Creating new jobs and greening the economy will be among the key campaign messages of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) for the EU elections next June, party leader Wilfried Martens said at the presentation of the EPP election manifesto on Friday (30 January).
The rampant global recession offered an opportunity to bring the economy in line with Europe's commitment to fight against climate change, Martens said.
Job creation 'top priority'
"The financial and economic crisis should not be taken as an excuse to do nothing – in the contrary: we should take it as a wake-up call to modernise our economies and create new, sustainable jobs," the party programme reads.
The crisis offers an opportunity "to increase our investments in 'green technologies' and reduce Europe's dependence on fossil fuels," the manifesto continues. Such investment will boost employment and economic growth, while positioning Europe as a world leader in new innovative sectors, the EPP's blueprint for the election campaign underlines.
Franco-German tandem must lead
Greening the economy will also help to fight climate change, party officials stressed on Friday. "The EU has to be at the forefront on this issue," said Martens, stating that close cooperation between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be "decisive".
The manifesto also made strong commitments towards the 20% target for renewable energy by 2020 and called for a better functioning emissions trading system to provide a market-based incentive to reduce emissions.
'Keep nuclear energy as an option'
Taking stock of a growing trend in favour of nuclear energy throughout Europe, the EPP also warned against ruling out nuclear completely. France and the UK have recently built or announced plans to build new nuclear plants, while in Germany, Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats are pushing for a reversal of the exit policy of the previous social-democrat government.
A European Security Pact
The EPP is also seeking a stronger and a more united European voice on the world stage. In line with the previous French EU Presidency, strengthening Europe's defence capabilities by pooling together is seen as a key tool towards reaching this objective.
The party programme even proposes a European Security and Defence Pact, including a strategic agreement with the US and other allies, similar to the pan-European security pact proposed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last year.
Furthermore, the manifesto calls for the establishment of a common defence force for those EU member states willing to commit on a permanent basis, complemented by a 'mutual solidarity clause' to be included in the pending Lisbon Treaty.
Will the Tories and the EPP part ways? Decision in April
It remains unceratin whether the EPP will still campaign jointly with the UK Conservatives, with which they are aligned within the EPP-ED group, Martens said. But he urged the leader of the British Tories, David Cameron, to decide before the EPP convention in Warsaw at the end of April whether his party is to split from the EPP-ED group in the European Parliament.
"We want to have a clear position before the European elections. In order to start a real campaign, we need to know if they will stay with us or if they will try to form another group," Martens told journalists at the presentation of the manifesto in Brussels.
When elected in 2005, Cameron pledged to withdraw his party from the EPP-ED coalition completely in order to form a new, more Eurosceptic group, but accepted the compromise of waiting until the next European elections.
However, it is believed a majority of Tory MEPs would prefer to remain within the coalition, where they hold a significant number of important positions. Nevertheless, all Tory delegates have signed a pledge to abide by Cameron's final decision, which will be delivered after the June 2009 vote.
With or without the UK delegates, Martens said he was confident that his party would maintain or even extend its majority in the Parliament at the June elections.
Barroso can already plan his second term
Martens also reiterated his party's backing for a second term for José Manuel Barroso as president of the European Commission, should the EPP emerge as the strongest group again after the vote. It is an unwritten rule that the head of the EU executive stems from strongest political party or at least gains the backing of the leading group in the European Parliament.
However, this decision usually involves several trade-offs, including the post of Parliament president and that of high representative for foreign and security policy.
Asked whether Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende can be considered a potential alternative to Barroso, Martens replied: "Jan Peter was very clear [in saying] he is not a candidate."
Among the leaders of the EPP, Barroso is "accepted as a candidate," the party leader underlined, adding the party convention in Warsaw will officially endorse him. EU leaders have already unofficially nominated Barroso at their summit last October.
'Not yet ready' for pan-European lists
Asked about the likelihood of EPP-ED candidates campaigning on pan-European lists, Martens replied that a "realistic target" would be to have 20-25% campaigning on a pan-European basis as of the next elections in 2014.
- 29 April 2009: EPP Convention in Warsaw to officially adopt the election manifesto.