Socialists to name ‘winning candidate’ for 2014

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Vicious cold and deep snow did not discourage European socialists meeting in Warsaw from agreeing a strategy to elect a "winning candidate" to replace José Manuel Barroso at the helm of the European Commission in 2014. EURACTIV Poland reports.

Almost 300 delegates and 200 socialist activists turned out in the Polish capital for the annual Party of European Socialists (PES) Council on 2-3 December.

The delegates agreed to set up a working group, called 'Candidate 2014', to propose a process for selecting the "winning candidate" as well as a timetable.

The group, consisting of 18 parliamentarians from across Europe, will be chaired by Ruairi Quinn, a former Irish finance minister now sitting in the Irish parliament.

"Our aim is to win the European elections in 2014," the PES Council said in a statement.

"By choosing a common candidate, we aim at re-engaging with citizens and our voters and making our alternative proposals credible […] The PES candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, together with the national heads of lists of our member parties, will embody our message to European citizens," the PES Council stated.

The procedure is apparently inspired by grassroot socialists from across Europe, who have for months been driving an Internet campaign calling for primaries ahead of the 2014 European elections.

Leadership crisis

Indeed, the Socialists experience a leadership crisis, with many speakers lamenting that the European Left had lost much of its prominence. As a bad omen, the conference did not attract much attention from journalists, who were disappointed by the Socialists' failure to present a common candidate at the 2009 European elections.

With a few Socialists in leading positions in EU countries, only one prime minister attended, Greece's George Papandreou. Several Socialist leaders – including France's Martine Aubry and Britain's Ed Miliband – did not turn up, although their names appeared in the list of participants.

On the contrary, conservatives rule today's Europe, participants observed, with Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy steering EU summit meetings, José Manuel Barroso presiding over the European Commission and Jerzy Buzek chairing the European Parliament.

Nevertheless, according to the PES, right-wing politicians are leading Europe in the wrong direction.

From the centre-left perspective, the alternative is that solidarity should be the core value of societies in adapting to the post-crisis reality. Job creation, social inclusion, overcoming discrimination, access to quality education for everyone, employment and decent wages were mentioned as the pillars of such a system.

To provide the instruments for such a programme, the centre-left wants to introduce a financial transaction tax of 0.05%, with the revenue going to fighting against poverty and promoting green growth.

Second, the PES wants to introduce an Employment and Social Progress Pact to contrast with the Stability and Growth Pact, setting limits to public debt and deficits for eurozone governments. Instead of strict fiscal discipline, the Socialist pact would prioritise job creation, leaving behind the conservatives' economic approach which is based on "punishment and sanctions," said Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, PES president.

Other measures include the introduction of eurobonds to add to the EU's solidarity budget and setting up a European Debt Agency to help the EU tackle debt problems.

Stopping populism

Europe has been fighting against the financial and economic crises for two years now. Many people have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet, with others losing their sense of security, said PES speakers at the meeting.

These are perfect circumstances for the extreme right to enter the European political scene with their simple answers to complicated challenges, PES delegates warned.

Putting an end to populism, overt nationalism and the racism of the ultra-right were identified among the top priorities of the European Left.

Commenting on the recent advancement of the extreme-right in Europe, Rasmussen said: "This is an increasingly worrying problem of foreseeable catastrophic results. Unlike conservatives' play-their-game logic, we say 'Confront Yes, Cooperate No'. Unlike conservatives' strategy of fear, we have a strategy of hope."

Hungarian Socialist leader Attila Mesterhazy recently said his party will take a strong stance against the Hungarian extreme right Jobbik party. He also criticised the ruling Fidesz party, which he said was adopting the same tone as Jobbik on many issues.

Hungary takes over the rotating EU presidency from 1 January 2011.

To be able to implement its goals, the European Left needs more authority, said Grzegorz Napieralski, leader of the Polish Social Left Alliance (SLD) and host of the meeting.

Napieralski said his party would do whatever necessary to win the 2011 parliamentary elections in Poland and expressed hope that the EU's other 26 member states would have leftist governments very soon too.

"But in order to win, socialists and social democrats need to re-connect with European people, NGOs and trade unions – the Left needs their support just as they need the support of the Left," Napieralski said.

Last year's European elections, held simultaneously in 27 countries for the first time in history, ended in a clear victory for the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and a defeat for the Party of European Socialists (PES) (EURACTIV 08/06/09).

A total of 736 members of the European Parliament were elected to represent some 500 million Europeans, making these the biggest trans-national elections in history.

The EPP won the elections with 265 MEPs, followed by the PES with 184 MEPs. José Manuel Barroso was subsequently re-elected as Commission president.

The Socialists failed to nominate a candidate for the 2009 election.

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