European Socialists fret about far-right victory at EU election

Jean-Christophe Cambadelis.jpg

As the French far-right took the lead in opinion polls, the vice-president of the European Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, warned against the rise of extremism at next May's EU elections. He spoke to in an interview.

The French far-right party the Front National (FN) is still leading the polls for the next European parliament elections, according to a January survey by Ifop, one of the largest marketing companies in France.

The poll predicts 21% of votes for the FN, 21% for the centre-right opposition UMP and 18% for both the ruling socialist and leftist parties. Parties from the centre would get 11% of the votes and the Greens 7%.

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the first vice-president of the Party of European Socialists said that such a vote could have an impact over the functioning of the European Union.

“First and foremost, it is Europe that should vote at the elections," Cambadélis said. "The far-right will be strong if there is high abstention. If the far-right succeeds in forming a blocking minority, it is certain that there will be trouble in the management of the European Union. It will trigger a wave of dissent of the European project and with it the risk of a political crisis,” the MP said.

In his opinion, the European Parliament could end up with around 100 MEPs from far-right parties, out of 751, but not more.

The risk is that “the far-right will slow down the functioning of the European institutions, when citizens need it the most,” Cambadélis warned.

'Social Democrats can win'

However, he believes a progressive and social Europe is still possible for the next legislature.

“We need to have the most seats, the president of the European parliament can be the result of a coalition but it needs to be legitimate," Cambadélis said. "The European Socialist Party (PES) exists in all EU countries, which is not the case with the European People’s Party [EPP]." The EPP is the centre-right group in Parliament, which currently has the largest number of seats.

"If the PES leads the elections, we will be able to form a progressive coalition which would support a common candidate to lead the Commission. The most obvious choice would be an agreement with the Greens, who are closest to us politically.”

But Cambadélis is worried about the way the next Commission president will be designated.

Different treaty interpretations

Heads of states and governments want to retain the power of nominating the Commission president, as they always did. Angela Merkel made it clear that she wanted the European Council to choose the next leader of the EU executive. In January, French President François Hollande showed little enthusiasm for Martin Schulz’s candidacy, “noting” that he was the Socialist Party’s candidate.

“I believe in treaties but also in power struggles,” Cambadélis said.

“With or without the treaty, if there’s a social-democrat candidate – German on top of it like Martin Schulz – who is legitimated by the votes of citizens, I don’t see how we could refuse him the Commission presidency.”

Merkel would accept 'some unknown Lithuanian candidate'

According to Cambadélis, this difference of interpretation of the EU treaties explains why the EPP has not yet chosen its candidate for the European Commission.

“Angela Merkel refuses an EPP candidate because she plans on refusing the European Parliament candidate that will want to lead the Commission. We really have two opposite views here. The chancellor doesn’t want a powerful president, even though there were candidates in the EPP. I'm thinking of Joseph Daul or Michel Barnier … There is no lack of ambition. At the end of the day, she will probably accept some unknown Lithuanian candidate,” Cambadélis said.

>> Read also: Paris ponders betting on Barnier for top EU job

The next European elections will be held in all EU countries in May 2014. It will be the eighth European Parliament contest since the first direct elections in 1979.

The Lisbon Treaty says 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.

Populist right-wing parties will form a coalition towards the EU elections and have raised the stakes of the election campaigns for mainstream parties. In the coming months, mainstream parties will clarify the common programmes or ‘manifestos’, on which to base their common campaign and for national parties to use in national campaigns.

>> Read more on the EU elections in our LinksDossier.

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