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Posts tagged with: European Commission

Security theatre at the European Parliament: letting the terrorists win

This afternoon I tried to go into the European Parliament. The EU institution that is supposed to represent people like me – citizens of the European Union.

I am not a lobbyist or a journalist or an employee of another EU institution. So I could not get in.

I approached the rue Wiertz entrance to the Altiero Spinelli Building and was stopped by the security guards outside. You cannot enter, they told me, because you do not have a pass. I know, I said, I just need to go to the accreditation desk to call the MEP’s office I am visiting (I was to meet the assistant of a French MEP). You cannot even go to the desk they said*. How do I reach them, I asked? With a shrug the security guard pointed to the phone in my hand.

So what is the justification for this, keeping people outside on the street, I asked the guard. The yellow security alert he told me. So the terrorists have won, I responded, and he started to get edgy. “C’est pour votre securité” he told me.

How is this for an impression then? Here I am, as a citizen of the European Union, and the security of the European Parliament is keeping me out on the street.

jonworth_2015-May-29While I was digging around in my phone to find the number of the office I needed to reach, and a dozen or so other people were also milling around in the street, a large car pulled up and parked opposite the EP entrance – as pictured.

The reaction of the security guard?

To tell me off for taking a photo.

Tell me seriously – what is the greater danger? Me there outside the EP being barred for getting just into the building to call an office, or a car that could be full of explosive pulling up outside the building, and parking under the bridge connecting the two halves of the building.

I of course pointed out this absurdity to the security, and the response was “Vous voulez entrez dans le Parlement, monsieur?”

This is not about security. This is about giving an impression of power. It is theatre. The rules are both absurd and do not actually improve security. They do not make the EP look important; they make it look foolish and closed.

By this point the person I was due to meet had come down to fetch me, so as a final step before being accompanied inside I asked the security personnel for their names. I managed to note the name of one of them without him realising and I have reported his rude behaviour towards me, but the other guard hid her EP badge from view when I asked her for her name.

Welcome to the European Parliament. House of the people, where the terrorists seem to have won.

(my tweets from outside the EP earlier are here, here, here, here, here and here).

* – this morning I had a meeting at the Berlaymont, the most important building of the Commission that also houses all the Commissioners. There I explained to the security who I was meeting, they looked into my bag, and I was allowed to proceed to the desk. Why, if the Commission can do it, is the EP incapable of doing so?

Candidates for the new European Commission – where we stand 15.7.2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 16.56.50So Juncker is now certain. 26-2 in the Council, 422 of 751 in the European Parliament. I have analysed the High Rep and President of the European Council positions at the LSE EUROPP blog here. But who has been nominated by the 27 other countries? (Luxembourg’s Commissioner is Juncker)

Austria – Johannes Hahn (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: OK to be renominated for regional affairs, but would like something more senior. Party: EPP

Belgium – Karel De Gucht(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: to fuck up complete TTIP negotiations in DG Trade. Party: ALDE

Bulgaria – Kristalina Georgieva(f) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Juncker apparently wants her for High Rep. Party: EPP [UPDATE: nomination confirmed 5.8.14 – news story here]

Croatia – Neven Mimica (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: ? Party: PES

Cyprus – Christos Stylianides(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: unknown. Status of the nomination also currently unclear. Party:

Czech Republic – Věra Jourová (f) or Pavel Mertlík (m) – Wikipedia Jourová, News story. Wants: ? Party: Jourová. [UPDATE: confirmed 21.7.14]

Denmark – not yet known. Hedegaard will not continue as the government has changed since her nomination, but candidate names are not yet known. [UPDATE: 15.7.14, 1900 – Berlingske reports, in Danish, Christine Antorini and Mette Gjerskov are in the frame – thanks @jacobchr on Twitter]

Estonia – Andrus Ansip (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something senior as he’s an ex-Prime Minister. Party: ALDE

Finland – Jyrki Katainen (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: possibly Digital Agenda? Or something senior as an ex-Prime Minister. Party: EPP

France – Pierre Moscovici (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Economic & Financial Affairs? Something senior as it’s France. Party: PES [UPDATE: confirmed 29.7.14]

Germany – Günther Oettinger (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: probably happy to carry on the energy portfolio. Or something more senior. Party: EPP

Greece – Dimitris Avramopoulos (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: ? Senior figure, has held many foreign affairs connected posts in Greece and has been Mayor of Athens. Party: EPP [UPDATE: this was confirmed 28.7.14]

Hungary – Tibor Navracsics(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Hungary, having not backed Juncker, is not going to be in a position to make major demands. Party: EPP (somehow still)

Ireland – Phil Hogan (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Agriculture. Party: EPP

Italy – Federica Mogherini (f) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: High Rep, or possibly another portfolio. Party: PES [UPDATE: further info 1.8.14]

Latvia – Valdis Dombrovskis (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something senior as an ex-PM. Party: EPP

Lithuania – Vytenis Andriukaitis (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: health. Party: PES

Malta – Karmenu Vella (m). Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: Malta is not in a strong bargaining position. Party: PES

Netherlands – Jeroen Dijsselbloem(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something senior and economic. Details sketchy as to if he is indeed a nominee. Name of Timmermans also in the frame for High Rep. Party: PES

Poland – Radek Sikorski(?) (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: High Rep if the EPP gets this position. If this is unavailable a less high profile candidate may be found. Party: EPP

Portugal – Carlos Moedas (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something economic probably. Party: EPP. [UPDATE: this was confirmed 1.8.14]

Romania – Dacian Cioloș (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: agriculture again, but it is unsure if this will happen. Party: EPP

Slovakia – Maroš Sefčovič (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something senior, and not his current portfolio. Party: S&D (corrected – initially said EPP)

Slovenia – has just held a snap election. No names yet known, but Alenka Bratušek (ALDE), Tanja Falon (PES) and outgoing Commissioner Janez Potočnik (non-aligned) are rumoured candidates – news story here [UPDATED 6.8.14].

Spain – Miguel Arias Cañete (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: agriculture, or an economic portfolio. Party: EPP

Sweden – Cecilia Malmström (f) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something more senior, and more politically interesting, than Home Affairs. Party: ALDE [UPDATE: confirmed 30.7.14]

United Kingdom – Jonathan Hill (m) – Wikipedia, News Story. Wants: something Single Market. Party: ECR

At the moment there are only 4 female nominees. Kroes’s demand of 10 or more looks some way off! The entire Commission team has to be approved by the European Parliament after hearings, and by the European Council. The team should be agreed by the autumn.

How Juncker shines the light on Britain’s problematic, unitary pro-Europeanism

I am not a fan of Jean Claude Juncker, the person and the politician. I am a lefty, he is a christian democrat, and he – ideologically – stands for a future of the European Union that I, as an individual person, do not agree with. Yet I am also an advocate of EU-wide democracy, and as the European Peoples Party ended up as the largest after the European Parliament elections, Juncker ought to become President of the European Commission. In a democracy you sometimes end up on the losing side.

The problem is that the opposition to Juncker in the UK does not take this form.

The argument runs that Juncker is not in favour of British views of ‘reform’ of the EU (whatever that means), and hence should be opposed, and indeed the very future of the UK’s membership of the EU could be called into question were Juncker to succeed. This is the sort of argument, with no irony, that was defended by Adam Nathan on Twitter this afternoon and prompted this blog entry:

Essentially there is just one legitimate pro-Europeanism in the UK according to this line of argument. There is the “British national interest is in being in the EU” line, which is the very essence of the comms of British Influence, the organisation Nathan used to work for. This is also the reason why Labour’s opposition to Juncker sounds exactly the same as Cameron’s.

Basically there is only one way to be pro-EU in the UK at the moment. This is that the European Union is a battle of national interests (i.e. it is intergovernmental), and the reason to be in favour of the UK in the EU is that UK membership assists British business, and everyone ought to be in favour of that. This is the sort of line that every pro-EU British politician would make – from Chuka Umunna through the Liberal Democrats to Ken Clarke. Such a view of the European Union has no place for a difference of ideology within the European Union, and nor does it have any time or respect for the European Parliament, as that might actually take ideologically-driven rather than national-interest motivated decisions.

All of this worries me with a possible referendum on the horizon on the UK’s membership of the European Union. There must be multiple ways to be able to be a British pro-EU person – to be a social democratic European, a green European, a conservative European, a liberal European… and to be able to be a British passport holding European. To put it another way there are different, perhaps contradictory, ways to be in favour of the EU. It’s high time this was understood in the UK!

Reinfeldt, Merkel, Cameron and Rutte in a boat – a roundup

So embattled Swedish PM Reinfeldt invited Merkel, Cameron and Rutte to Harpsund and took them out in a small rowing boat (news summary here), and let photographers take pictures of this. Here’s the original:

The Junckermonster – my own effort

Putin, via @GeneralBoles

Breaking apart, via @Spacexecadet

Sinking, via @JOR_ID

Just the two of them, via @BuschEbba

[UPDATE 10.6.2014, 1220]

Two further contributions…

Beneath the lake, via @Berlaymonster

Cartoon, via @valentinapop

(note: I have no idea who posted these images first, and hence what the rights are – if you are a rights holder please contact me)

What does “EU reform” actually mean?

A tweet by Philip Oltermann caught my eye:

David Cameron is doing his best to spin himself, and his opposition to Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President, as being the ‘reformer’ versus a defender of the status quo, or the old EU, Juncker.

The problem is that no-one ever really challenges this narrative of what and how Cameron seems to want to reform the European Union.

There are at least three possible components of what reform could actually mean. It could mean political and institutional reform of the European Union, it could mean economic reform, and it could mean changes to the relationship between the EU and its Member States.

If we look at Cameron’s March piece in the Sunday Telegraph for example, we end up with a muddle of all of the above. When Cameron speaks of EU reform, it is actually his wish list for how he would like the EU to look. It is basically shorthand for the Tory EU line: less Europe.

Take Juncker’s nomination, by contrast. The fact that all major EU party families put forward candidates for Commission President prior to the 2014 EP elections is one of the most major de facto democratic reforms to the way the EU works in recent years (see this blog entry for the case). Connect the EP elections to the choice of Commission President. It is democratic or institutional reform. So the very presence of Juncker could be framed as a reform, yet all we hear is the opposite side.

Or look at what the European Greens were saying before the EP elections – theirs is a completely different notion of change and reform of the European Union. Yet some of the core vocabulary used – words about change and reform are similar.

So the next time you hear a politician trumpeting ‘EU reform’, stop to ask: what reform? Cameron’s EU reform? Juncker’s? The European Greens’? There is no one way to reform the EU, so we better stop talking as if there is, even if it suits Cameron’s aims to talk as if there is.

Where now for the Spitzenkandidaten process after EUCO? Keep calm

topcandidates-junckercolourSo the European Council last night did not back Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President, instead inviting Herman Van Rompuy to consult about who should become Commission President between now and the end of June. He should, to use Merkel’s words, look at a “somewhat broader tableau of suitable persons”. All this has then been framed as a blow to both Juncker and indeed the Spitzenkandidat process – see news stories from EUObserver and the FT for example. Hannes Swoboda of the S&D Group in the European Parliament also tweeted that it was absurd that even his group in the EP was ready to back Juncker, but the EPP in the European Council was not.

At one level the outcome is disappointing – there was the opportunity yesterday to demonstrate that EU institutions can take quick decisions. There was a Qualified Majority for Juncker if the EPP had pushed it. But attempts to keep some leaders happy – Cameron to a certain extent – mean the period for Van Rompuy to consult. There’s also the attempt for the European Council to save some face, and to not let the European Parliament dictate how the process should run, although the accusation that the process is inefficient and slow lies with them – the Heads of State and Government now.

Yet despite all of this, Juncker still is actually the front runner and may still end up as Commission President. The solid backing he has received from people like Enda Kenny and Peter Altmaier (tweet), not least to respect the integrity of the process within the EPP and hence within the European Parliament, means it is going to be hard to find a candidate who commands wider support.

This is always the important question to pose: yes, Juncker may not be backed by Orbán or Cameron, but what other alternative candidate is going to actually, after Van Rompuy’s consultations, actually command wider support? And any such candidate is going to have to command the support of the European Parliament, who were quick to back Juncker. Plus any viable candidate – Katainen, Kenny, Lagarde, Lamy – are going to be uneasy about putting themselves forward, knowing the still wide basis of support for Juncker.

So the conclusion, I think, is to let the post-EUCO gossip die down, and keep calm. This Spitzenkandidat process may yet work.

Why the Spitzenkandidat process is the best thing to happen to EU-level representative democracy for years

topcandidates-partycoloursLet’s get the caveats out of the way first. I know the way the parties selected their Commission President candidates was imperfect. I know that none of the candidates has really shone. I know this process has not been dealt with with the same degree of seriousness right across the EU. I know that I am writing this before the European Parliament election and we do not know what is going to happen after the election and whether the political parties will stick with their candidates. And this whole thing may yet derail, and I’ll amend my views accordingly if it does.

But for now the Spitzenkandidat process is the best thing to happen to EU-level representative democracy for years. Here’s why.

For the first time there is a clear connection between the legislature (the European Parliament), and the executive (the European Commission). This makes the European elections more like elections for a national parliament, and more understandable to voters. Vote left, get a boss of the thing that’s from the left. Vote right and get a boss of the thing from the right. “But they can’t actually do much!” might come the reply. Well look at the Mayor of London for comparison – a position with little in the way of formal power, but plenty of scope to influence politics if filled by the right person. EU politics is not the only level of politics with a credibility gap.

Secondly, the parties and their candidates are actually mounting campaigns. Not perhaps at the level of national campaigns yet, but still EU-wide (Juncker’s been to 32 cities in 18 countries for example), and with press work and campaign vehicles (as far as Helsinki) and war rooms and speeches and some posters.

Thirdly, the press is taking some notice. The #tellEurope televised debate this evening will be shown all across Europe (albeit not always on the most mainstream channels), and is one of seven such debates, and 1.79 million Germans watched Schulz-Juncker last week. View this as few if you wish, but as Ralf Grahn points out, this is a hell of a lot more interest than there was in 2009!

Fourth, all the candidates and the parties have made a pretty good effort at integrating social media, and especially Twitter, into their campaigns. If you cannot reach the voters via the mainstream means, then do so online. This is a modern election campaign in that sense.

So you have a choice. Bemoan the process, Open Europe style, before it has had the chance to run its course. Or see it for what it is, and what it in the future could be a major step towards – a functioning EU-wide representative democracy. That’s something to be optimistic about.

[UPDATE 1400]
Transparency International has pointed me towards this Google Spreadsheet that lists all the journeys made by the candidates.

The parties have their Commission President candidates. TV channels, it’s over to you: 15th May debate on prime time TV please.

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 21.01.34I write this blog entry as a convinced EU democrat. By that I mean that, faced with the options about how to solve the many problems the EU currently faces, actually trying to make democracy work at EU level is the least worst of the available options. Yes it is going to be hard, yes it is going to be imperfect, yes I wonder whether it will ever work. Yet all the alternatives are worse. The EU already does so much that a return to limited, functionalist technocracy is no solution. An intergovernmental union of 28 would be stuck making decisions at the lowest common denominator. The notion of just a free market is a misnomer, for the rules of any market are essentially political. The EU has achieved some sort of notion of transnational democracy – no other international organisation has anything elected as the European Parliament is.

Within this arduous process to democratise the European Union it is foolish to pretend that things are perfect, to imply there is harmony when there is not, and to try to shield a population from the perceived worst of Brussels.

This then leads me, once more to the issue of the European political parties candidates for President of the European Commission, known in the Brussels jargon as the Spitzenkandidat process, and specifically in this blog entry the debate (or lack of it) around this process.

Yes, the process is imperfect. The parties chose their candidates (Schulz for the PES, Juncker for the EPP, Verhofstadt for the Liberals, Keller and Bové for the Greens, Tsipras for the far left) via a variety of different routes and, apart from the Greens’ open primary, none of the processes were particularly open or transparent. Yet, for the first time ever, all the major political groups have put forward candidates. End up with a centre left majority and get Schulz in the Commission, end up with the centre right and get Juncker. The parties have, more or less, delivered.

Now then it is the turn of the media. If there are candidates for top positions, then the people that are actually going to vote in the European Parliament elections actually need to know what is going on. In most EU countries there is the tradition in national elections of hosting TV debates with the leading candidates for the parties, and the same will happen in the Spitzenkandidat process – I currently know of 7 debates between candidates, of which 2 have already happened. The biggest debate of all is scheduled for 15th May, hosted by the European Broadcasting Union.

While I am of course a strong advocate of online media, and the Europeanisation of debates that can promote, nothing yet has the reach that the major national TV channels in Europe still do. That is the reason why televised debates are important in this process.

ARD and ZDF in Germany, and ORF in Austria are already invested in the process and even are hosting their own debates. RAI is involved in the 9th May debate in Florence.

However in France, France 2 and France 3 are refusing to show the 15th May debate, as Fabien Cazenave outlines. Philip Cordery of the PS has written to France Télévisions about this omission, and if you care about it in France there’s a petition at Change FR about it too.

In the UK the situation appears to be little better. BBC schedules for 15th May are not yet available for BBC1 or BBC2 (nothing beyond 3rd May is currently available). The BBC is listed as a participant in the debate, but it so far remains unknown which BBC channel, if any, will show it. There’s a Change UK petition to demand the BBC shows the debate too. I have also tweeted Gavin Hewitt and Laurence Peter of the BBC’s Brussels team to ask what is happening:

Laurence Peter was also happy to pen a blog entry today quoting Herman Van Rompuy’s criticisms of the Spitzenkandidat process, and that citizens think they know who really takes the decisions. Did Mr Peter perhaps stop to reflect that if the BBC decides to not screen the 15th May debate on one of its mainstream channels that his broadcaster might actually be playing a role in improving citizens’ knowledge of the process?

Yes, the UK might be partially absent from the Spitzenkandidat process, but the outcome is nevertheless going to be important for the EU and the UK, and is almost sure to give Cameron a headache. I also do not subscribe to the David Rennie view that it would be better for the pro-EU side in the UK for debates to not be screened, as to do so would hasten the UK’s exit. Shielding the UK from the realities of how the EU works, how it is developing is no good – it’s dishonest and disingenuous. If watching two middle aged men debate hastens the UK’s exit, so be it, because it might be a decision taken on the basis of a slightly better grasp of the issues.

In summary then, the issue here is clear: the parties have delivered on their side of the bargain to put forward candidates. It’s now the turn of the media to deliver on its side. The demand is simple: the 15th May debate must be shown on prime time television in all of the EU. If it is not then the criticism that the candidates themselves are at fault for being unknown rings hollow.

[UPDATE 24.4.2014, 1715]
It has been confirmed that only BBC Parliament will show the debate in the UK, and only Phoenix in Germany. There’s a petition to get that changed in Germany here.