High Stakes and possible troubles Irn-Bru-ing as #ep2014 approach

Here is my article from this week’s BEERG Newsletter looking at mounting tensions in the race to take the EU Commission Presidency

ib_cansYou call tell that there’s an election approaching by how targeted, populist and political the press releases from MEPs become. Take the Scottish Nationalist (SNP) MEP Alyn Smith, who has suggested that Scotland consider banning Canadian-born singers Justin Bieber and Celine Dion in retaliation for Canadian authorities prohibiting several Canadian stores from selling the popular Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru. Smith justified his call, albeit tongue in cheek, by saying that between them, Bieber and Dion have produced “more sugary schmaltz” than Irn-Bru ever has.

While Smith’s demand has the virtue of humour and creativity, the same cannot be said for the political attack made by the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) on German Socialist MEP, Martin Schulz (photo) on Wednesday as reported by the EurActiv website http://www.euractiv.com.

Schulz is the outgoing President European Parliament and the likely Socialist candidate to be President of the next EU Commission

The attack centres on allegations made by the EPP that a €60,000 European Parliament contract was awarded to the wife of Sergei Stanishev, the president of the PES: Party of European Socialists. The €60,000 contract was for an information project promoting the European elections in Bulgaria.

Leading the attack for the EPP, German MEP Ingeborg Grässle claims the situation has alarm bells ringing over an “obvious” conflict of interest involving some of the most prominent figures in the European socialist family, saying “European Parliament staff under the direction of Socialist President Martin Schulz handing out a contract worth €60,000 to the wife of the European Socialist Party President – this smacks of political favours… Is Mr. Schulz using parliament funds to help his political friends?”

EurActiv reports that its sources say that Schulz is concentrating on his campaign to succeed to José Manuel Barroso as Commission President and shudders at any piece of news which could upset his plan.

The fact that the attack was led by a German MEP is significant as Grässle and Schulz’s own parties the CDU and SPD are now in a grand coalition partnership government in Germany. Expect to see and hear more political skulduggery as the May parliamentary elections approach. The stakes are high with more than just the political balance in the European Parliament to consider. As the BEERG Newsletter has reported reforms made under the EU’s Lisbon Treaty means that heads of government must take the results of the European elections “into account” when selecting the next EU Commission President.

With polls suggesting a swing to the Socialists in the May election, possible sufficient to make it the largest single group in Parliament, Schulz is well placed to become the next Commission President, however the centre right EPP group is not likely to allow this prized post slip from its grasp.

12 of the 28 heads of Government are members of the EPP, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and Poland’s Donald Tusk. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory Party quit the EPP in 2009.

The EPP is planning to select its candidate for the EU Commission Presidency at its Congress in Dublin on March 6th & 7th. There are four possible contenders: the Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, the Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the current commissioner for the internal market Michel Barnier and the former Luxembourg Prime Minister and EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker.

The PES, whose European Parliamentary group is called the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) will hold it pre-election congress in Rome on 1 March.

ENDS

#ep2014 will bring new @Europarl_EN and new @EU_Commission

This is a piece on the 2014 EU Parliament elections and the appointment of a new EU Commission I wrote for the Jan 10th issue of BEERG‘s Global Labor Relations Newsletter

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BEERGEuropean Union: 2014 to bring a new Parliament and new Commission

Derek Mooney writes: Next May citizens across the 28 EU states will go to the polls to elect the 751 members of the next European Parliament.

Voters across the EU have tended to treat these contests as what political scientists call: “second order” elections. This usually means that voter turnout is lower than in national elections and the campaigns are often fought more on national issues rather than pan European ones. In many cases the results in each country reflect the current standing of the national government more than they do the manifestos of the European groupings.

While voting will take place during a 3 to 4 day period across the 28 member states, we can get a sense of the possible outcomes by looking at opinion polls in the eight largest EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom) as these account for around 77% of all the EU citizens entitled to vote and will elect around 64% of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

A policy paper presented to the Notre Europe: Jacques Delors’s Institute focussing on what the political balance of power in the next European Parliament might be suggests the possibility of some major changes.

The paper features an analysis of recent opinion polls in these eight countries. It suggests a swing to the Left and Centre Left as well as major gains for protest and fringe parties on both the far left and far right.

In the outgoing parliament the EPP (Centre Right group) holds 265 seats against 184 for the Social & Democrats (Centre Left). The analysis of the polls suggests a swing to the centre left that not just closes this gap, but even reverses it. Some analysts predict that the EPP group might win 209 seats in May, four less than the S&D’s predicted 213.

The predicted changes on the margins are no less dramatic. The domestic opinion polls in France suggest that the far right Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, could become the largest French party in the elections, possibly taking 21% of the vote and increasing its number of MEPs from 3 to 17. While on the other end of the spectrum far left parties such as the Spanish Izquierda Unida (United Left) may increase its number of MEPs from 1 to 8.

Political commentators are suggesting that these advances by parties on the far left and far right, plus gains by populist protest parties like Italy’s Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo could see them holding up to 40% of the seats in the incoming parliament.

The political zero sum gain dictates that the increased influence of these groups comes at the expense of the traditional dominance of big blocs: the EPP, the S&D and the Liberal ALDE group, leading to greater political uncertainty in the next Parliament.

This uncertainty comes at a time when the Lisbon Treaty has given an increased role and say to the European Parliament, not least in the appointment of the next European Commission especially the Commission President, which will follow the European Elections.

The Lisbon Treaty has changed the rules on the appointment of Commission President and these come into effect for the first time in 2014. Article 17 of the Treaty and the Declaration 11 annexed to it set out that the choice of the candidate for the Commission presidency will be made “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”.

This was supposed to mean that the various pan-European EU groupings declare who their candidates for the Commission presidency will be in advance of the May parliamentary elections and set out their commission presidency manifestos. In each country candidates looking to become an MEP would indicate to which European political grouping they would affiliate indicate the Commission presidency candidate that grouping will back.

Names are being bandied about as to who might nominated by each of the main groups. The current EU Parliament President, Martin Shultz looks like being the likely nominee of the centre left S&D grouping, having already secured the backing of 20 or so centre left parties across Europe, most importantly his own German SPD and Francoise Hollande’s Socialist Party.

The EPP may opt to propose Jean Claude-Juncker, the recently defeated long serving Luxembourg Premier. Juncker’s gain maybe at the expense of his party colleague, Viviane Reding, who had previously harboured ambitions to become Commission President having served as a Vice President. Realising that that path is now closed there is some suggestion that she may step down as a Commissioner before her term expires to seek re-election as an MEP (she was previously an MEP) and seek the post of President of the Parliament. The same suggestion is being made about her French Commission colleague Michel Barnier.

But, being Europe, the practice looks like it will be very different. While MEPs want to see the power reside with them and the Commission Presidency go to the largest group (or coalition of groups) in the incoming European Parliament, national governments and leaders, most notably Angela Merkel and David Cameron, are deeply reluctant to surrender the final say to the parliament and are taking a very broad view of the phrase “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”

While no one should be heading to the bookies to put bets on the results just yet, it is reasonable to assume that the incoming European Parliament and Commission with have a more leftish and presumably interventionist hue than the outgoing one. Given the difficulties posed to business by the outgoing centrist parliament, this cannot come as good news to business and employers across the EU.

The prospect of a more leftist Commission and parliament, coupled with the political uncertainty heralded by a phalanx of extremist parties of both left and right, could lead to some interesting and difficult times ahead.

ENDS