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.
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.