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27th Nov 2022

Magazine

2014: Changing of the guard in the EU

  • The EU parliament: Work in progress for the post-2014 Union (Photo: europalr.europa.eu)

When the EU last trotted into election year, in 2009, things were very different. The scale of the global financial crisis and the eurozone trauma were only just becoming apparent.

At the height of the crisis, there were real fears the single currency would break up. This is no longer the case.

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But heading into 2014, it is clear problems are far from over. Unemployment is at a record high. Eurozone is likely to be meagre at best.

Greece might need a third bailout, Portugal a second and Slovenia a first. France, the eurozone's second largest economy, which is in need of profound reform, will continue to make EU officials very nervous.

But despite the big to-do list, it will be a disruptive year in Brussels. The European Parliament will stop work in Spring ahead of the 22 to 25 May vote. Many will be looking to new political horizons.

The commissioner in charge of economic affairs, arguably the most important dossier, has already said he plans to run for a seat in the EU assembly.

Nevertheless, key legislation - such as common rules for winding down ailing banks - needs to be wrapped up before parliament breaks and a lull falls in Brussels until the autumn.

The elections have a particular resonance this time around.

EU politicians are hoping to avoid the downward slide in turnout, which reached a low of 43 percent in 2009.

A further decline would undermine arguments the EU assembly is able to fill the Union's democratic gap and hold the European Commission - newly empowered to pick apart national budgets - to account.

Meanwhile, anti-EU parties are expected to win a record share of the parliament's 751 seats. This would also highlight how far removed average people feel from Brussels and the decisions it takes in their name.

The posts of European Commission President, the EU "foreign minister" and the EU Council President are also at stake.

There was some talk that political groups which do well in elections will nominate candidates in a more transparent way. But EU leaders want to stick to tradition, enabling them to manipulate the outcome in behind-the-scenes bartering on political, geographic and gender balance.

Two self-effacing people - Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton - were given the then new posts of EU Council chief and foreign minister in 2009.

Bigger personalities are being mentioned as their possible successors.

Meanwhile, the European Commission was left in the hands of Jose Manuel Barroso, who has a flair for following the prevailing political wind, for a second term.

The commission became a champion of austerity. But despite gaining significant powers on economic governance, its standing has diminished vis-a-vis the European Council - the EU leaders' forum - and the European Parliament.

Who - and how - the leaders choose the next set of top EU officials will be a clue to how they want the EU to evolve over the next five years.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Europe in Review Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of Europe in Review magazines.

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