Friday

24th Feb 2017

EUobserved

On lacklustre EU debates and top job candidates

  • the chamber echoed – both literally and metaphorically (Photo: EUobserver)

The setting was more than unfortunate. Europe’s first ever live (!) televised (!) debate between the two main contenders for the European Commission crown took place in an empty chamber.

And that chamber echoed – both literally and metaphorically.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Europe’s first ever live televised debate between the two main contenders for the European Commission crown took place in an empty chamber (Photo: EUobserver)

The event – on Wednesday (9 April) – had the Twitter hashtag of #EPduel. That was a misnomer of some magnitude. There was not even the barest hint of political fisticuffs.

The two candidates – Jean-Claude Juncker for the centre-right and Martin Schulz for the centre-left – agreed, broadly, on many of the topics broached; austerity, employment, France’s intervention in Mali, immigration, Britain’s EU dilemma.

The moderators asked how they differed from one another. Schulz was noted that Juncker shared his ideas.

There was some banter about why Juncker’s support for Eurobonds had evolved. Juncker emphasised his superior governmental and EU experience.

On substance, they were more or less even. There was much said on what the EU could or should do. Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso’s now thoroughly over-used “big on the big things, small on the smaller things” got an airing. There was little about what Jean-Claude Juncker or Martin Schulz believed.

On style, Schulz had the edge; his voice changed notes every now and then. Juncker was studiously monotonous. It required some strength of will to sit through the entire 40 minutes.

Was this about winning over voters ahead of the May EU elections? It did not seem like it. Perhaps it was the setting. If there is no audience it’s easy to forget real people are supposed to be listening.

But perhaps it was also because the European Commission President is not in a position to make concrete promises on things that matter to people. (Look how long it is taking to get the youth guarantee scheme off the ground). Meanwhile foreign policy topics – like Ukraine and Russia – which they both answered on are not for the European Commission either.

Juncker and Schulz will meet several more times to debate, and twice with the full stable of contenders (on 28 April in Maastricht and 15 May in Brussels).

They are also travelling around member states – although possibly not Britain where both are considered arch-federalists – to sell their candidacy. (Juncker recently noted he had not been invited and was not going to “impose” his campaign bus on the island).

These various media appearances do have one effect though.

Creating an institutional truth

They make things awkward for the camp (including Germany) that do not believe the EU vote should automatically lead to the ‘Spitzenkandidat’ of the most popular party becoming EU commission president.

In fact, the treaty says nothing about parties running top candidates. It only says that leaders must take the EU vote result into account when nominating the commission chief.

However, media (and voters) are good at shorthand.

The France 24 moderators introduced the two as the candidate for the presidency of the commission. Say something often enough and it becomes true. Or at least difficult to make it untrue again.

This could be awkward for Juncker too. It is said that he doesn’t even particularly want the job. He would rather emerge as head of the European Council after some post-EU vote horsetrading.

But if everybody keeps introducing him as a commission candidate (and if the centre-right win of course), he may have less choice in the matter than he (or Berlin for that matter) thought.

Perhaps that’s why he spoke in such an uninspiring manner.

EUobserved

Beloved Ashton

It looked like it would be another humdrum year for Catherine Ashton. Then Iran happened.

EUobserved

Remorseless troikas

The week in which little light was shed on the workings of the troika.

EUobserved

Playing at a British EU exit

Playing at a British EU exit. Is it a case of: 'can't live with them. But don't particularly want to live without them either'?

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  2. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  3. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  4. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland
  5. Dutch lower house approves EU-Ukraine treaty
  6. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  7. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  8. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  2. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  3. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  4. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  5. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  6. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  7. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  8. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  9. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  11. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  12. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play