .14 5.51
@AntonioTajaniEU 2396 304 9639 March 2012 589 4.07 16.37
@StefanFuleEU 910 30 20064 February 2012 618 1.47 32.47
@VassiliouEU 2516 252 8276 February 2012 618 4.07 13.39
@MalmstromEU 2264 281 15864 January 2012 649 3.49 24.44
@ASemetaEU 349 492 3693 September 2011 771 .45 4.79
@MarosSefcovic 3118 352 5047 September 2011 771 4.04 6.55
@BarrosoEU 1081 1212 56972 September 2011 771 1.40 73.89
@SiimKallasEU 1580 352 9342 May 2011 894 1.77 10.45
@CHedegaardEU 833 257 24810 March 2011 955 .87 25.98
@MariaDamanakiEU 1379 589 8563 March 2011 955 1.44 8.97
@LaszloAndorEU 2313 116 10656 November 2010 1106 2.09 9.63
@VivianeRedingEU 850 371 29776 August 2010 1167 .73 25.51
@NeelieKroesEU 5915 1205 85433 June 2010 1288 4.59 66.33
@KGeorgievaEU 3086 839 15066 March 2010 1320 2.34 11.41
@JanezPotocnikEU 3059 289 16471 February 2010 1348 2.27 12.22
@APiebalgsEU 1035 290 12421 October 2009 1471 .70 8.44
@MBarnierEU 1442 1332 25308 November 2008 1805 .80 14.02
 Totals 34977 370585 40.58