Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE leader, and party candidate for the European Commission Presidency, presented his program Friday (25 April), which he said was inspired by vintage politician Jacques Delors, widely seen as the most visionary EU leader.
Speaking to the press just one month ahead of the European elections vote in his home country, Belgium, Verhofstadt made several references to Delors, the long-serving Commission president (1985-1994), seen as a champion of the community method, also known as the “Delors method’.
He also took aim at the current Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, for his lack of initiative, and for making use instead of the community method, of the “telephone method”, by consulting with the leaders of Germany and France.
Verhofstadt said that today, the EU needed a strategy resembling the 1993 Delors White Paper ‘Growth, Competitiveness, Employment’, in which he justified the Commission’s initiative as an invitation to the member states to jointly solve the problems of the Union.
“We need the same today”, Verhofstadt said, adding that EU integration needed “a new leap forward”.
Verhofstad spoke in critical terms about the rival political forces. The Socialists, he said, were denying the debt problem of the Union’s member states and thought they could spend even further. The conservatives, he said, thought the crisis was over and that the EU needed no major change.
Verhofstadt presented his Plan for Europe, which he said he would implement if elected Commission President. The most important slide of the plan, he said, was the one illustrating the credit crunch, bank loans to companies having dropped -10.5% in 6 years’ time.
The second most important element of his plan, he said, is to make available the collateral in any member state of the Union, changing the present system, in which banks do not accept as guarantees assets in other countries of the Union.
The third element is the launch of “Future bonds” as a new financing vehicle, which he said were different from the “project bonds” advocated by Barroso, which have produced little effect so far. He said that “project bonds” will be used “massively”, unlike the project bonds, which he compared with the Loch Ness Monster, as it is not certain whether they exist at all.
The fourth element, he said, is establishing an EU energy community, and reducing the Union’s dependence from energy imports, mainly from Russia. He criticized the Commission’s work in this area in recent years, saying that after Javier Solana, who presented in 2006 a strategic paper “Towards an EU external energy policy”, nothing much had been done.
A fifth element he named a “digital fast forward”, as a way to boost the EU’s economy, and in the sixth place he advocated increased labour mobility, coupled with safeguards to avoid “welfare shopping”.
Last but not least, Verhofstadt named his seventh priority as “a new economic governance model”, saying that the Union needed to abandon the current “contractual arrangements” in economic governance, with a “convergence code”.
Asked by EurActiv why the Eurobonds which he has been advocating throughout the Eurozone crisis do not appear in his program, he said that he hadn’t forgotten his ideas of creating a Eurozone redemption fund. By unifying the capital market, the possibility of establishing a redemption fund would be created, and it would then be possible to “do something” on the level of government debt, he explained.
Asked by the press how he sees his chances to be elected as Commission President, Verhofstadt said three “rules” had now been adopted on the procedure.
First, he said, the future Commission President would be one of the leading candidates of the political groups. Asked about Council President Van Rompuy opposing this procedure [read more], he said his compatriot and fellow former Prime Minister “got it wrong”.
Second, he said, the candidate should be able to form a majority in the European Parliament. And third, he said that the candidate of the largest political force will start the first the effort of gathering a coalition.
Asked by EurActiv if EU leaders had any role at all to play in the election of the Commission President, he said that the bottom line was that the future President should have a majority behind him.
“Without a majority, there will be no Commission President,” he said. Verhofstadt added that he hoped that he could rally a majority of MEPs behind his program, which plans legislative proposals to slim down the European Commission and to slash one of the seats of the European Parliament.
In a more humble key, the ALDE leader said he would need to first win the elections and “advance with the number of MEPs in my group”. This appears to be a challenging task, since opinion polls suggest that the ALDE group is most likely going to shrink.
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.
- 22 to 25 May: EU citizens to vote to elect MEPs in all 28 member countries;
- 27 May: EU leaders to meet for extraordinary summit to take stock of the EU elections results.