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EP Socialists voice opposition to Barroso

by DoDo Wed May 27th, 2009 at 04:42:44 AM EST

 EUROPEAN ELECTIONS 

Would the European Parliament have the weight of national parliaments, the outcome of next month's elections would determine the head and composition of he next Commission. But, by the first signs, it seemed that the past practice will continue: the national governments in the European Council (wirth the Franco-German axis taking the lead) haggle out who the Commission President should be -- and at what price in terms of other positions --, and the EP gets to give a multipartisan stamp of approval.

In the present haggling, it seems a Barroso II Commission seems the assured outcome. In particular, it seemed that the Socialists, who as PES have the second biggest faction in the EP, will cede the post to the conservatives. Even before the election results, and without anything of equal worth in return -- there has been talk about either the President of the EP post for PES faction leader Martin Schulz, or, gasp, a top post for the intolerable former British PM Tony Bliar.

However, two new attacks on the incumbent's candidacy, from no less officials than PES leader Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and Martin Schulz himself, (posted by Fran in today's Salon) indicate that the EP Socialists -- and EP democracy -- are not a completely lost case. As you'll see below the fold, Schulz in particular talks rather openly about the power situation.


Germany's Martin Schulz on the EU's Democratic Deficit: 'Europe Has Become an Over-Intellectualized Affair for Specialists' - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

SPIEGEL: Let's discuss the power of this chamber. Who would become president of the European Commission if your Social Democrats won the election?

Schulz: I admit that you are addressing a democratic deficit. The election outcome ought to determine the makeup of the Commission, but in actual fact, the heads of state and government determine who the Commission president will be. We should start by resisting the efforts to approve a second term for current Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

So, what can they do about Barroso, what not, and why?

SPIEGEL: So your goal is to get rid of Barroso?

Schulz: Unfortunately, at this point we can only try to obstruct Barroso, but we cannot elect our own candidate. For this reason, we should at least dictate political criteria by which we would judge the next president. Together with the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), we have compiled a set of requirements for strengthening employee rights in Europe.

SPIEGEL: Wait a minute. Are you saying that it's possible for a majority of citizens to vote for social democrats on June 4-7, and yet a conservative will become president of the commission?

Schulz: Yes, in theory. Practically speaking, it would be difficult, of course. The heads of state and government will have to think very carefully about whom they propose, if the Party of European Socialists form the strongest parliamentary group. That's why neither (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel nor (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy has commented officially on Barroso to date.

SPIEGEL: Do the two of them fear the power of the European Parliament?

Schulz: Yes, because their power is also at stake. Until now, the heads of state and government have constituted an informal steering committee within the EU which operates on the basis of behind-the-scenes diplomacy. In effect, Europe is run by a sort of permanent Congress of Vienna. The Lisbon Treaty is supposed to change this, by stipulating that the election of the Commission president reflect the outcome of the European election. But the treaty is not yet in force…

SPIEGEL: …because the Czech Republic and Ireland haven't ratified it yet. That's why the rules of the Nice Treaty apply.

Schulz: Exactly.

So, he characterises the Council's game as follows:

                   The heads of state and government want to appoint the president swiftly, before the Parliament acquires more power. On the other hand, they want to appoint the other commissioners in accordance with the new version of the Lisbon Treaty, under which each country will continue to have its own commissioner. Under the old version of the treaty, some countries would have had to do without a commissioner. The governments are currently playing fast and loose with the rules, so to speak.

...SPIEGEL: The rules for Bundestag elections are undisputed. The German constitution is not amended during the election.

Schulz: That's true. But it's not me who is responsible for this unfortunate state of affairs, rather Ms Merkel and her officials, who are playing these games behind the scenes.

Finally, he reiterates the general point:

SPIEGEL: The European Parliament doesn't seem to be all that powerful. What does it lack?

Schulz: Essentially, a proper government that answers to the Parliament. The separation of powers we are familiar with from the nation state doesn't exist yet. If we had a European head of government who had to assemble a parliamentary majority, there would now be two candidates running for the office. I admit that if that were the case, it would be easier to motivate citizens to vote.

Now on to Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, former Danish PM for the Social Democrat, and present MEP and head of the PES.

There’s no ‘done deal’ on Barroso | PES

I keep reading in the media that Barroso’s second term as Commission President is a ‘done deal’.

I disagree.

Like Schulz, he puts the spotlight on the Council's drive to preempt the EP:

...the Council’s nomination is not sure. It is due to make its nomination on June 18/19 – very likely before a majority in the Parliament has been finalised. A proposal to postpone the Council until later in the month, when a new Parliamentary majority is more likely to be in place, is being resisted by guess who.

Barroso has been lobbying capitals for months if not years to give him a second term and is now is trying ensure that the Council nominates him before they know the majority in the Parliament

However -- the above leads him to an optimistic conclusion:

That’s not the behaviour of a man with a done deal.

And why the recent round of media interviews? Is this the behaviour of a man with a done deal, or the act of a man anxious to create the impression of a done deal?

Rasmussen's second argument (in response to a claim by FT columnist Wolfgang Münchau that an EPP win will create an unstoppable Barroso bandwagon) is that even if the EP conservatives ends up with the biggest faction, they won't have a majority, nor allies.

It is hard to imagine the yet to be formed anti-federalist group led by British and Czech Conservatives being in a hurry to pledge their support for Barroso. And even if they were, that would still not deliver a majority. The future of other right of centre groups is uncertain.

I have already explained in a previous blog why we Socialists are much less likely in 2009 to enter an agreement with the Conservatives than we were in 2004. The Greens are supporting a campaign ‘anyone but Barroso’. And why would the Liberals rush into a deal to vote for Barroso? The Liberal former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, who is standing in the European elections, is being touted in some quarters as an alternative to Barroso.

In a quip near the end, Rasmussen speaks clear words:

But I wholly agree with the admirable Mr Munchau when he describes Mr Barroso as “among the weakest Commission presidents ever”.

He says the likelihood of Barroso getting a second term is “very depressing”. I might join Mr Munchau in being depressed if I believed that it’s practically a done deal.
But thankfully it isn’t – it’s spin by Barroso and his supporters.

:: :: :: :: ::

As some kind of disclaimer: I'm not hiding my anti-Barroso and leftist bias in the above; but even readers of different persuasions may welcome signs of democratic competition emerging in the EP.

Display:
Martin Schulz got into the PES forefront thanks to a confrontation with then and current Italian PM Berlusconi. He had a few words for him, too:

Germany's Martin Schulz on the EU's Democratic Deficit: 'Europe Has Become an Over-Intellectualized Affair for Specialists' - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

SPIEGEL: And the models?

Schulz: That has to do with Italy's shady prime minister, not Europe. What Silvio Berlusconi practices is only funny at first glance. This amalgamation of economic, media and political power in a single person is a threat to democracy. It isn't surprising that Italy has fallen behind on the Worldwide Press Freedom Index.

SPIEGEL: Models as a threat to the freedom of the press? Please explain what you mean.

Schulz: Berlusconi is systematically turning Italian domestic policy into tabloid news. To do so, he uses his entire media empire, which hypes issues at his orders. He uses the media to mobilize voters by placing his TV starlets on candidate lists.

SPIEGEL: Your dispute with Berlusconi made you famous in July 2003. In the European Parliament, he suggested you would be perfect for the role of a "kapo," a guard chosen from among the prisoners, in a film about the Nazi concentration camps. Is that the way to become famous in Europe, with as much commotion as possible?

Schulz: I didn't ask him to insult me. Berlusconi went off the deep end at the time because I had asked him critical questions. I pressed him on whether he would support cross-border crime fighting. Spanish tax investigators were on his trail at the time. He would have had to say: "No, because it isn't in my interest." I forced him into a corner, but to this day the media write: He's the one who made you famous.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 04:44:45 AM EST
Schulz also had his talking points right on other European issues:

Schulz: Let's put it this way: The European audience is divided into 27 national audiences. After a successful summit, Merkel, Sarkozy, (British Prime Minister Gordon) Brown or (Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez) Zapatero say to the journalists from their respective countries: "I scored a victory here." But when things go wrong, they say: "Brussels is so bureaucratic and sluggish." In the EU, success is nationalized and failure is Europeanized.

Schulz: Not just. When it comes to economic and currency policy, the EU acts virtually like a country, and it is very successful in doing so. The domestic market creates Europe-wide freedoms for companies, but the social rights of employees are neglected. The equal footing of capital and labor, as we know it in nation states, doesn't exist at the European level. That's why the central theme of my campaign is that we must impose a social framework on a Europe that is an economic and currency union.

However, on national vs. European interests, he becomes a bit incoherent on another issue...

SPIEGEL: What will you do then? Do you want to become an EU commissioner?

Schulz: Yes, for industrial policy. Germany needs a strong industrial policy representative.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 04:48:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If the Socialists were serious about these elections, they would announce an alternative candidate to stand against Barroso - even if only as a stalking horse.  It would force Brown et al into the position of whether he is standing with his socialist colleagues - or supporting a generally unpopular Commission President - and give people generally an incentive to go out and vote - whether socialist or not.

People don't have to be for or against Barroso at this stage, just for or against giving people a choice...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 07:16:03 AM EST
It's not the parties who put up candidates, it's the Council members. That EPP is voicing its support for Barroso II is most likely an effect of Merkel, Sarko and some others telling them to.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 08:20:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A big party group could declare that they will not vote for anyone but [candidate] thus forcing the Council members to nominate that person of face a stalemate.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 09:07:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In theory. In effect, I suspect that would be a call on the rest to call them selfish and whatnot, form a coalition against them, and divide commission positions amongst themselves... (but maybe I am too much influenced by Central European daily practice in my cynism.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 10:13:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
commission positions

I of course meant parliamentary commissions, not the European Commission.

By thew way: are there any standard abbreviations for European Commission, European Council, Council of the EU (and the onetime European Convent)? "EC" is already reserved for European Community/ies, a bit maddening...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 10:18:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No point in left opposing Barroso, says Müntefering - The Irish Times - Thu, May 28, 2009

BERLIN - The leader of Germany's Social Democrats says there is little point in Europe's socialist bloc naming a candidate to try to stop European Commission president José Manuel Barroso winning a second term. Mr Barroso's five-year mandate expires this year.

Asked if Europe's centre-left would put up a challenger, Franz Müntefering replied: "What would the point of that be? It would be naive to do that. There are 27 EU countries and 21 of those are led by conservative governments.

"And at least two others, Portugal and Spain, are for Barroso. Do you think the other four should put up a challenger?" he asked. - (Reuters)

What about at least going through the motions of trying to campaign for a left-green majority in the EP by nominating an alternative to block Barroso?  Why is the left conceding defeat before the election? Will that not just de-motivate its voters and make the defeat even worse?

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 08:11:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You have to consider that Münte is in effect speaking for the Council...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 08:51:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Parliament can still mount an opposition, as they did the first time around.

Barroso Commission

Commissioner hearings

During the [September/October 2004] hearings, members found fault in a number of Commissioners. Committees questioned the suitability of Ingrida Udre (Taxation and Customs Union), László Kovács (Energy), Neelie Kroes (Competition) and Mariann Fischer-Boel (Agriculture). However the most controversial was Rocco Buttiglione as European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security due to his conservative comments (on women's position in marriage and that homosexuality was a sin) which, in the eyes of some MEPs, made him unsuitable for a job securing civil rights in the EU[16] leading to the civil rights committee to be the first committee to vote down an incoming Commissioner.[17]

The Socialists were the most vocal critics of Barroso and his proposed Commission, while the People's Party backed the Commission with the liberals split. Barroso attempted to offer small concessions to Parliament but they were not accepted as the Socialists made clear they would vote down the Commission as it stood, leaving the divided liberals holding the balance of whether the Barroso Commission would be the first Commission in EU history to rejected by Parliament. The People's Party demanded that if Buttiglione were to go, then a Socialist commissioner must also be sacrificed for balance.[18]

Barroso eventually gave in and withdrew his proposed college of Commissioners and, following three weeks which left Prodi continuing as a caretaker, proposed a new line up. There were three changes to help his dented authority and win the support of Parliament: Buttiglione had been withdrawn by Italy and replaced by foreign minister Franco Frattini, László Kovács was moved from Energy to Taxation and Ingrida Udre was withdrawn and replaced by Andris Piebalgs who took over the now vacant post of Energy.



The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 08:55:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, in end effect, that was more an example of Parliaments ineptness. Most of the changes were just a re-shuffle, many of the unfit commissioners remained -- and Barroso himself, the Commission president whose 'qualifications' as former PM were just shattered by the deficit explosion and the exposure of fudging numbers in Portugal, was not challenged. Then again, given the right-wing+liberal majority, the PES could not have changed that even if it wanted.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 09:03:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(But it didn't.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 09:03:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo:
in end effect, that was more an example of Parliaments ineptness
But it was a shot across the bow - nobody expected the Parliament to flex its muscle in this way, and Barroso is clearly lobbying to pre-empt a repetition.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 09:06:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I distinctly rmember my elation at the move no one expected, and my disillusion when the second vote came.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 09:30:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Given that this was the first time the EP had challenged anything of any significance, it was quite a milestone, and given that the Liberals held the balance of power, there was a limit to what the PES could achieve.

But what baffles me now is why the PES - even if it is divided and unlikely to win a majority - doesn't at least campaign for an alternative to the Barroso agenda - if only to improve its representation and bargaining position after the election.

Oppositions don't always win.  But they do have a valid role in a democracy acting as an opposition.  What the socialist seem to be saying to the electorate is that they are not up to the job of opposition, never mind government.  

So why wouldn't the electorate turn to a variety of nationalist/proto fascist snake oil salesmen if they are unhappy with the status quo? The proto-Fascists/Eurosceptics are the only ones presenting an anti-status quo message - however falsely - and thus are likely to shape the dominant narrative of the coming EP.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 10:20:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The PES needs to adopt its place as the "leader of the opposition" in the European Union given that the EPP is the majority party by a long shot. However, due to the fact that most national member parties have recently been in power, they have a hard time adopting this "natural opposition" role. They also want too much to "play nice" and are too ready to enter into "grand coalition" power-sharing agreements with the EPP.

The fact that the PES challenged the Liberals and not the Conservatives in the exchange of open letters that opened the EP campaign is telling in this respect. They see the Liberals' challenge for second place as more important/viable than their own challenge of the EPP for first place.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 10:24:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why don't the PES just vote for Satan and be done with it?

'He's not that bad really. And we can't field anyone better.'

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 10:27:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cthulhu/Hastur 2012 - why vote for the lesser evil?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 08:05:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Finally!

Maybe I will change my signature now...

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 09:08:11 AM EST
BTW, in some thread a while ago I gave you a 4 when I saw it first, but forgot to make that explicit in a comment.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 27th, 2009 at 10:15:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Even if it is true that it is the Council that nominates the Commission president candidate, it is still the European Parliament that has to accept or reject him (or her...unfortuantly not very often).

Schulz seems to miss the point that the EP majority could reject not only Barrosso, but every candidate that is put up by the Council for approval - like this already before the Lisbon treaty comes into force the parties could take an leading role by nominating their candidates, hence forcing the Council to nominate the candidate of the largest fraction of the EP.

Even if we, as Schulz rightly points out, need a federal government, we can already now make the Commission president accountable to the Parliament. It is courage and leadership that is missing, not treaty change!

http://federalists.cafebabel.com/en/

by Federal Europe Now on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 07:21:20 AM EST
It is courage and leadership that is missing

As well as a majority...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 08:52:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Democracies need a functioning opposition, and the PES aren't really providing one...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 10:22:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They don't think of themselves as the opposition.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 10:25:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So how do they see themselves? As a pressure valve for the nasty populists?

Because that's not going to work out well in these elections.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 10:28:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They think they're a party of government. Their mental model, at least at the EU level, is one of "Grand Coalition".

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 10:31:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And I wish more of their voters knew that.

At least here in Sweden, the local part of PES runs against the local part of EPP like that was what this election was about.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri May 29th, 2009 at 06:02:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Same thing in Spain...

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 29th, 2009 at 06:05:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Greens are. For that matter, so are the Eurosceptic loons...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 01:07:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Giving up before the election might affect the election result.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Fri May 29th, 2009 at 06:00:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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