Anna Diamantopoulou - CC / Flickr
Anna Diamantopoulou - CC / Flickr

OK, I am putting 2+2 together and making 10, but if I get this one right then you heard it here first! 😉

Andy Carling, a regular commenter on this blog, stated that he had heard Poul Nyrup Rasmussen say at a press conference that the PES does have a candidate for President of the Commission, but Rasmussen would not name that person.

At the same time my attention has been drawn to an interview to Sveriges Radio (här på svenska) given by social democrat Vice President of the European Commission Margot Wallström where she states that she would like to see former Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Anna Diamantopoulou as successor to Barroso. This is followed up in Swedish by AiP and Byggnads (one of Sweden’s largest trade unions), and in English by the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers.

So is the PES lining up Diamantopoulou? And if so, is this a good idea?

Frankly I know very little about Diamantopoulou, other than that she’s a socialist and served in Romano Prodi’s Commission between 1999 and 2004. I hence have no clue whether she is adequately good to be a viable candidate. If you reckon she is or is not any good please do let me know in the comments.

But more important than that: could she ever even be nominated? Firstly there’s a sort of consensus that the Commission President should come from the largest party in the European Parliament after the elections. So the first hurdle to overcome would be for the PES to win the elections.

Secondly, while polls look OK for Diamantopoulou’s partyPASOK – the Greek government is still centre right, with a tiny majority in parliament. Would Karamanlis ever consider nominating someone from an alternative political family? Highly unlikely was the opinion of an expert in Greek politics that I asked for an opinion on the matter. The same could be said for other possible centre left nominees – Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and Margot Wallström* herself – would the centre-right governments in their respective countries of origin actually nominate them? I think that danger would be less for my preferred socialist – Pascal Lamy – as Sarkozy previously backed socialist Strauss Kahn as Managing Director of the IMF.

I suspect that if it came to it the EP could bulldozer through its candidate, but the short term danger is surely in terms of PR. If Karamanlis is clever and Diamantopoulou’s name is raised by the PES he would surely state that he would not even nominate her to be the Greek member of the European Commission – would that not kill her candidacy dead and make the PES look a bit ridiculous?

Looking at it the other way, the chance that the PES even nominates someone would make the election much more interesting. It would give the socialists a figurehead, someone to rally around, and help put across some clear and determined vision for the future policies of the European Commission. Diamantopoulou’s nomination poses some complications and I would personally prefer Lamy, but if the PES do go for Diamantopoulou (or indeed for anyone half reasonable) that will be a good step forward for EU-wide democracy and will help make the EP elections a bit more interesting.

* – Wallström has continually ruled out wanthing to be Commission President

10 Comments

  1. I’m not sure about whether she really is a candidate, but to answer your question, I saw her in a debate w/ Charlemagne and Rasmussen organised by Friends of Europe (EU thinktank) a few months back on the left’s response to the financial crisis. She is quite good, articulate and smart. I really like her. Not sure she would do an ideal president of the Commission though, but on the other hand, I have never seen her “in action” as a Commissioner.

  2. Yes she is good enough 🙂

  3. Hi Jon,

    I’m afraid Rasmussen did give a name in the end, and even more than one. You should read the interview he gave to the German Edition of the FT on the 8th of May:
    http://www.ftd.de/politik/europa/:Zweite-Amtszeit-EU-Sozialisten-wollen-Barroso-los-werden/510652.html

    Best wishes,
    Brian

  4. James Burnside,

    That was an informed discussion on various general aspects surrounding the nominations, including the weakening of the Commission.

  5. James Burnside

    Bruno Waterfield has a, rather too plausible, take on this question from last week (http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2009/05/the_wrong_way_to_make_voters_c.cfm) Remember that, under the current rules, serious candidates don’t declare themselves, even after the EP elections; last time out, Barroso’s name wasn’t in the frame, at least publicly, until very late on.

    Since Delors (who, of course, wasn’t), there’s been an unwritten rule that the Commission president is a current or former member of the European Council. If that “rule” is to be abandoned and the criterion applied to the president of the European Council instead, it does suggest that the Commission president is likely to become even more of a gofer for the European Council than Barroso has been. There are decent candidates from outwith those exalted ranks, from several political parties, but how many would take the job in the expectation that the European Council would attempt to squash any signs of initiative? It would take an exceptional character to go against the grain (and they would need a similarly strong team of Commissioners, or at least a core of them). Lamy may be such a character, but would Sarkozy go for him? Is Diamantopoulou?

    I don’t know as much about her as I do Lamy, but I don’t remember her making waves in her time in the Prodi Commission, and she left early to go back to Greece. On the question of whether the Greek government would support her, they could follow the Portuguese example of supporting one of their nationals, although from a different party, if there’s a real likelihood she could get such a prestigious post, but perhaps there’s too much rancour between the parties for that?

    Remember that the job is part of a package of jobs, if and when Lisbon is ratified – European Council Presidency, future Solana, and France wants to hold onto the de Boissieu post in the Council General Secretariat too. The question is how much say can the EP get on those other posts, where it doesn’t have the treaty powers it has for the Commission President? Is there not a likelihood that the Commission president post is “downgraded” by the European Council, simply because the EP has a bigger say in it? In other words, power shifts, de facto, further towards the (European) Council.

  6. Jon,

    Thank you for adding some new angles to the discussion.

    The whole point is to have a candidate before the elections, to give EU citizens a choice.

    Failing to nominate a top candidate is a recipe for election defeat.

    After defeat, there is no need to unveil Mr of Ms X.

    Simple, but depressing, especially as I have heard no exclamations of joy from EPP grass roots concerning the nomination of Barroso.

  7. “But why then does Rasmussen even say that the PES does have a candidate? Bit strange to say that and not say who it is…”

    Why should he tell anyone? It’s not like its a democracy, where the people get to have a say in the matter.

    (sorry to be trollish)

  8. I suppose Rasmussen needs to say this to show publicly that they at least consider winning. But he doesn’t give a name because the socialist/social democrat landscape is too diverse and he doesn’t want to risk internal discussions this close to the elections.

    From a tactical perspective, the PES has crossed the point where they can nominate anyone and get an advantage (a leap) from it, because all national campaigns are under way and the candidate would not win enough profile quick enough to compete against Barroso (in public opinion terms) and to gain significant votes from this nomination.

  9. Yes, some good points there – I agree with most of what you write. But why then does Rasmussen even say that the PES does have a candidate? Bit strange to say that and not say who it is, and maintain that line for more than 4 weeks.

    As for your last line: you have to weigh that up against the possible additional support they might have gained from making the leap of nominating someone?

  10. My intuition tells me that Ms. Diamantopoulou would not be nominated before the elections, even if she were the candidate.

    Some three weeks before the start of the elections, it would be hard for the PES to build up a candidate that is hardly known, selling her to the national member parties, and risking her to be discredited before she would even come close to be nominated due to the lack of support or knowledge about her.

    In addition, and in case they become the strongest group, the Socialists will need to form an alliance either with the EPP or with the Green, Liberal and Left parties if they want their candidate to be elected. I suppose they will wait to see how the majorities look before they try to propose a candidate that either fits to the right or to the left.

    In fact, this is also my personal interpretation why they did not nominate anyone by now: To keep their options to the left and to the right for the post-election period.

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