We spent this morning casting our votes for the President of the European Parliament, an important position, the holder of which chairs the meetings of the European Parliament and is often seen as the public face of the European Parliament to the outside world. Many are those who aspire to its lofty height, but as ever few are chosen. Thise who do arrive usually get there by a mixture of ambition and stealth and almost always as a result of deals made in backrooms between the political groups.
This time the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) has carved the position up with the European People’s Party (EPP) the centre-right group, still the largest group in the Parliament even though the Tories have left to set up on their own with a few cronies. The deal was that the EPP have the President for the first half of the parliamentary term and the socialists/democrats for the second two and a half years. So it’s now the turn of the EPP until the end of December 2011.
This is all very well except that the President of the Parliament is elected by MEPs by secret ballot – the very process we have been taking part in today. There were, in fact, two candidates, which I suppose was some kind of nod in the direction of democracy: Polish Jerzy Buzek from the EPP and Eva-Britt Svensson, a Swedish MEP from the GUE (left green) group. I have worked with Eva-Britt for many years on the Women’s Committee where she has done much good work, including gaining the backing of the European Parliament for the UNIFEM campaign against violence against women. Eva-Britt demonstrated her commitment to women’s rights by talking about the subject in her address to the Parliament prior to the vote.
Eva-Britt Svensson, Swedish MEP
Yet the forces behind the deals won out in the end by a very substantial margin – Mr Buzek had 555 votes to Eva-Britt’s 89. This is the full story according to the European Parliament news service
We had another meeting of the S&D Group this week. You may not be surprised to know that the decision on the Commission President, which I reported on a few days ago, will be postponed until after the summer recess. I must say I never doubted that it would be, though the leadership of the S&D Group is hailing this a a “massive victory” to quote President Martin Schulz.
President Martin Schulz
Martin Schulz has, however, asked that there is some element of nascent democracy in the process, in that he wants the President of the Commission designate (designate in that there is no other candidate) , Jose Manuel Barosso, to appear at each of the political groups in the European Parliament with his manifesto for the next five years. Groups can then agree his nomination if they find him convincing. This strikes me as a good idea and is not unlike the “confirmation” hearings currently held by European Parliament Committees regarding individual Commissioners.
But the Swedish Presidency do not agree with even this modicum of involvement by the European Parliament and the centre-right Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, wants to formalise the appointment of Commission President himself. He is even intending to write to all heads of government in the EU to ask them to support Barosso. It is beginning ot look as if this important decision will be taken by post rather than at a summit meeting.
None of this is good news for the EU and European democracy. I can’t believe it would hurt to have a more open process, especially as there is only one name in the field.
Iain Dale yesterday demanded that European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, mind his own business. Barroso’s crime? He regretted the Tories leaving the European People’s Party, Barroso’s on political home.
The Tories’ decision is very curious. The EPP is the largest political group in the European Parliament. Both Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy lead parties in the EPP, and it has huge influence on the world stage. Through the EPP Cameron and Co have access to the kind of political clout I would have thought they would be very anxious to exploit.
Clearly not. The Tories have chosen to throw it all away. Their proposed new political group, which incidentally do not yet exist, appear to comprise a rag bag of right wing parties all of which have little credibility outside their own member states.
The new group, which is likely to be called the European Conservatives, may (or may not) attract members from the Polish Law and Justice party, the governing party in Poland, the Czech Civic Democrats and other political parties from the Baltic states and beyond.
Law and Justice, which was co-founded by Polish president Lech Kaczynski, is noted for its extreme views. Last November, Artur Gorski, an MP with Law and Justice, was ordered to apologise for comments he made describing Barack Obama’s election as “the end of the civilisation of the white man”.
The Tories Euroscepticism really has got the better of them. Giving up Merkel and Sarkozy, allying with a party opposed to President Obama are not sound political judgements.
This is about more than Europe. Would you want such a bunch of stupid white men to lead your country?
Great post by new European Parliamentary Labour Party leader Glenis Willmott about Vaclav Klaus’ speech to the European Parliament. Glenis has vast energy and in addition to all her new duties as Leader she has launched a blog. I am pleased to see her allowing comments. Too many senior politicians can opt out of this. As I am sure Glenis is finding running a blog can be quite a time investment. I am delighted though that as Leader she is embracing New Technology and better communications. I hope her example will lead to more of my colleagues of all persuasions joining us out in the blogosphere!
Curious comment from Iain Dale on my post on Boris Johnson yesterday:
“You clearly didn’t read the subsequent post which questioned whether the Conservative Party knew how to spell the word ‘opposition’.”
I hadn’t – here it is:
“It’s Spelled O-P-P-O-S-I-T-I-O-N
“So the Tories are backing the government’s plans for the Post Office and Jack Straw’s decision to block publication of the Iraq war cabinet minutes. It’s probably just as well I have been too busy today to do much blogging.”
So Iain opposition means covering up for your mates even when they are in the wrong?
I hold to what my friend Polly Toynbee wrote
presciently in 2007:
“David Cameron has just made his worst mistake. He will bitterly regret the day he encouraged Boris Johnson to stand as London’s mayor. What does it say about the desperate state of the Conservatives that they will put up a clown to run a great global city?”
“Of course if a monkey can be elected mayor of Hartlepool, Boris Johnson might be elected mayor of London. Jester, toff, self-absorbed sociopath and serial liar, the man could still win.”
“What about Boris the sociopath? Apart from being caught often lying to all and sundry – he was fired from the Times for making up a quote – how has he survived the Darius Guppy scandal when he was recorded agreeing to find a journalist’s contact details so old Etonian friend Guppy could have the man beaten up? How badly? Guppy suggested just a few cracked ribs. Later when Guppy was jailed for a £1.8m insurance fraud, Boris explained his role with: “Oh poor old Darry was in a bit of a hole. He was being hounded.”
I thought more of you Iain, but if you are going to cover for Boris’ problems with telling the truth then that tells me we are in for one of the dirtiest election campaigns in a long time.
I see Iain Dale is not feeling very well at the moment. His symptoms are that he is feeling as sick as a dog at the thought of the Tories’ beloved old HQ being sold off to the European Commission. Dale seems particularly upset at the prospect of it being renamed “Europa House”, (he says he is getting “convulsions”) hardly an offensive nor unsurprising name given the future function of the building. As an MEP for London and proud member of the Labour Party I want Britain to be at the heart of Europe, because I know the UK benefits enormously from doing this.
It’s pretty clear that poor Iain is suffering from the disease that nearly wiped out his party once before – it’s called Euro-scepticism. I’m afraid Iain has given away the true colours of most of the Tory party. Because they hate Europe they support policies that would harm the UK economy and cost people their jobs.
This week I will be having discussions about the mobile phone roaming reforms that are being proposed by the Commission and now must be passed through the parliament. When they are passed UK users travelling abroad can look forward to cheaper data roaming services when using their mobile internet device. (We have already seen greatly reduced voice roaming charges thanks to the EU). Just another way that being at the heart of Europe benefits the UK.
Thanks for reminding everyone what the Tories think of Europe Iain. I really hope you get better soon.
This is my first blog in 2009 about the elections to the European Parliament which will take place on 4 June 2009.
You may like to see my quotes in this article recently published in “Total Politics” magazine.