Delivering a ‘lead’ candidate for the 2014 European elections

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In his latest State of the Union address to the European Parliament, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso asked all political parties to present a ‘lead’ candidate for the European elections. The reason that the call was such a surprise was that the Party of European Socialists has been working on this for the last three years, argues Sergei Stanishey.

Sergei Stanishev is president of the Party of European Socialists (PES).

"Last week saw the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso deliver his latest State of the European Union address to the European Parliament.

As in previous cases, this was the usual story of rhetoric triumphing substance. This was no surprise. What was a surprise however was Mr Barroso’s ‘dramatic’ call to the European Parties. The Commission President asked all political parties to present a ‘lead’ candidate for the European elections. This is of course an admirable goal.

The reason that the call was such a surprise was that the PES has been working on this for the last three years.

To outline how much the PES has invested in this issue, without having to be called on anything by the Conservative President of the Commission: We first made an historic commitment to have a common candidate three years ago in our PES Congress in Prague.

We then unanimously decided at our 2010 Council that our common candidate will be elected through a democratic and open transparent process. We established a working party to formulate rules.

This detailed plan, including transparent criteria to run as a candidate, methodology to involve our Parties’ members, and a clear timetable, was put to our Council in November 2011 and passed unanimously.

It was subsequently released to the press and communicated to our member parties. Our next congress, which takes place in Brussels at the end of this month, will set our procedure in stone.

This process will be the first of its kind in Europe.

Mr. Barroso’s disingenuous claim to the ownership of this idea may even have evolved in to selective amnesia.  EU provisions allow that the President of the Commission organise regular meetings with the leaders of the European political parties. During those meetings we have communicated our strategy to make the European elections more accountable, including on our plans for a common candidate.

There is of course a wider issue at stake. The PES commitment to a Common Candidate is a symbol of what Europe should stand for. It is a tangible commitment to democracy, transparency and accountability. The Party of European Socialists is the only European Political party that has the infrastructure, the openness and the principles to deliver this.

The Commission President may have looted our idea, but a massive question mark remains as to whether his own political party, the European People’s Party (EPP) can deliver it.

We have been working on politicising the European elections, by offering to citizens possibilities to engage and a clear choice to make. I urge European commentators to watch closely the EPP Congress that is to take place in October in Bucharest. It is my belief that the contrast between our concrete plans and their vague ideas and closed selection methods will be there for all to see.

Almost three years after the PES first took the decision, the EPP will present their own cosmetic version of the common candidate.

Probably they will not go into details; they will not even set a date by which the process must be defined, and they will surely not offer European citizens the occasion to take part neither in the selection process nor in the European debate as we are. Choosing the President of the European Commission behind closed doors is not our idea of an accountable European Union.

I am glad we have a chance to debate this issue and to present our plans. The 2014 election is getting closer. I am convinced that the electorate will see who has the genuine commitment to building European democracy."

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