French TV will not air EU Commission Presidency debate

Candidates for President of the European Commission in 2014

Candidates for President of the European Commission. [Jonworth/flickr]

20 European channels will broadcast the debate between candidates for the presidency of the European Commission on 15 May. However, France Télévisions has decided to not air the debate. EURACTIV France reports.

French channels do not seem impressed by the prospects of broadcasting the televised debate between contenders. The European elections are just around the corner, but none intends on reserving airtime for the event, which will see the candidates for the highest position in the EU come face to face for the first time.

The five candidates are Martin Schulz for the socialists, Jean-Claude Juncker for the right, Guy Verhofstadt for the liberals, Alexis Tsipras for the far-left and the Franco-German tandem José Bové and Ska Keller for the greens. The debate will take place in the European Parliament in Brussels and is organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the professional association of national broadcasters that negotiates and advocates on behalf of public broadcasters in Europe. 

A debate confined to the Internet

France Télévision, an active member of the EBU, has opted to put the European debate live on its website over airing it on its television channels. One of its channels, France 2, will be airing a programme on the single currency, followed by a debate. The Franco-German channel, Arte, will also show the debate live on its website. 

The political event has attracted a lot more attention outside French borders. “We have agreements with approximately 20 channels in 20 different countries, most of which will broadcast the debate live. Only five will broadcast it online,” explained a spokesperson from EBU.

Disappointment for established political parties

“We have officially asked France Télévisions to broadcast the debate between the EU Commission presidency candidates,” stated Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, General Secretary of the French Socialist Party. He asked Remy Pfimlin, President of France Télévisions, to air the debate, but claims that “the public service refused for reasons that are beyond me”.

The “presidential” debate is particularly important for the French Socialist Party, which sees it as an opportunity for the left to confront the European right on the assessment of the outgoing Commission and its President José Manuel Barroso.  

Francois Copé, President of the UMP, refused to comment on the national broadcaster’s poor media coverage of the event. At the UMP’s European campaign launch, he said he had no “comments on France Télévisions’s TV listings”.

“On television channels and the radio, the major absentee is Europe,” regrets the French centrist candidate Sylvie Goulard. To level the playing field, the outgoing MEP called on the French audio-visual council to exercise its recommendation power and ensure that the debate will be broadcasted.

This is the second time this month that France Télévisions has sparked controversy regarding the European elections. In mid-April, Marine Le Pen, President of the Front National, refused to take part in a televised debate with Martin Schulz on France 2.

>> Read: Le Pen’s ‘dodgy’ economics

The national channel accepted Marine Le Pen’s refusal to take part. The far-right candidate eventually debated with Alain Lamassoure, head UMP candidate for Ile-de-France.

Viewing figures above all

“This is an issue that goes beyond French borders, and the Internet is the best medium to broadcast the debate,” stated France Télévisions, which fears poor viewing numbers.

“Viewing figures are more important than the need to open up the European debate. This will be a major boost for the radical parties, which already prosper from the absence of a debate on Europe!“ claimed Henri Lastenous, head of Plus d’Europe à la télé, a campaign that aims to increase media coverage of European issues in order to prevent the rise of political radicalism.   

Internet audiences are very small compared to live television viewers. 2.8 million viewers tuned in to France 2 to watch the debate between Marine Le Pen and Alain Lamassoure. This is equivalent to almost half of monthly visitors on all France Télévisions websites. Indeed, France Télévisions websites received a total of 6.4 million visitors in February. 

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.

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.

The first debate took place between candidates for the presidency of the European Commission, Martin Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker, on 9 April, was broadcasted on France 24 and international Radio France. On the 28 April, all five candidates will meet for a debate hosted by Euronews, which will be broadcasted live and in 13 languages.

  • 28 April : debate between all candidates at Maastrich – Euronews
  • 8 May : Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schultz, ZDF, ÖRF – Berlin
  • 9 May : debate between all candidates – RAI Firenze
  • 15 May : debate between all candidates UBE – Brussels
  • 20 May : Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schultz – ARD – Hamburg
  • 22-25 May: European Elections in all 28 EU member states

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