Who is the PES candidate?

Open letter to Messrs. Zapatero and Socrates, Prime Ministers of Spain and Portugal.

, by Damien Routisseau-Magrou, Irene Sabio

Who is the PES candidate?

There are less than three months left to the European Parliamentary Elections in early June. Late last year, 74% of Europeans did not know the elections would be in 2009. What is this figure now that we approach of the elections? How many who know of the elections will vote?

You could remember, five years ago, reading articles speculating what the turnout rate would be at the 2004 elections. They were rather pessimistic. And they proved right, when only 45.6% of registered Europeans voted, a new record low.

Whether this year’s poll will see the same mistakes being repeated, by both the media and the political class, will depend a lot on who will appoint the next President of the European Commission. How can we expect participation and involvement by citizens to improve if the EU executive continues to be designed behind closed doors?

Citizens will only vote if they feel it makes a difference. Europeans are used to decide of their government when they vote at national parliamentary elections. Under the current system of European elections, however, they do not have any say in the appointment of the EU’s executive arm!

This is the reason the Union of European Federalists (UEF) and the Young European Federalists (JEF) launched the “Who is your candidate?” campaign, urging European political parties to nominate a candidate for the post of European Commission President, that the council would have to appoint if that party wins the election, as is foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty (but nonetheless applicable without it). This campaign received support from numerous Party of European Socialists (PES) members and leaders when it was presented at the PES Council in Madrid in December 2008.

When probing why the PES failed to nominate a candidate in Madrid, to go along with its pan-European manifesto, the blame lies squarely at your feet, Messrs Prime Ministers. You, the two socialist leaders of Spain and Portugal, already assured Mr. Barroso late last year of your support for him to serve a second term as EC president, despite the fact that he is a leader of the European People’s Party (centre-right).

We call on you to reconsider your position. The European Commission is no apolitical body! Europe needs a socialist candidate to present an alternative to Mr. Barroso’s right-wing policies in place since 2004. More importantly still, if Europeans vote to change the majority in parliament to the centre-left at the coming elections, they need a President of the Commission to reflect their choice and lead a different policy. If the PES indeed wins the election, it needs to be a different President. A social-democrat. For the PES to put forward a candidate would only be democratic. But it cannot if the leaders of its member parties support another candidate.

The European Commission is no apolitical body!

Having European parties nominate candidates allows for increased clarity and therefore involvement on the citizen’s part. It would also create a real European campaign, centred on European issues, for which the PES is well prepared with its Manifesto.

As PES activists, we are well placed to know that the elections will be at best an uphill battle. If the election were held today, the EPP would win by a landslide. Another five years of deregulation-crazed McCreevys and Barrosos would mean that in 2014, the European institutions would have been under conservative rule for 15 years! Workers, students, pensioners, women and the unemployed would all suffer the grunt of the coming recession and those who believe in a Social Europe would have to wait. Lessons from the financial crisis would be dissected but not properly learned, and only cosmetic reform of financial regulation would be pursued. The left-of-centre electorate would continue to turn against Europe as it would become associated with its strong Industry bias. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Not to mention that if the PES doesn’t win this year, with the financial crisis helping pro-regulation forces, it won’t in 2014. Ten years of EPP is enough!

For the PES to win the election, a significant new factor needs to come in play. Having a candidate would make a substancial difference! Putting a face and a name on the Manifesto’s action would help enormously in imparting the PES’s message that a new direction is needed for Europe. Additionally, Mr. Barroso is strongly disliked by large parts of the electorate for his general lack of leadership, but is practically guaranteed under the status quo to keep his post; merely giving the choice to voters to elect someone else at the EC presidency would be a giant step for European democracy, as well as a strategic move for the PES.

Socialists and Social-Democrats control precious few governments in the EU, and PES activists and supporters around Europe look to the Spanish government for leadership and to defend the social-democratic cause at a European level. Spain has experienced a social progress in the last five years under Mr. Zapatero’s government that has only proven further that modern socialism can bring the more tolerant and fairer society that Europe needs so desperately.

The PES also has the chance to have a respected president who would make an impeccable candidate and, if that came to be, an outstanding European Commission president. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the man who invented lifelong-learning and flexicurity, would be a candidate that would lead the PES to victory in June.

In Spain and Portugal, indeed, Mr. Rasmussen’s candidacy would appeal to most PSOE and Partido Socialista voters. In Portugal, Mr. Barroso’s notoriety would electorally play rather in the PES’s hands than in the EPP’s, while in Spain, polls seem to point that voters will follow their opinion of last year when they re-elected the PSOE. We do not underestimate the Iberian electorate’s ability to discern the political from the personal issues in a race that would oppose Mr. Barroso to Mr Rasmussen.

We believe the momentous chain of events and the depth of the economic crisis we are living are the opportunity to profoundly reform society and to transform our European economies with a keynesian and ecological new deal that the PES manifesto describes with few shortfalls.

Our belief in European integration makes us convinced that an active electorate, with clear alternatives of visions for the emerging European society, should be given the chance to vote on who they want to lead this continent, rather than leaving it to the heads of States and Governments.

Mr. Zapatero and Mr. Socrates, because you are socialists and humanists, you will know the following excerpt from the Socialist Internationale’s declaration of principles:

92. At a time of rapid internationalisation, the goals of democratic socialism cannot be attained in just a few countries. The fate of people living in many different parts of the world is more interlinked than ever before. The various socialist parties of the world must therefore work together, both in their individual national interest and in their common international interest. The Socialist International, whose history dates back to 1864, was re-established in 1951 to serve this purpose.

Messieurs Prime Ministers Zapatero and Socrates, we call on you to regognise the responsibility you carry towards the European social-democratic cause and to support the nomination of a PES candidate for EC President by withdrawing your endorsement of the EPP’s candidate José Manuel Barroso.

Image: Caricature of the PES logo; source. <http://www.anyonebutbarroso.eu-> http://www.anyonebutbarroso.eu/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/pes-new-logo.jpg>

The authors are also respectively members of the Labour Party (UK) and the PSOE (Spain). The contents of this letter present the opinion of the authors alone and does not represent any position endorsed by JEF, the UEF, or the “Who is your Candidate?” campaign.

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