The Party of European Socialists is meeting in Lisbon in an apparent show of unity. Unlike the EPP, the liberals or even the greens, socialists don’t need to choose from competing candidates – they only have one. Frans Timmermans will be their Spitzenkandidat, and Sergei Stanishev will be re-elected for a third time as PES president, without competition.
But the calm is only at the surface.
The real issue is that several sister parties, especially from the East, no longer share the political correctness of the Brussels bubble socialists. A clear example is the conflict between Stanishev, who left his home country Bulgaria to lead PES from Brussels seven years ago, and the current leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Kornelia Ninova.
Ninova and Stanishev are worlds apart. The divide between them is much bigger than between PES and EPP. Stanishev is against Orbán, while Ninova supports and admires the Hungarian strongman. Ninova is against the Istanbul Convention, Stanishev calls on EU members to supports this UN convention against domestic violence. The same goes for the Global compact for migration.
The populist temptation among socialists is strong in several EU members from the east, where the most striking example is Romania. In this country, the social democrats are clinging on to power by all means in spite of growing popular resentment.
The EPP is very happy to point the finger at the Romanian socialists. For the centre-right, it’s such a rare opportunity to divert attention from their support to Orbán.
But what happens then?
In comes Frans Timmermans, the Dutch social democrat. Not only does he not pay lip service to his Romanian party fellows, quite the contrary, he is leading the Commission’s punitive actions against this country.
The outrage is such that some in the Romanian PSD reportedly envisage moving to the ECR group, founded by David Cameron’s Tories. If this materialises (realistically, after the European elections), their example could be contagious and unravel the S&D group.
On issues such as gay marriage, the definition of family, migration, climate change or attitude toward the EU, socialists in many EU countries from the East are getting dangerously close to the extreme right, to Marine Le Pen or Matteo Salvini.
Too many socialists from the East don’t recognise the ultra-liberal Timmermans as their candidate. Or more precisely, many don’t recognise him at all, while others identify him as the villain rather than their European leader.
This European election won’t be an easy one for the socialists.
by Alexandra Brzozowski
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Look out for…
A major crunch time week. On the menu: Strasbourg plenary week, Brexit vote in the House of Common on Tuesday and the last EU summit of this year.
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