For Germany’s centre-right, Europe only plays a supporting role in the EU elections, explained Parliament VP Rainer Wieland. European politics are unimaginable without Angela Merkel, while topics like data protection and Ukraine “do not win elections”. EURACTIV Germany reports.
For the first time, the EU’s big party groups are entering the European elections with EU-wide top candidates hoping to win the next Commission presidency. The bloc is celebrating this new model as a trendsetting move, harping the well-known phrase “This time it’s different” across the EU-28.
But the personalities starring in the European elections do not appear on the posters of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, candidate for the European People’s Party (EPP) has not yet appeared on a single poster. Not even David McAllister, the CDU’s top candidate, has been printed.
Instead, the Christian Democrats are putting their faith in Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Of course we want to speak to the voters and we want to reach them in the campaign. That is just what Angela Merkel manages to achieve”, explained MEP Rainer Wieland (CDU). The current vice president of the European Parliament spoke at a podium discussion on Wednesday (23 April) hosted by the Institute for European Politics (IEP) in Berlin.
“Never before has it been as right as it is this year to put Mrs. Merkel on the posters. She is an integral part of the CDU’s European policy and that of the EPP,” Wieland said.
Furthermore, Germany’s Chancellor stands for a stable euro and for a clear ‘no’ to euro-bonds, said Wieland. This course is supported by the entire EPP, the MEP added, even members from southern and Eastern Europe.
Hardly anyone would recognise Juncker on the other hand, Wieland pointed out, remarking that “too many faces on posters do not contribute to clarity in the perception of a party”.
“Top candidacy still in child’s shoes”
“Merkel is simply well known in Germany”, explained David McAllister one week ago. For this reason, he said, the debate is a “strange debate”.
If the SPD had the Chancellor in its ranks, they would do exactly the same, McAllister said.
Still, Wieland supports the exercise of choosing Europe-wide top candidates. “But the concept is still in child’s shoes. The format has yet to be discovered. One has to give it a chance”, said the MEP.
European elections demoted to secondary national elections
But Michael Kaeding, professor of European integration and European policy at the University of Duisburg-Essen, does not see this as beneficial for the European elections themselves.
“Politics is demoting the European elections to a secondary national election, using it as an indicator for the upcoming federal or regional elections”, criticised Kaeding.
Except for the SPD, which has “the luck” of being able to send Martin Schulz, a German, on the campaign trail as top candidate, Europe’s faces have been left out of EU campaigns.
“This is not exclusively a CDU phenomenon”, emphasised Kaeding. The Left, for example, printed deputy party leader Sahra Wagenknecht on its posters instead of EU-wide candidate for the Commission presidency Alexis Tsipras, or their German top candidate, Gabi Zimmer.
But also regarding content, hardly any party is defining positions on key European issues, explained Kaeding.
“Issues like climate protection, data protection and regulation of financial markets are hardly up for debate”, said the Europe expert. The same goes for the Ukraine crisis, he said, and the debate over a common foreign and security policy.
Not suitable for the campaign: Ukraine, data protection, TTIP
“Ukraine is an extremely difficult topic”, Wieland said, indicating the ambivalent position of the German population. Although a majority of Germans want a common European security and foreign policy, they simultaneously want to maintain a neutral foreign policy, he explained.
“Only after the Ukraine crisis has calmed and we have approached the European elections with relatively dry feet, only then should we discuss our common approach to Ukraine and speak about how to address the situation when someone on our continent breaks international law,” the Christian democrat MEP said.
“No election can be won” with other current and Europe-relevant topics, said Wieland: neither with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), nor with the discussion over European data protection.
Data protection barely wins points from voters, the MEP said, especially now when the majority of Germans do not want improvements in data protection.
“The citizens want to retain all freedom online. Only the state: it should not be allowed to do anything anymore,” the CDU politician explained.
Due to lacking interest among many citizens over the European elections, Wieland called for new visions which speak to young Europeans.
“We should muster more courage to talk about Europe,” Wieland said, “And have the courage to explain the European Union in simple words.”
Next May’s European elections are the first to be held under the Lisbon Treaty, which grants the European Parliament the power to vote on the president of the EU executive, the European Commission.
Up until December 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty came into force, EU leaders in the European Council selected the Commission president behind closed doors and in a package deal with other EU top jobs.
According to Article 17.7 of the TEU, EU leaders now have to “take into account” the results of the EU elections, and nominate their candidate “after appropriate consultations" with the newly elected parliament.