The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) announced on Thursday (20 February) that they would not put forward a candidate for the European Commission presidency, calling the parties’ initiative for single candidates “an old 1950-style vision”.
In a statement, the president of the AECR, Czech MEP Jan Zahradil, said: “We aspire to speak for that large majority of Europeans who have never consented to be citizens of a federal union.”
“We believe that the voice of this growing group of people should be heard in the debates, but we cannot subscribe to a scheme that will give the President of the Commission an artificial mandate from the people, even though most people have never even heard of him,” Zahradil added.
The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) is a pan-European party with members in 17 countries, 12 of which are EU member states. The party is related to the parliamentary group the European Conservatives and Reformists, and the British Conservatives are the dominating political force in the party and group.
The party also released a video in which it calls the initiative of European parties “an old 1950-style vision” that “is setting up a government where there is no nation”.
Daniel Hannan, a British MEP for the Conservatives and secretary general of the AECR, told EurActiv that “we will support other member parties in campaigning for common ideals. I can imagine myself attending events abroad to support campaigns. But we don’t aspire to have a common manifesto, and we will not play the game of pretending that there is a European electorate.”
Six candidates, five parties
The European Parliament has announced its election campaign under the slogan “This time it’s different”, in which the indirect election of the next European Commission president is a cornerstone.
The Lisbon Treaty (which came into force in December 2009) grants the European Parliament the power to elect the person for the job. Council must also “take into account” the election results and hold “appropriate consultations” with the EP before nominating their top choice, the treaty states.
Parties have taken the initiative to nominate their own frontrunners, who serve as potential successors to José Manuel Barroso, the current president of the EU executive.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, was unopposed in his bid to lead the pan-European socialist campaign. The European Greens selected two MEPs, José Bové and Ska Keller, in an online primary process. And the president of the ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt, will lead the liberals’ campaign.
The EPP is the last major political family to select its frontrunner, at an electoral congress in Dublin on 6-7 March. Top contenders are Luxembourg’s former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, French EU commissioner Michel Barnier and Latvian former PM Valdis Dombrovskis.
According to Hannan, “it is tendentious to go from ‘taking into account’ to organising pan-European campaigns. My reading of the treaties is that the council pertains the same prerogatives as previously.”
While European parties and a majority in the European Parliament have pushed this initiative to select single candidates, prominent EU leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy have also expressed cautious doubts.
“If you keep the same competence for the top job, you organise the disappointment in advance,” Van Rompuy said earlier.
The European elections will be held in all EU countries in May 2014. The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament shall elect the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). This will apply for the first time in the 2014 elections.
European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for these parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns. This would make the European elections a de facto race for the Commission president seat, would politicise the campaigns and could increase voter turnout, they say.
But others have argued that the European parties’ push for own candidates may not be the best solution. Raising expectations could easily lead to disappointment, Herman Van Rompuy has said repeatedly, calling for caution in case the European Council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.
- 21-23 Febr.: European Greens electoral congress, adopting the common manifesto
- 28 Febr.-1 Mar.: Socialist party PES congress in Rome
- 6-7 Mar.: Centre-right EPP congress in Dublin
- 22-25 May: Elections for European Parliament
- 27 May: Informal European Council meeting to discuss election results and negotiation process
- 26-27 June: Nomination of Commission president at the European Council summit.
- 14-17 July: Parliament votes on European Council’s nomination of Commission president in its plenary session.
- Summer: New president nominates his Commissioners team, scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament in September.
- 1 Nov.: Target date for new Commission to take office.