Back in the autumn of 2004 I was working in London. It was a year or so before I even started this blog and I was working as a civil servant on EU energy policy. News reached us that a controversial Italian nominee to the European Commission, Rocco Buttiglione, had caused a fuss in the European Parliament due to his views about families and gay rights.
In a matter of a fortnight it was done, the EP had managed to remove Buttiglione. It was swift, decisive, values based, and – above all – unexpected. It was probably the only good thing that Martin Schulz, leader of the S&D Group in the European Parliament has ever done. There was Buttiglione, he said foolish and unpleasant things, members of the EP stood together ideologically and out he went.
Fast-forward 5 years and here we are again. Or probably not. A new Commission team ready to take office, a little delayed because of the Irish referendum, and with a little extra potential spice thrown in because of the new top positions created by the Treaty of Lisbon.
So what’s the European Parliament going to do over the next few weeks?
The answer to that is, I fear, absolutely nothing. Jean Quatremer has some quotes from a cross section of French MEPs, all who basically say that we should all be optimistic about the nominations. Even Schulz sounds conciliatory, stating that Europe’s populations are more concerned by jobs than they are by the nominations to the top positions.
Perhaps we should rephrase, that Schulz is concerned about his own prospects for a top job – President of the EP for the second half of the term – and does not want to rock the boat now?
Or is it maybe that the European Parliament feels it has already won?
That’s the line harshly underlined in this entry on The Economist’s Charlemagne blog. Over the last 3 months The Economist, and especially the Charlemagne blog, has been head and shoulders above any other publication (and I include the FT in that) in its interpretation of what has been going on with regard to the EU’s top jobs travails, and perhaps its line explains the compliant nature of the EP towards Ashton and van Rompuy now. The whole of The Economist’s post is here and this (from the 5th paragraph) caught my eye:
Regular readers will know I think the European Parliament is full of far too many B Team mediocrities who could not make it in national politics, and who like nothing better than scoring big wins against national governments. Some will say that is just my prejudice. I wish I could take you with me when I talk to officials, diplomats, businessmen and even members of the European Parliament, whose devotion to deep European integration often far exceeds mine, and listen in on our conversations about the parliament. As a body it is really, seriously looked down on by anyone unfortunate enough to have dealings with the place.
Having worked for a dire MEP a few years ago I have to sadly say I agree.
Yet all of this now will surely prove to be a pyrrhic victory. The line that the Parliament managed to ‘win’ and ended up with 2 rather uninspiring candidates for the top jobs is not going to hold much weight with any voters, just as Schulz’s cooperation with the EPP is not really going to help much either. And while we’re at it, even if the EP does do things that are useful to promote job growth the EU as Schulz claims to want, is anyone even going to credit the EP with that success anyway?
The European Parliament ought to have the guts to take on the Commission over the nominees. Candidates like Günter Oettinger and Laszlo Andor (still no Wikipedia page for him!) are hardly qualified to serve in the EU’s executive and only the European Parliament can show that. Julien Frisch wants the EP to take a stand and so do I. But I suspect it’s not going to happen.