Thursday, 29 May 2014

Presidential Race: Juncker's Battle for the Berlaymont

The EPP may have won a plurality of seats in the European Parliament, but Jean-Claude Juncker, its candidate for Commission President, hasn't got the job yet. His Social Democrat rival, Martin Schulz, was reluctant to concede (and has not actually completely given up yet), but the numbers in the Parliament mean that Juncker is far more likely to form a stable majority. That's not the end of the story - several Prime Ministers and national delegations oppose his candidacy, so now there could be a stand-off between the European Parliament and the European Council.

Supporters and Opponents

The PES has recognised Juncker's right to the first attempt at finding a parliamentary majority. The seat numbers have changed a little since my first thoughts on the results on Monday, but essentially a Grand Coalition between EPP and PES (around 405 seats) would provide the most stable coalition with a workable majority. However, some national delegations of the EPP, such as Orban's Fidesz, are against Juncker's candidacy, and since the vote on a Presidential nominee is by secret ballot, it's not clear how cohesive a coalition would be in practice. It may be that the Liberals and Greens need to be added to the coalition to ensure there's a majority that can endure a prolonged struggle with the European Council.

David Cameron quickly came out against Juncker. Though Juncker is a centre-right candidate, Cameron calculates that he is too federalist to have in the Commission during his planned renegotiation. It's not clear who Cameron would find acceptable in the job. Two of the other possibilities that are subject to speculation are Christine Lagarde and Pascal Lamy, though I can't see them being arch-supporters of a repatriation programme. Juncker's supposed federalism may be overstated a bit: he's definitely for the status quo insofar as he backs the current treaties and had a hand in how the Eurozone has been reformed so far, but I think he's more of an intergovernmental pro-European - he's very close to the European Council, having sat in it for many years.

Without an alternative, it's questionable whether Cameron's opposition will actually pay off meaningfully for him. On Newsnight it was said that the UK's ability to block Juncker would be a test of Cameron's influence and ability to renegotiate, but at the moment the reward side of this risk is vague at best. (Remember, the European Council makes it nomination by Qualified Majority). Angela Merkel appears to have cooled on Juncker's candidacy (not that she was ever a fan of giving the Parliament the decision over the job - despite the CDU's manifesto pledge that the Commission President become a directly elected post). To act against your party's successful candidate is an odd political decision, especially given the head-to-head debates between Schulz and Juncker on German TV.

Juncker should get the job

The European Parliament has to stand behind Juncker if it wants the elections to be as important as they claimed during the campaign. Agreeing a compromise candidate with the European Council would discredit the Parliament and make the next elections more difficult. After all, the EPP won the most seats, not the Euroskeptics, and for the winning party's candidate to be dumped by the Council now would send a signal for next time to the voters: there's no point paying any attention to the candidates - or even the election - we'll just strike a deal afterwards.

Far from a Juncker Presidency playing into Euroskeptics' hands or ignoring the voters, it would underline the importance of the vote and respect the outcome and the resulting parliamentary arithmetic. Which is why the commentary on the Tagesschau today rightly pointed out that placating Cameron by ignoring the voters is a stupid political decision.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Questions posed by the Euroskeptic tide

The gains for the Euroskeptic parties across the EU poses a few questions for how European politics will develop. There seems to be consensus that the far-right and far-left parties won't have sufficient numbers to block the workings of the Parliament, though it's unclear yet if another far-right grouping forms out of the new NI intake beside the EFD. Having a political group attracts resources and money, as well as winning the group committee seats which would allow the new Euroskeptics to make a bigger impact.

A Grand Coalition between the EPP and PES (with ALDE and the Greens, and occasionally ECR on some issues) will probably be the order of the day. While the presidential race gained some attention in some Member States, it's fair to say that the protest vote is what helped arrest the decline in turnout. But while the Euroskeptic vote needs to be taken seriously, the response must be balanced against the fact that the vast majority of voters voted for pro-Union parties - though with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Politically within the Parliament the most interesting impact may be on the EPP and ECR. Will the EPP start couching its position in terms of Member States' rights (Juncker, though extremely pro-European, has come across as a Intergovernmental type of pro-European, pointing to the legitimacy of the Council on plenty of occasions)? Will the ECR attract some EPP members such as Orban's Fidesz party, which is often at odds with Brussels and has stated that it will not back Juncker?

But the Member States are where the influence of he election result will be most keenly felt.

Member States & Euroskepticism - Will the Member States reverse integration?:

The impact of Euroskepticism will be felt differently across the EU. The success of the far-left UEL parties in some countries, such as Greece and to a lesser extent in Ireland, indicates that treaty change will be harder to push through, but it is a different sort of skepticism to that of the right - from socialism in one country to a stronger (and ironically more integrated) Social Europe. In France, Denmark, Austria and the UK, the anti-EU and anti-immigration vote is closer to what springs to mind when it comes to right-wing Euroskepticism.

I don't think that there will be a move towards turning back the clock on the Eurozone or the Schengen free border area, but tougher rules on access to welfare and public services for those who do exercise their free movement rights could be brought in nationally and perhaps at the European level. It's unlikely that the EU will soften its approach to asylum and immigration. Politicians who want more fiscal union to fill in the gaps of the Eurozone will have much less room to maneuver - expect a lot of policy drift.

The lessons on the rise of the Euroskeptics for national parties may be to accommodate tougher EU and immigration positions in some countries, but the lessons won't be the same everywhere. Classical right-wing Euroskepticism seems to have done well in older, richer Member States, but not everywhere. In The Netherlands, Wilders' PVV lost votes (while the pro-European D66 topped the poll). The CSU, Merkel's Bavarian sister party, was punished for its anti-European stance - but on the other hand, the economically right-wing and Eurozone-skeptic AfD polled well in some of the Laender were elections will soon take place.

For the crisis-hit countries, Eurobonds and pooling debt could be attractive, with a lot of anger aimed at the Eurozone system as it currently stands not necessarily leading to ruling out all integration if it helps them economically. And in Italy the Democratic Party (PES) convincingly beat the protest Five Star Movement with around 40% of the polls, almost double the Five Star Movement's vote - this is a mainstream party, in government but with a reformist agenda, winning big.

So how will this all work out in the Council? Yes, there needs to be a response, but many parties and countries will differ on what the right course of action would be - there are a few lessons that could be learned depending on where you stand, and that's only looking at a part of the electorate.

Monday, 26 May 2014

European Elections 2014: First Thoughts

The votes are not in yet, but is seems that the exit polls are giving us a fair idea of what the next European Parliament will look like:

EPP: 212
S&D Group (PES): 185
ALDE: 71
Greens: 55
ECR Group: 40
UEL: 45
EFD: 36
Others (New parties not yet part of a group): 67

The biggest gain for the far right were in France (Front national), Denmark (the Danish People's Party), and Hungary (Jobbik). The fact that the Front national, the Danish People's Party and UKIP topped the polls nationally shows a bug leap forward for Euroskepticism. (Denmark appears to have voted in favour of a European Patent Court in a referendum yesterday, however). This isn't so much a problem for the workings of the European Parliament - after all the vast majority of people voted for pro-European, or at least pro-status quo, parties - but it will put pressure on some groups, particularly the EPP, to take a more Euroskeptic or "Eurorealist" approach.

With the bloc of "others/NI" it will be interesting to see how the groups on the right deal with the new entrants: will the ECR and/or the EFD attract these new entrants. UKIP (EFD) has ruled out working with the Front national, but the Front national has ruled out working with Jobbik or Golden Dawn, so it's still not clear how this new "NI" bloc will work in practice.

On the Presidential race, it looks like the EPP has won and Juncker will have the first opportunity to form a majority in Parliament. The language has changed slightly here, in a predictable way, from a straight presidential race to a more prime ministerial one: the biggest party has the first chance to form a majority, and then the next one, and so on. The difference here is that the candidates probably need an outright win plus a majority to convince the European Council to give way to the European Parliament on the issue of who leads the Commission - something that the EUCO isn't happy to let go of.

Schulz hasn't given up on his hopes of getting the job, though it's become far less likely in practice. The election of a Commission President requires an absolute majority of the Parliament, which is 376. EPP + ECR + ALDE = 323; S&D + ALDE + Greens = 311; and S&D + EPP = 397. While these numbers aren't final, it's clear that a left or right-wing bloc would struggle to command a majority in the Parliament (and that's before you take into account that some MEPs might not vote along the party line since they vote by secret ballot).

There is speculation that there will be a compromise candidate from outside the Europarty candidates - such as Christine Lagarde or Pascal Lamy. The European Parliament should avoid falling into this trap and agree on voting for one of the candidates that ran. Based on these numbers, I don't think it's possible for Schulz to take the post, but perhaps Juncker could be made Commission President and the PES can control some key DGs of the Commission. This would be more in line with the parliamentary nature of the system, but the European Council will strongly resist parliamentary influence over the Commission.

In the coming days and weeks the announcements and spin from the Juncker camp and the various heads of government will reveal the direction of travel here: how much does Juncker really want the job, and if he's bought off with the Presidency of the European Council, would Schulz be able to insert himself into the Commission (unlikely)? Will the Council try to force a compromise candidate on the Parliament? Finally, the politicking of the Europarties will matter a lot: if they don't find a way to hang together as a majority coalition (while maximising their various interests), then the European Parliament will lose its battle to make the Commission more democratically accountable to it, and it will make it extremely difficult to build on the idea that the EP elections can be the equivalent of a government-changing election at the European level.

MEPs should try to remember in the coming months that their own influence and relevance will be dependent on how they fight their next political battle.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

European Elections 2014: Super Sunday Vote Part III

We're on our final stretch of our tour round the voting Member States today.


Sweden is currently governed from the centre-right, with the Moderate Party leading the government. With national elections coming up in September, there have been worries that the far-right (Swedish Democrats) and far-left (Left Party) stand to gain votes and seats, and the European elections is being seen as a dry-run for the national elections.

Current Polls:

Social Democratic Worker's Party (PES): 30%
Centre Party (ALDE): 4%
Liberal Party (ALDE): 9%
Environment Party (Greens): 12%
Swedish Democrats (NI): 7%
Christian Democrats (EPP): 4%
Left Party (UEL): 7%
Moderate Party (EPP): 20%


Slovenia is a Eurozone country that has fallen into economic difficulties and there have been concerns that it may need to be bailed out - it has had to recapitalise its banks with €3 billion. The centre-right parties look like they are set to win the election in a landslide, so Slovenia can be counted as being firmly in the EPP bracket of parliamentary arithmetic.

Current Polls:

Democratic Party (EPP): 27%
Social Democrats (PES): 9%
Christian People's Party (EPP): 21%
Positive Slovenia (ALDE): 5.5%
Liberal Democrats (ALDE): 7%
Democratic Party of Pensioners (NI): 4.6%
Slovenian National Party (NI): 4%
List Verjamem (NI): 12%
United Left (UEL): 4%


Cyprus is one of the latest countries to be hit by the Eurocrisis, and the first country to have a "bail-in", with depositors hit by the losses of the banks. The Democratic Rally (EPP) won the presidential elections in February 2013 (the post was previously held by the communist Progressive Party of Working People [AKEL]), and they are currently leading in the polls by a wide margin.

Current Polls:

Democratic Rally (EPP): 38%
AKEL (UEL): 24%
Democratic Party (PES): 12%
Citizen's Alliance Party (NI): 7%
Movement for Social Democracy (PES): 9%


The Social Democratic Party has led the government since the general election in 2012, and the Lithuanian government ran the Council presidency in the second half of 2013. Lithuania's most recognisable politician is probably its independent president, Dalia Grybauskaité, who has been dubbed the Iron Lady. The Social Democrats are on course for a convincing win judging by the polls on PollWatch 2014.

Current Polls:

Social Democratic Party (PES): 38%
Homeland Party (EPP): 10%
Labour Party (ALDE): 11%
Liberal Movement (ALDE): 9%
Order and Justice (EFD): 14%
Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AECR): 5%
Peasants and Greens (NI): 5%


Estonia is a small Eurozone country of about 1.3 million, but it has 6 main parties in its parliament. An independent aligned with the Greens is running and is predicted to win a seat. It looks like the Liberal ALDE group will win half the seats in Estonia.

Current Poll:

Centre Party (ALDE): 20%
Reform Party (ALDE): 18%
Res Publica (EPP): 17%
Social Democratic Party (PES): 18%
Indrek Tarand (Independent/Greens): 14%


Finland is another stronghold for the Liberals (along with Estonia and the Netherlands). However, the EPP and the far-right True Finns are expected to do well in these elections. The True Finns (or the Finns Party) have increased their profile through the opposition to bail outs within the Eurozone. Finland, along with The Netherlands and Germany, tend to take a hard pro-austerity line as a trade-off for bail-outs.

Current Polls:

National Coalition Party (EPP): 23%
True Finns (EFD): 21%
Centre Party (ALDE): 14%
Social Democratic Party (PES): 13%
Green League (Greens): 11%
Left Alliance (UEL): 8%
Swedish People's Party (ALDE): 4%
Christian Democrats (EPP): 3.5%


One of the smallest Member States, but its former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is heading the EPP campaign as the candidate for the Commission Presidency. Juncker lost the general election in 2013, where the Christian Social People's Party were the biggest party, but the opposition parties won enough seats to form a coalition and oust the government.

Current Polls:

Christian Social People's Party (EPP): 34%
Luxembourg Socialist Worker's Party (PES): 20%
Democratic Party (ALDE): 18%
Greens: 10%
Alternative Democratic Reform Party (NI): 7%
The Left (UEL): 5%

European Elections 2014: Super Sunday Vote Part II

Following on from Part I, lets take a look at some of the other countries vting today.


Spain is the biggest of the crisis-hit countries. While not bailed out in the same way as Ireland, Portugal and Greece, its banks still needed access to credit. Spain has now exited the bail out, but its economy is still struggling with 55% youth unemployment and a general level of around 25% unemployment. The Popular Party (EPP) replaced the ruling Socialists (PES) in 2011 advocating austerity as the solution to the crisis. With popular discontent visable through movements like the Indignados, austerity and the economic crisis is clearly a central issue.

Catalonian independence and regional governance is also an issue: Catalonia's parliament voted to hold a referendum on independence, which it doesn't have the power to do, and which the Spanish government refuses to recognise.

According to the polls, it looks like the PP will win the election, with the Socialists coming second.

Current polls:

PP (EPP): 35%
PSOE (PES): 29%
CEU ("Coalition for Europe" - pro-European regionalist parties; NI): 6-8%
United Left (UEL): 10-14%
Union, Progress and Democracy (pro-European, centre-left, Spanish nationalism; NI): 4%
EPDD (social democrats, pro-Catalonian independence; NI): 4%
Citizens (centre-left, anti-Catalonian separatism; NI): about 2%
Vox (Pro-European/economic liberalism; NI): about 2%
Podemos (anti-capitalist; NI): about 2%


Poland last had a general election in 2011, when Donald Tusk's Civic Platform (EPP) was re-elected to government. Civic Platform had topped the poll in the last European elections, but this time around the opposition Law and Justice Party is leading in the polls.

Current polls:

Civic Platform (EPP): 29%
Law and Justice (AECR): 30%
Democratic Left Alliance (PES): 12%
Polish People's Party (EPP): 5.6%
Poland Together (AECR): 3.3%
Europa Plus (PES): 5.1%
Congress of the New Right (NI): 8.8%
United Poland (EFD): 3.9%


A bail-out country, Portugal is struggling with austerity. The Social Democratic Party (EPP - despite the name it is a centre-right party) is the main party of government at the moment (the last general election being in 2011), and the left wing parties look likely to take the biggest share of the vote between them.

Current polls:

Social Democratic Party/Alliance Portugal (EPP): 30%
Socialist Party (PES): 36%
Left Bloc (UEL): 5.8%
Democratic Unitarian Coalition (UEL): 11-12%
Earth Party: 3.4%


Croatia is the newest Member State to the European Union, having only joined in 2013, so its also had its European Parliament elections very recently as well, when HDZ (EPP) topped the poll. History looks like it's going to repeat itself, but this time around the Kukuriku Coalition (PES) is likely to perform better and win more seats.

Current Polls:

HDZ (EPP): 30%
Kukuriku Coalition (PES): 25%
Labour Party (UEL): 7%
Croatian Sustainable Development (Intends to join a Greens): 9%
Savez za Hrvatsku (NI): 6%
Nacionalni forum (ALDE): 3%


GERB (EPP) is the current governing party in Bulgaria at the moment. Elections were held in 2013 over widespread protests about electricity prices. A number of political and corruption scandals have left politics in Bulgaria very damaged, though it looks like the two main parties or coalitions of parties will gain a majority of the vote between them.

Current polls:

GERB (EPP): 26%
Socialist Party (PES): 30%
Movement for Rights and Freedoms (ALDE): 10%
Attack (NI): 5.5%
Reformist Bloc (EPP): 5%
National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (EFD): 3.6%
Alternativa za Bulgarsko Vuzrazhdane (NI): 4.6%
Bulgaria bez Cenzura (NI): 12%
Bulgaria bez Cenzura


The last Danish election, in 2011, swept a left-wing coalition headed by Helle Thorning-Schmidt into power. The popularity of the government has waned, and there is a danger that the far-right People's Party will win the European elections with over a quarter of the vote.

Current Polls:

People's Party (EFD): 27%
Venstre (ALDE): 22%
Social Democrats (PES): 21%
Socialist People's Party (Greens): 7%
The Conservative People's Party (EPP): 5%
Radical Venstre (ALDE): 6%
Liberal Alliance (NI): 3%
People's Movement against the EU (UEL): 9%

European Elections 2014: Super Sunday Vote Part I

Most of the Member States are holding their polls today - about 21 of them. So there's a lot to get through!


Austria is currently governed by a grand coalition, with the Social Democratic SPOe (PES) the senior party and the Christian Democratic OeVP (EPP) the junior party. The far-right Freedom Party, FPOe (NI), has been gaining support in state elections as a party of opposition, while the former party of Jorg Haider, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZOe) (NI), has tried to take a more liberal turn. Still Euroskeptic, the BZOe now pushes for flat taxes and campaigns against fiscal union in the EU.

The government in Austria has traditionally been a grand coalition (it was believed this would be a better way to govern after the highly divisive politics of the Inter-War period), and this has let the extreme parties grow as main parties of opposition. The Greens have also built up some support as an opposition party on the left.

In terms of MEPs, there have been some interesting moves and defections. Most notably, Angelika Werthmann has joined BZOe and been expelled from ALDE in the European Parliament. Ewald Stadler has set up REKOS, the Reform Conservatives, a Euroskeptic party that will sit with the EFD group in Parliament, and Martin Ehrenhauser has set up Europa Anders (Different Europe), a left-wing group that includes Communists and the Pirate Party. Team Stronach, a party set up by an Austro-Canadian businessman, won't be contesting the European elections.

A new liberal party aligned with ALDE, NEOS, will contest the elections and has been doing well with about 10% in the polls.

Overall it looks like the two main parties will hold their leading position, but the Freedom Party will make a strong showing of about 20%.

Current polls:

SPOe (PES): 25%
OeVP (EPP): 26%
BZOe (NI): 1-2%
FPOe (NI): 20%
Greens: 13%
NEOS (ALDE): 10%
Europa Anders (NI): 2%


Germany had its federal election back in September 2013 which led to a big victory for Angela Merkel's CDU-CSU (EPP) and to a grand coalition government with the Social Democrats (PES). Germany has been one of the more engaged Member States in the European elections, with two head-to-head debates between Juncker and Schulz on national TV (most recently on ARD, the public broadcaster). It will be interesting to see how the new AfD, which is an economically right-wing and anti-Euro party, will do. The liberal FDP was thrown out of the Bundestag in the federal election and now looks to be surpassed by the AfD in the polls.

An important factor this time around is the threshold to win seats in the EP. The Constitutional Court has done away with the 5% vote threshold and also the subsequent 3% threshold, so now it's much easier to win a seat. Germany is a single constituency for the European elections.

This will make the elections interesting - the FDP are hovering around 3%, while the AfD are around 7%. More worryingly is the idea that one of the far-right parties such as the NPD or Die Republikaner might do well. The question of immigration and control has crept into German politics, particularly the CSU, the Bavarian sister-party to Merkel's CDU (which is increasingly taking a stance against the Transfer Union within Germany), and this has been taken up by the AfD too.

Current polls:

CDU/CSU (EPP): 38%
SDP (PES): 27%
FDP (ALDE): 3%
Greens: 10%
Die Linke (UEL): 8%
AfD: 7%


Belgium is divided into linguistic constituencies: French, Dutch and German-speaking, and the federal and linguistic community based nature of the Belgian constitution and political system follows this. There are social democratic, Christian democratic, liberal, Green, etc. parties that are French or Dutch-speaking, leading to a complex party-political system where it famously takes ages to form a government. (The current government, led by Social Democrat Di Rupo, holds the record for the longest formation time).

From the polls it looks like the Flemish separatists could top the poll and an far-right Flemish party, Vlaams Belang, might do well with around 8%.

Current polls (from April):

Flemish Christian Democrats (EPP): 10% (winners of the 2009 election, would be down from 14%)
Parti socialiste (PES): 10%
SP.A (PES): 9%
Vlaams Belang (NI): 8%
Ecolo (Green): 4%
Groen (Green): 5%
Open Vld (ALDE): 12%
Mouvement Reformateur (ALDE): 8%
New Flemish Alliance (European Free Alliance - sits with the Green Group in the EP): 20%
Worker's Party of Belgium: 3%
Christian Social Party (German-speaking): 0.2%


The country hardest-hit from austerity and the home country of Presidential candidate Alexis Tsipras (UEL), it looks like the far-left will top the polls here. A big concern will be whether the neo-fascist Golden Dawn (XA) capture a sizable share of the vote. A new party called The River, a pro-European centre to centre-left party, was launched in March and is on about 8%.

Current polls:

Olive Tree Greece (PES): 7%
New Democracy (EPP) (senior governing party): 25%
Communist PArty (UEL): 6%
SYRIZA (UEL - Tsipras' party): 29%
Golden Dawn: 9%
Independent Greeks (conservatives/Euroskeptics): 3-4%
Democratic Left (S&D group in the EP): 2-3%
The River: 8%


The conservative Fidesz party (EPP) dominates Hungarian politics and has been controversially redrawing the country's constitution, bringing it into conflict with the EU, which has had concerns over the freedom of press and the independence of the judiciary. The opposition Socialists (PES) are predicted to come third behind the far-right Jobbik Party. The Greens may also win a seat.


Italy's politics have been shaken up by Grillo's Five Star Movement and the constant scandals from former Prime Minister Berlusconi. The senior governing party, the Democratic Party (PES), have recently ousted their previous Prime Minister, Letta, and replaced him with their party leader, the former Florence mayor Matteo Renzi. It looks like the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement are going to do well, with Berlusconi's Forza Italia (EPP) coming third.

There is a 4% threshold to enter Parliament, with guaranteed representation for the German-speaking minority of South Tyrol.

Current polls:

Forza Italia (EPP): 18%
Democratic Party (PES): 34%
Northern League (EFD): 5%
Five Star Movement (NI): 24%
Alternative Europe - with Tsipras (UEL): 4%
Brothers of Italy (EPP): 3.6%
New Centre Right (EPP): 5.5%


I wasn't really able to find out much information on the Romanian poll, but here are the current polls from PollWatch 2014:

Social Democratic Union (PES): 40%
National Liberal Party (ALDE): 15%
Liberal Democratic Party (EPP): 13%
People's Movement Party (EPP): 9.3%
Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (EPP): 5.6%
Forta Civica (EPP): 5%
People's Party - Dan Diaconescu (NI): 4%

Friday, 23 May 2014

European Elections 2014: the Saturday Poll

Today Latvia, Slovakia, Malta and the French Overseas Territories start voting in the European elections. The Czech Republic is voting for a second day - you can find out more about their poll here.


Taking the French Overseas Territories as an excuse to write about France now (metropolitan France is voting along with most of the rest of the Member States tomorrow - I might have a heart attack trying to fit all that in!).

France's embattled Socialist President, Hollande, is likely to be a factor in dragging down the PES vote, but from the opinion polls (in comparison to the 2009 vote), it looks like the Greens and the centre-right UMP (EPP) are the parties set to lose the most votes. The rise of the Front national has been the main concern - it's led consistently in the polls (at around 23%!). Sarkozy, the former President who seems to be angling for a comeback, has called for a huge repatriation of powers from Brussels and has argued against the borderless Schengen system.

While the prospect of a tripling of the FN vote is frightening, the votes of the other parties look remarkably stable in the polls. The Parti socialiste is sitting at around 16%, the same as last time, and the Front de gauche (UEL) and MoDem (ALDE) appear to have increased their support slightly, to 7.5% and 10% respectively. The Greens have dropped from 16% to 10% and the UMP have gone down from 27% to 21%. Does this mean that as well as traditional right-wing votes, the Green's anti-globalisation strain could be switching to FN?


Latvia has been through a lot in recent years. Though not in the Euro, the country has implemented harsh austerity and has just joined the Euro at the start of the year. Recently the Prime Minister resigned over the collapse of the roof of a supermarket in Riga, leading to the formation of a national unity government (excluding the Harmony Centre party (PES), which is a party representing Russian-speakers). Politics in Latvia can be volatile, with new parties able to break through and win elections, and with an ethnic divide between Latvian and Russian speakers. The national general election is scheduled for October 2014.

At the moment it looks like Harmony Centre will top the poll, with Unity (EPP) coming second and the Union of Greens and Farmers (NI) coming third. You can read more about the Latvian political situation in this great LSE blog post.


As a Eurozone member, Slovakia has had concerns over the bail outs - as one of the poorer Eurozone states, it has seemed unfair that Slovakia now has to help bail out some of the richer countries. Slovak politics seems to be dominated by Smer (PES), with numerous other smaller parties - in the 2009 European elections Smer topped the poll winning 5 MEPs, but the EPP won 6 MEPs across 3 member parties in the country. The right wing parties have been hit by corruption scandals in recent years.

In March there was a presidential election where an independent, Andrej Kiska beat Smer candidate and Prime Minister Robert Fico with a vote share of almost 60% in the second round of voting. In the first round of voting the two nearest competitors were also independents. So while Smer as a dominant position in the Slovak political system, there can be strong opposition from independent "outsider" candidates.

Slovakia was one of the countries with a very low turnout in 2009, and it is likely that turnout will remain low today. Smer is on 36% in the polls and is likely to win around 6 seats, with a clutch of EPP-aligned parties picking up a seat each between them.


As a small island country, Malta sends the minimum 6 MEPs to the European Parliament (up from 5 seats in the last Parliament). So far the elections have proven to be a two-party race, with the National Party (EPP) and the Labour Party (PES) dividing up the seats between them. In the last European elections the Labour Party won 3 seats to the National Party's 2.

In this election it doesn't look like much will change from the two-party nature of the poll. Interestingly, the Labour Party has got the backing of a hunting lobby group, with the incumbent MEPs pledging themselves to protecting the culture and tradition of hunting.

In the polls, Labour stands at about 54.5%, the National Party at 42.5%, and the Greens have 2%. If this is the result at the ballot box, both the Labour Party and National Party will get 3 seats each.

European elections 2014: Ireland and the Czech Republic

Day two of the polls now, and Ireland and the Czech Republic are voting. The Czech Republic will have its polls open for two days, Friday and Saturday, to give people more opportunity to vote.


The crisis-hit country recently came out of the bail-out programme as the poster-boy for austerity, but despite the resignation to budget cuts the policy hasn't been popular. When the last government fell due to the bail out in 2011, the governing Fianna Fáil party (ALDE) was trashed at the polls. FF is still blamed for the crisis (it was the senior party in government from 1998-2011), but has made a slight recovery in the polls as the Fine Gael-Labour (EPP-PES) government continued the bail-out programme left by FF.

Sinn Féin (UEL) seems to be the biggest beneficiary of the government's unpopularity. Though its leader Gerry Adams was arrested and questioned a few weeks ago in connection with an IRA killing (he was released without charge) and Sinn Féin's connection with the Provisional IRA during the Troubles is still a problem for its image in the Republic of Ireland, the party has a strong front bench that helps promote the party. It is likely to make gains at the expense of the Socialist Party's single MEP, Paul Murphy, in Dublin and at the expense of Labour generally. As the junior, centre-left, party in government, Labour is bearing the brunt of popular discontent with the government and may be lucky to retain 1 out of its 3 current MEPs.

Ireland is one of the few Member States to be divided into constituencies (Dublin, Midlands-North-West, and South) and are run on a Single Transferable Vote system (Northern Ireland also has this system while the rest of the UK has a closed list system). This means that voters can list the candidates in order of preference, so party loyalty or preference can be trumped by a strong personal vote. One candidate, Ming Flanagan, is an independent who has campaigned against the impact of EU rules on turf-cutting, which has been an emotive issue for the countryside. Flanagan is already a sitting TD (MP), and if he's elected his nominated replacement might be the one to actually take the seat.

The Irish political party system is still in flux with FF still far from its once dominant position. Throw in personal votes, the possibility for competition between candidates of the same party, and the redrawing of constituency boundaries (bringing 4 constituencies down to 3), and there'll be an interesting battle or two in each part of the country.

The Irish Times gives a good run-down of the three constituencies and the issues in each one if you want to dig deeper:


Czech Republic:

The Czech Republic had a general election last year, resulting in a coalition government between the Social Democratic CSSD (PES), the break-out new party of the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens ANO and the Christian and Democratic Union (EPP). ANO's rise was the biggest shock to the system - founded and led by millionaire Andrej Babis, the centre-right party won 47 seats and became the second-biggest party in the parliament and in government. ANO has the strange position of opposing Euro membership for the Czech Republic and greater integration generally, but they are supporting the Liberal candidate and outspoken federalist, Guy Verhofstadt, for the Commission Presidency (Babis has since said that he's open on the question of Euro membership).

The Civic Democrats are running a petition against Euro membership, though ironically it appears that their membership is one of the most supportive of the Czech parties of joining the Euro.

CSSD and ANO don't appear to have been in government long enough for the anti-incumbent effect to take over - both parties are leading the others in the polls. There is a 5% threshold that parties have to pass in order to win seats in the elections.

Current polls:

CSSD (PES): 23%
ANO (ALDE): 25%
Communist Party (Party of the European Left [observer]): 11%
TOP09 (EPP): 8%
Civic Democrats (AECR): 6%
Christian and Democratic Party (EPP): 6%

Thursday, 22 May 2014

European Elections 2014: UK and The Netherlands

It's the first day of the polls for the European elections, and the first countries to start voting are the UK and the Netherlands.

United Kingdom:

The election debate in the UK hasn't had much cross-over with the debates in other countries. The debate been the Europarty candidates for Commission President were shown, but only on the BBC Parliament channel so they didn't get wide coverage. The tone of the election is very much a pro- or anti-UKIP one. UKIP has been rising in popularity despite candidates and even the leader, Nigel Farage, getting themselves into hot water and despite the constant attacks of the other parties.

The Liberal Democrats are expected to lose a lot of support as they are now a party of government (they are the junior party in the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition) and are no longer very attractive for the protect vote. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, has set the party up as the "Party of In", and has taken on Nigel Farage in two debates (which Farage is widely considered to have won). The Conservatives are expecting a hit as the senior government party (they were in opposition during the last election) that's pursuing austerity in power, as well as losing Euroskeptic votes on the right to UKIP.

Labour is expected to win seats as an opposition party, but expectations are muted due to the UKIP surge. The European elections are being portrayed as a protest vote against the established parties before the run up to the 2015 general election, so poorer than expected showings for the main parties probably won't be as damaging as they might have been in past elections. The Greens are confident that they will improve their polling performance this year, but since the polling data tends to lump them in with others, I don't know what the generally predicted numbers are. The far-right British National Party will probably lose the two seats that it controversially won last time around.

Current polls: Sun/YouGov poll [BBC group of polls]:

Conservatives: 23% [31-33%]
Labour: 27% [35-38%]
Liberal Democrats: 10% [8-13%]
UKIP: 27%[13-15%]
Greens: 8% [?]
Other: [7-9%]

The Netherlands:

The Netherlands last had a general election in 2012 when a VVD-PvdA (Liberals [economically right-wing] and the Labour party] grand coalition government was elected. That election had been caused by Geert Wilders' populist PVV withdrawing its support for the government (they supported the minority government in parliament but weren't part of it). In the general election the PVV lost support due to this, but now that they're not connected to the government their support has risen again.

The PVV have made common cause with the Front National in France, forming an anti-EU alliance against the "monster in Brussels".

The Prime Minister, VVD's Mark Rutte, came out just yesterday with the statement that the EU should stick to 5 key areas: the internal market, free trade, cutting red tape, combating labour market abuse and making a single energy market. The move might be intended to win back support from right-wing voters, but announcing it the day before the election is an odd decision and it may not have much of an impact.

The PvdA is in a tough position. It ran against the VVD in the last election and has made compromises as part of the government. In the general election it faced tough competition from the Socialist Party, which was very popular early on in the campaign. Now the Socialist Party is doing well in the polls and looks like it's on course to beat the PvdA.

D66, a left-liberal party is performing strongly in the polls at the moment. D66 has one of the most well-known MEPs, Sophie In't Veld, who has a strong position on privacy issues. In some polls D66 is leading.

The Dutch political party landscape is varied and it made up of a lot of small parties who will be in the running for some seats. It is unlikely that even the party with the biggest percentage of the vote will get more than 6 seats.

Currently the polls stand at (could have changed if there are more recent polls I haven't seen):

VVD (right-wing liberals): 12-16%
PvdA: 9-10%
PVV: 12-18%
D66: 15-19%
SP (Socialist Party): 10-12%
CDA (Christian Democrats - the big winners at the last elections): around 11%
CU-SGP (Christian Union-Reformed Political Party): 8-9.5%
GL (Groen-Links/Green-Left): 5-6%
PvdD (Party for the Animals [animals' rights party]: 1-2%
50PLUS: 3-4%
Others: 2-2.5%

European elections 2014: the Polls open

The European elections start today with polls opening in the UK and the Netherlands. On Friday Ireland and the Czech Republic will vote (the Czech Republic will have polls open for two days to help people vote). Slovakia, Latvia, Malta and the French Overseas Territories vote on Saturday, and the rest of the 28 Member States hold their polls on Sunday.

At the moment the polls are giving a slight lead to the European People's Party over the Party of European Socialists, with the Liberals predicted to win 8-10% of the seats in Parliament, and the Greens and AECR lower on around 5-6%. The United European Left bloc could increase their seats and win around 6-7% if the polls are right, while the anti-EU Europe of Freedom and Democracy group could win 5% of the seats. The European polls are a complicated working out of which groups are likely to win seats and adding them up for a European prediction, so I'm not sure how accurate they will turn out to be.

That the elections tend to be plagued by low turnout means that it could be a case of who can mobilise their support the best - will the Euroskeptics get a big boost in practice? The recent polls seem to indicate that the UEL is benefiting from the political mood more than the EFD - the the biggest increase may be for the Independents who haven't aligned with any political grouping yet.

The elections will decide on the make-up of the Parliament for the next 5 years: will it lean left or right on the economy and austerity; will it be pro- or anti-integrationist; will it go for CAP reform; and will it have strong civil liberties or law and order voice? A lot of the issues people talk about, or have complaints about, are around these issues, so this is your chance to help shape EU politics. A running theme of the election has been how can the EU be brought closer to citizens and made more accountable. Well, while there are a lot of changes that should be made to bring the EU closer to citizens, the fact is that citizens will only be heard if they use their voice. Voting in the election is one way of doing that, so go for the party or candidate that best represents your views - remember, they're going to be there for 5 years...

This election should also decide the next Commission President. We've had debates between the candidates (the latest being between Juncker and Schulz on German TV), and campaign buses crossing the continent. The Parliament should stick to its guns on this and make sure that the candidate of the winning party gets the job: this will make the elections matter more, and make the EU more accountable to citizens.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Another Europe is possible - the Party of the European Left's Manifesto

The Party of the European Left, which sits in the United European Left - Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament, is a left-wing Europarty that's running Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras as its candidate for the Commission Presidency. It's the second smallest party in the Parliament and is further to the left of the PES and the European Greens, but some of its member parties have gained strength nationally, such as SYRIZA in Greece. In its manifesto (PDF), the European Left sets itself up as the anti-austerity party and an opponent of the EU-US Trade Agreement.

As well as being anti-austerity, the European Left opposes privatisation in general and highlights its opposition to the privatisation of natural resources. It wants to regain power over the world of finance, protect the rights of workers and trade unions, and focus the Common Agricultural Policy to ensure food security. The European Left wants the EU to preserve its independence versus the US and NATO, demands the suspension of the Israel-EU Association Agreement for human rights reasons and pushes for the reform of the Union for the Mediterranean (which it accuses of helping destabilise the region) and the renegotiation of free trade agreements with Latin America and the Caribbean (to make them benefit the people more).

On the Eurozone, the European Left wants the abolition of a large part of public debt (freezing its repayment) and the ECB to be reformed so that it becomes the lender of last resort and offer loans directly to over-indebted Member States (which would require treaty change, I think). The European Left would abolish the Fiscal Pact and the "6-pack" of measures that regulate Eurozone budgets. Corporate taxation would be harmonised, and employment would be boosted by investment from the European Investment Bank and the European Left advocate the creation of a "European public bank of social and solidarity-based development" that would fund projects on the basis of social and environmental criteria. The European Left aims towards the public and democratic control of strategic sectors of the economy and towards a 35 hour working week.

In agriculture, the European Left would tax imports and exports that destablise the local market in order to finance the relocalisation of production, stop support for biofuels and regulate the margins and practices of agrifood giants and retailers. The European Left would have a similar relocalisation focus for industry.

The European Left is against the membership of NATO (of the Member States and wants immediate withdrawal from the alliance. They also oppose the militarisation of the EU.

The Party of the European Left is running n a hard-left platform. Not only is it anti-austerity, but its focus on "relocalisation" of agriculture and industry seems to be a policy of de-globalisation and autarky. If you are strongly anti-globalisation and favour turning from international free trade agreements to relocalisation, then the Party of the European Left might be for you.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

*Insert Manifesto Here* - the MELD (non)-manifesto

The Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group in the European Parliament houses many of the Euroskeptic parties. Part of the group's charter is that each national delegation can vote as they see fit, so it's not surprising that the connected Europarty, the Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy (MELD*) doesn't have a common election manifesto. Note that while UKIP is a major part of the EFD group, it's not part of MELD, which counts Lega Nord, the True Finns party and the Danish People's Party among its members.

The principles of MELD, which closely mirrors the EFD Charter, are:

  • Supporting freedom and cooperation among sovereign States in an effort to impede the complete bureaucratisation of Europe;
  • Opposing further European integration;
  • Supporting national referendums as the means through which any treaty change takes place;
  • That the nation state is the legitimate level for democracy;
  • National delegations in the Europarty can vote how they wish.

Incidentally, UKIP do not have a manifesto going into this election.

The lack of a common manifesto, and in some cases any manifesto at all, is unlikely to be a problem for these parties, however. They present a clear anti-EU position, so if you want an anti-EU voice that supports withdrawal or dissolution rather than some form of reform, then MELD and its allies might be for you. It does mean, however, that they're free to vote however they want in the meantime.

*Is it just me, or is that an ironic acronym?

Towards a New Europe - the PES manifesto

The centre-left Party of European Socialists is the next of the big two that's in with a chance of winning the European election. Their manifesto is also on their candidate's, Martin Schulz's, website. You can find the manifesto here (PDF). While the European Parliament has shifting coalitions from issue to issue (there may be a right-wing coalition on the economy one day, a left-wing one on civil liberties, for example), the centre-right EPP has been the biggest party in the Parliament for the last 5 years and has also been dominant in the Council and Commission. So the PES is approaching this election as the opposition, presenting itself as an alternative to the current political direction of the EU - hence the title of the manifesto: "Towards a New Europe".

On the economy, employment is the biggest issue for the PES, which says it has a long-term commitment to full employment. During the last Parliament it campaigned for a Youth Guarantee plan, and it pledges to increase its budget and extend it to everyone under 30. It wants a European industrial policy to support SMEs, and to increase protections for workers posted in other Member States by revising the Posting of Workers Directive. The PES wants decent minimum wages introduced across Europe through legislation or collective bargaining (the mix is probably a concession to the different national traditions - so I wonder how much this would translate into actual legislation or practical policy). As part of its idea of Social Union, the PES wants binding targets on employment, education and social cohesion.

Unsurprisingly, the PES condemns the "austerity-only" policy and wants more investments through national budgets. It's not clear if this simply means pushing for investment programmes to be a part of national budgets or if it should be something more co-ordinated. The PES wants the European Parliament to have a greater say in Eurozone economic and fiscal policy. When it comes to the financial sector, PES, which campaigned for a Financial Transaction Tax, says it will push for earlier implementation, bring in further regulations and create an independent and public European Credit Rating agency.

The PES reiterates its support for non-discrimination, integration and participation policies for immigration and asylum, and striking the right balance between privacy, security and freedom. However, there is little in the form of policy proposals here.

On the environment, the PES support further binding emissions targets and the use of Project Bonds to finance investments in renewable energy and technology. The PES wants to guarantee minimum access to energy for everyone in order to fight energy poverty.

The strongest themes of the PES manifestos are clearly in the areas of the economy and social justice, with some ideas on green policies. Justice and home affairs is its weakest point when it comes to proposals. If you want a more "social Europe" and support greater regulation of the financial sector, then the PES could be the party for you.

Why vote for the European People's Party? - the EPP Manifesto

The centre-right European People's Party is one of the big two Europarties (alongside the centre-left Party of European Socialists), and their candidate for the Commission Presidency, Jean-Claude Juncker, has a chance of becoming the next Commission President. So what's in their manifesto? There isn't much of a manifesto on the EPP's own website (you can read about its stance on several policy areas here and they have a party platform from 2012 (PDF)), but there is a manifesto on Juncker's website - helpfully titled "Why vote for the European People's Party?"

The EPP has been the largest party in the European Parliament for the last 5 years and has been the biggest party in the Council (most of the Member States' (senior) governing parties were EPP members) and the Commission. In their manifesto they promote themselves as the responsible party of government that is willing to take tough choices. Unsurprisingly, they support continuing a lot of the current economic and fiscal policies of the Eurozone and talk of fiscal discipline. The EPP calls for structural reforms to encourage investment in new industries and condemns socialists as wanting to spend "other people's money".

The EPP supports an EU energy market and wants more investment in low carbon technologies. On free movement of people, the EPP remains a supporter, while on immigration the EPP talks about the need for stronger integration. Better co-operation on policing the Schengen common border is also an issue. They want a single market in digital services (as I go through the manifestos this is becoming a bit of a running theme), and states its commitment to data protection as a fundamental right.

On foreign policy and the EU's neighbourhood, the EPP thinks that the Member States can become more effective by acting together and stress the need to support democracy in Eastern Europe.

All in all the manifesto seems to be a "mother's apple pie" manifesto - a lot of the aspirations are vague and most of the statements and proposals aren't very controversial (not that there's anything concrete). The strongest themes are those of fiscal discipline and immigration, which is where the Europarty most distinguishes itself from the others.

So if you support the current policy of fiscal discipline in the Eurozone and want better common border controls, the EPP might be the party for you.

Monday, 19 May 2014

"Change Europe, Vote Green" - the European Greens' Manifesto

During last week's debate, Ska Keller spoke a lot about the importance of Green jobs and renewable energy. It's a strong brand for the Greens - I'm sure that most people identify the Greens with those phrases by now - but little was said on how they want to bring this about. The European Greens have released a common manifesto, so let's take a look at what they're proposing.

The European Greens have seized on the language of debt reduction in their manifesto in an interesting way: they talk about the need not just to reduce financial debt (noting the the restructuring of public and private debt is needed in some cases), but also social debt (unemployment) and environmental debt. The Europarty says that it wants the ECB to focus on macroeconomic and financial stability and employment among its policy objectives (as well as its current policy of price stability), and it wants instruments (it doesn't specify which) to stem the brain-drain from crisis-hit economies.

The Greens want a debt redemption fund and eventually Eurobonds for the Eurozone as a way of solving the crisis and support a common minimum approach to corporate and wealth taxes in the EU, arguing that the tax burden falls too much on low and medium earners. It also supports "own resources" for the EU (i.e. the EU directly raises the money that funds it rather than depending on Member State contributions - this would be the opposite of AECR's position, for example).

On renewable energy, the Greens want several measures in the areas of state aid rules, public procurement rules, education, support for social entrepreneurs, among others in its approach. I'm not clear on what these measures are, but presumably laxer rules on state aid and public procurement in favour of renewable energy projects along with support for people setting up Green businesses. A new European Renewable Energy Community is proposed to promote renewable energy in the EU. Nuclear energy is ruled out as an expensive and risky form of energy and they are opposed to fracking. The Greens want a carbon emissions to be cut by 55% of 1990 levels by 2030 and the radical reform of the carbon emissions trading scheme. Without reform of the trading scheme, the Greens say that they would advocate a national carbon pricing floor.

The European Greens are against bio fuels (agricultural land should not be used to produce fuel as this raises food prices), and want to see small and organic farmers promoted under the Common Agricultural Policy, They are also against the patenting of seed and animal material and want better food labeling. The Greens oppose genetically modified organisms and want better protection for livestock by reducing animal transport times.

On immigration and asylum, the Greens want to scrap the Dublin Regulation (which states that people can only apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach) and set up an EU Joint Resettlement Programme to aid in the resettlement of refugees. They also want more coordination on "rescues at sea" since so many people die at sea trying to reach Europe.

The Greens oppose the EU-US Trade Agreement in its current form, criticising the way it was negotiated and voicing concerns that certain financial products and biotech products would be automatically allowed under the agreement. They also oppose investor-state dispute settlement in trade agreements like the one with the US, which could be used by investors to undermine environmental and social standards in the EU.

Democracy and anti-corruption is also a topic in the Greens' manifesto. They want the voting age lowered to 16 for European elections and transnational lists for those elections. The European Parliament should have a say over the EU's coordinated economic policy and the Court of Justice and Court of Auditors should be given more powers in fighting corruption in the EU. The European Parliament should be able to decide on its seat (currently it travels between Brussels and Strasbourg under the Treaty rules), and there should eventually be EU-wide referendums.

That should give you a taste of what the European Greens want to achieve (read the manifesto itself for more detail). If you want to support more radical environmental standards and goals, have concerns over the details of free trade treaties and how refugees and immigration is being handled by the EU, and want the EU to take more decisions over its own financing, the Greens might be for you.

A Europe that Works: the Liberal Manifesto

One of the main gripes I had with Guy Verhofstadt's performance in the debate last week was the lack of any policy ideas (certainly not unique to him, however), so let's take a look at the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe's (ALDE) manifesto to see if it puts any meat on the federalist bones.

The slogan for the Liberals is "A Europe that Works", and the manifesto (PDF) stresses market integration and the defense of civil liberties. ALDE, like the AECR, also promotes the cutting of red tape, though from a more federalist perspective where the red tape is 28 sets of national rules that impede the single market. The Liberals want to "reinforce the single market in energy, the digital market, financial services, transport and healthcare sectors, while further facilitating the free movement of services and workers."

On the economy, trade and jobs, ALDE is for an EU-US Trade Agreement, easier access to finance for SMEs, a genuine single market in telecommunications (phasing out mobile phone voice and data roaming charges by 2016), and a "fifth freedom" of free movement of knowledge. This free movement of knowledge would focus on mobility for students, academics and researchers between Member States and would support dual training, university and enterprise across borders. ALDE wants a shift from EU support under structural and cohesion funds towards research and investment in "future oriented sectors such as the renewable energy sources sector".

Overall, ALDE wants to limit EU spending on subsidies and move the money towards job creation and investment. I assume that this means that EU money should be attached to particular cross-border infrastructure projects and the free movement of knowledge mentioned earlier. Another goal of ALDE s to have the Member States providing declarations that the EU money spent with them is spent legally and certifying it as adding value. (If memory serves a similar Dutch proposal went down like a lead balloon because the other Member States didn't want to risk getting blamed for the misspending of EU funds or to spend resources on the accounting).

On the Common Agricultural Policy, ALDE will shift EU support from subsidies to modern agricultural technologies and their introduction into farming. Similar to its general economic policy, the Liberals appear to go against direct subsidies, but want government support for developing new methods and technologies before introducing them into the market.

ALDE essentially supports the current Eurozone austerity approach: "Fiscal solidarity depends on fiscal discipline which avoids moral hazard and does not reduce economics incentives for sound public finance." They support the banking union and want better control and sanction mechanisms to enforce the stability and growth pact. On justice and home affairs, ALDE supports the Common European Asylum System and wants a common cybersecurity policy. They want to create a mechanism to monitor violations of fundamental rights in the EU and enforce sanctions - a policy clearly inspired by the concern over the constitutional changes in Hungary.

Overall, ALDE are standing on a economically right-wing platform mixed with strong support for fundamental rights and civil liberties in the area of justice and home affairs. Economically, it is probably quite close to the AECR and the EPP and would have few problems forming a coalition with them, but when it comes to civil liberties, justice and home affairs, and European integration, it is probably closer to the PES and European Greens. If you're attracted to liberal free markets and value a good voice on civil liberties when the EU is considering laws like the Arrest Warrant, ALDE might be for you.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Semi-Participation? European Conservatives' Manifesto and debate participation

The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists are in the strange position of complaining that they weren't allowed to participate in the debate between the Europarty candidates for European Commission President, while opposing the idea of running candidates altogether. It seems odd to argue that they won't run because there isn't the interest or connection with people to legitimise the election... and then loudly complain that they can't participate in the debate that they were afraid of legitimising.

The AECR are in a complicated position by being anti-federalist and wanting to largely limit the EU to the single market. The fear that participating in the race for the Commission Presidency will legitimise federalism seems to be misguided to me. While sitting out the debate makes sense for Euroskeptic parties who want to dissolve or withdraw from the EU, surely since the whole point of the AECR is that it is not fundamentally EU, but wants to reform it, the AECR should be organised towards winning posts and influence within the EU institutions to make that happen. By running a candidate, the AECR could have influenced the debate and challenged the other so-called federalist parties. Already Juncker's position seems more friendly to intergovernmentalism: having a candidate further to the right (on whose party's support the EPP may have to rely on in the Parliament) could drag the EPP further towards its position.

So what is the AECR's platform? AECR President, Jan Zahradil, says:

"The AECR rejects harmonised taxes, EU embassies and an EU army. We believe in rolling back the EU bureaucracy to a point where it can provide all citizens with the benefits of free trade, free movement of people, goods, services and capital, improved competition and strong families. We are here to speak for the millions of Europeans who do not want to be part of a federal super-state."

The AECR seems to be running more on its principles than on a manifesto per se, but the Parliamentary group of European Conservatives and Reformists (the AECR sits in this group in Parliament) produced an alternative programme for the Commission's work in 2014, so that might be a good place to start.

The AECR makes furthering the single market in areas like the digital market a priority, and talks about cutting red tape. It's identified a "Top 10 most burdensome legislation" that the AECR wants to be changed for SMEs: the Common system of value added tax; data protection laws; general product safety, Measures to encourage improvements and safety and health of workers at work; Posting of workers in the framework of the provisions of services; Procedures for the award of public workers contracts, public supply contracts and public service contracts; Recognition of professional qualifications; Recording equipment in road transport for driving and rest periods; Refund a value added tax to taxable persons not established in the Member State of refund but established in another Member State; and Registration, Evaluation, authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals.

The ECR group strongly supports the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement and wants more trade negotiations with India and ASEAN. It opposes any legislation on Information and consultation of workers, and wants the reform of the Working Time Directive. Interestingly, the ECR says that "There is a need for a robust single rulebook for all credit institutions in the EU under the authority of the European Banking Authority" (page 9). You can read more about the ECR's position on other areas, like justice and home affairs, the environment and energy here (PDF).

The AECR is running in the election on its free market and anti-bureaucracy credentials, but it's not necessarily running everywhere in the EU. The member parties of the AECR can be found in 12 EU Member States (in some cases it's representation from a Member State is an independent MEP rather than a party). This limits the AECR's chance for success, though as the 5th largest block in the European Parliament has participated in coalitions on some legislation before.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Election 2014: The Debate

The headline debate run by the European Broadcasting Union (of Eurovision Song Contest fame) brought together the 5 candidates running in the contest to become the President of the Commission. With the Commission disparaged for not being democratic enough, this election should give voters a say over who heads the Commission and how the EU will be run for the next 5 years. The idea is that the nomination of the Commission President by the European Council (heads of state and government) has to take into account the outcome of the elections, and the European Parliament elects the Commission, so the Parliament should be able to push a majority-wielding and election-winning candidate through.

The candidates of the 5 European political parties who decided to nominate candidates met to fight it out on the airwaves (or should that be air-bits, now that everything's digital?), with the debate being broadcast at 9pm CET yesterday. Martin Schulz (for the centre-left Party of European Socialists), Jean-Claude Juncker (for the centre-right European People's Party), Ska Keller (for the European Greens), Guy Verhofstadt (for the Liberals), and Alexis Tsipras (for the European United Left)* had a minute each to answer questions on jobs and the economy, the situation in Ukraine, separatism, immigration, religious freedom, and voter apathy.

In many ways the debate was hobbled: for a start, some of the questions could have easily been replaced with much better and more relevant ones. Talking about voter apathy, for instance, has never got people excited to vote. It's strange that questions weren't used to find out were candidates stood on the Common Agricultural Policy, on justice and home affairs or Eurobonds. The 1 minute time limit for the candidates to speak is an obvious block on a deep debate, but understandable when there is only one debate on this scale with all the candidates. In the future, it would be better to have 2 or 3 debates on more focused topics with more room for interaction between the candidates.

That said, the debate was in some ways better than I thought it would be: there were some good performances, with Guy Verhofstadt and Ska Keller speaking well. While it was frustrating that there was little debate on policy or a good knock-out blow, the I think the debate did show the candidates off and revealed a bit about their style (as much as anything can for 5 people over just 90 minutes). So what did it tell us about the candidates?

Guy Verhofstadt (Liberals):

Verhofstadt was probably the best performer on the night. He took a very clear pro-integration stance, and drew nearly all of his arguments back to it. On the economy and jobs, he said that further market integration, especially in new areas like the digital economy, would spur growth and create jobs. On immigration, having a common policy would help by giving a legal pathway to immigration. And returning to national currencies would hurt ordinary people the most, so the Euro should be integrated better to make it work better. He was definitely the most aggressive (and kind of odd) - he attacked Tsipras for its links with Greek public banks and read out a letter from Gary Kasparov.

While Verhofstadt was one of the winners of this debate, his lack of policy content was a big downside for me. Big, common policies sound dramatic and grand, but I still don't have any idea about what those policies could do - or even what they'd look like. The US and Australia may have federal immigration systems, but should the EU have one (and would it be points based, etc.?). I still have too many unanswered questions.

Ska Keller (Greens):

Keller was, with Verhofstadt, one of the better speakers and she came across well, making some great interventions on the Transatlantic Trade Pact (criticising the secrecy of negotiations), and she even made an attack on Schulz for not doing more to fight against corruption in the institutions. As a Green, she highlighted green jobs and industry as the economic solution and pointed out that energy independence would strengthen the EU's position when it came to Russia.

Sadly she didn't mention any policy ideas: in many ways her positions are exactly what you would imagine as a German Green. It's a strong brand, but without throwing some interesting ideas and policies out there, it probably won't make much of an impact. Keller could draw more voters to the Green banner in places where there isn't such a well developed Green party.

Alexis Tsipras (EUL):

Tsipras had a few good moments in challenging the austerity policy and calling for a tougher approach on tax evasion, etc. As the leader of the opposition in Greece (and therefore the most high-profile EUL leader across Europe), Tsipras used his time to attack the policies of the past 5 years and challenged Juncker on what the heads of government got up to behind closed doors when the Greek and Italian governments were replaced by technocratic governments (Juncker was a long-serving Prime Minister of Luxembourg).

Unfortunately, Tsipras never really moved beyond the blame game towards even sketching out what he would do as Commission President. A forum for proper and fairer discussion is not really a policy. With a few good populist left-wing policies, Tsipras could have put pressure on Schulz, who was tacking more towards the centre. Instead, Tsipras was oddly irrelevant to the debate.

Martin Schulz (PES):

Schulz performed competently, but had a few halting and ponderous speeches. He was the only candidate who came within the vicinity of proposing a policy! - a micro-financing initiative to help small and medium businesses grow and create jobs. Schulz talked tough on tax evasion and avoidance, but didn't set out a vision for the Eurozone (merely noting that the banking union was a step in the right direction but more needed to be done). Given the left's criticism of austerity and the Eurozone's budget rules, it's disappointing that Schulz didn't present more of an alternative on this front.

Indeed, Schulz appeared to soften his federalism and left-wing edges in order to appeal to more centrist voters. Schulz took pains to advocate not More Europe, but Another Europe, and tried to give a statesmanlike answer on the question of relations with Russia. The more ponderous nature of his speeches may have been to project as more competent and dependable appearance - his speeches can be quite passionate in German - but a bit more fire would have been nice.

Jean-Claude Juncker (EPP):

The dullest candidate. There's no getting away from it: Juncker was incredibly dull and it's hard to remember much of what he said at all. Very much advocating the status quo on practically everything, Juncker represents the "stay-the-course-and-listen-to-the-Council" approach. He defended the policies of the last 5 years as someone who was at the heart of the EU and the Eurozone as Luxembourg's Prime Minister. Juncker struck a tone more in favour of Member States' rights and subsidiarity, and when asked about whether or not the Commission President could be picked from outside of the candidates, he steered towards the legal text of the treaties. He was the only one that came closest to giving us a debate gaff when he said that the banks were now well behaved, but nobody really picked up on this (perhaps because Juncker was often the last to speak on a topic).

It may be that Juncker is aiming to replace Van Rompuy as the President of the European Council, where he can continue to sit with Prime Ministers and Presidents, than take Barroso's job leading the Commission. The EPP are not well served by Juncker.

To get to know where the Europarties stand, we'll have to dig deeper and look at their manifestos. But hopefully this debate raised the profile of the elections and the possible pan-European debate that can be had. We now have our chance to decide who becomes the next boss of all those "unelected bureaucrats": let's take it.

*The Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists (with which the UK Conservatives are aligned) and the Euroskeptic parties did not put a candidate forward.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Welcome to Hemicycling!

Welcome to Hemicycling! With the European elections starting literally next week, I'm trying my hand at some political blogging.

I decided to call the blog "Hemicycling" as a reference to the hemicycle in the European Parliament. I'm going to try focusing on European politics from a more pan-European perspective: after all, this is the first time that the European political parties are running candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission, so it's a perfect time to discuss a politics of issues and ideas.

And what are the ideas of the European political parties? Tonight is the first pan-European televised debate for the elections, so that seems like a good place to find out, but I'll be taking a look at what some of their common manifestos say and watching to see how it plays out after the votes have been counted.

With a focus on the European Parliament - but also looking at the national maneuverings that inevitably shape the European stage - I'll be taking the scenic, and not-so-scenic, route through the ups and downs of European politics.

Thanks for reading!