Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

Left and Right trade blows on economy in EU election debate

  • The Parliament chamber was the venue as the five Commission candidates slugged it out (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The five candidates bidding to become the next European Commission president traded blows over Europe's economic past and future, in the last televised debate before next week's European elections.

The debate, held in the European Parliament chamber on Thursday (15 May), was the first to feature Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftist Syriza party which is set to top the polls in Greece, and Greece dominated the discussion.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The event, which used interpretation to allow Tsipras to speak in Greek and centre-right candidate Jean-Claude Juncker to speak French, was broadcast on 49 TV channels - by far the largest number so far.

Its 90 minutes saw the candidates restate their lines on the Ukraine crisis and on migration, tackle questions on Brussels lobbying, youth unemployment and the wearing of religious symbols.

Meanwhile, the centre-right EPP group's candidate, Juncker, refuted Tsipras' claims that, as head of the eurogroup until 2013, he had been responsible for Greece's economic and social crisis.

"For years I worked day and night to avoid Greece falling out of the euro," Juncker said, adding: "I will not accept the reproach that we did not show solidarity ... we did everything to ensure that Greece stayed in."

Socialist Martin Schulz promised that his Commission would focus on "fighting against tax fraud and tax evasion and for equal life chances". He again pledged to introduce an ambitious micro-credit programme for countries with the highest unemployment rates, combining funds from the EU budget and the European Investment Bank.

Tsipras called on the EU to "stop with this paranoia of debt" and to convene a debt conference similar to that in 1953 which cancelled a large chunk of German debt incurred from the Second World War.

For her part, Green candidate and MEP Ska Keller, who has emerged as an unlikely star of the debates, cited the ongoing EU-US trade talks, conducted behind closed doors, as "one of the reasons why we have lost trust in politics."

Tsipras also put the blame for rising levels of euroscepticism at the door of Europe's mainstream parties.

"The main culprits are the parties calling for more austerity," he said. "The solution is not to scrap Europe but change it ... Europe must not be associated by pain, suffering and hardship."

Europe's 400 million voters will go to the polls next week.

For the first time, the parliamentary election results are to be taken into account when the leaders of the EU's 28 countries nominate a person to replace Jose Manuel Barroso, the current president of the Commission. That nominee must also be ratified by a majority of the new European Parliament.

Two days after the 25 May vote, the leaders of the political groups in the Parliament as well as the Parliament's president will meet to discuss the results, before EU leaders themselves discuss who to nominate later that day.

Although European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have hinted that governments may pick an alternative candidate, the so-called Spitzenkandidaten insisted that the next Commission president would be one of them.

Juncker commented that "no one will vote in 2019 if Council ignore the results," while Schulz noted that an alternative candidate would not be able to win a majority in the Parliament. "The next President of the Commission is standing here and you are talking to him," he said.

Initial reactions from the audience voiced complaints that stilted moderation of the event created a dull atmosphere, but the candidates enjoyed the novelty of the set up.

"In the past, European elections were boring. There was no confrontation ... and they were just seen as mid-term elections," opined Schulz.

The eurosceptic group of Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) complained they had been excluded from the debate despite having requested to take part. The ECR did not select a candidate for the Commission top job but said in a statement that they wanted "to speak for the millions of Europeans who do not want to be part of a federal super-state."

On social media site Twitter, 63,000 tweets were sent during the debate, comfortably up from the 47,000 sent during the first televised debate in Maastricht two weeks ago.

EU rivals square off in first presidential debate

The main candidates to become the next President of the European Commission squared off on Monday night in the first of two live TV debates ahead of May's European elections.

Agenda

EU top candidates debate twice this WEEK

Campaigning for the EU elections gets in full swing this week, with two debates scheduled among the four top candidates of the main political groups.

Greek far-left in election lead

The radical-left Syriza party is ahead in the first round of voting in Greek local elections, while exit polls suggest a boost for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in some areas.

News in Brief

  1. Estonia working on 'Plan B' for Nato
  2. Report: Hungary gagged EU on Israeli settlers
  3. Polls suggest draw after Johnson vs Corbyn TV duel
  4. EU ambassador to testify in Trump impeachment inquiry
  5. Hungary, Poland block EU conclusions on rule of law
  6. France: wide EU backing for enlargement change
  7. EU Council calls for policy action to protect marine life
  8. ECJ: Poland's judicial independence in doubt

Parliament outmanoeuvred in EU top-post game

The European Parliament on Tuesday lost a years-long power struggle, and gave up winning more influence on European politics via the so-called Spitzenkandidat process it had championed.

Who is the new EU parliament president, David Sassoli?

The 63-year-old centre-left Italian MEP was elected president of the European Parliament, with 345 votes. A former journalist, Sassoli has experience as a vice-president of the parliament, but is little known.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us