Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Focus

Buses, selfies, posters: EU campaign in full swing

  • Juncker campaign bus in Slovakia (Photo: junckerepp)

After weeks on the campaign trail with Jean-Claude Juncker in 18 different countries, there is some fatigue kicking in. "Our wives don't know us anymore, we don't know where our bed is," jokes Martin Selmayr, the centre-right candidate's campaign chief.

But Selmayr, a German spin doctor borrowed for the campaign from EU commissioner Viviane Reding's cabinet, says the enthusiasm is still there. And Juncker's campaign bus is a jolly endeavour, with Juncker often singing German folk songs to boost the team's morale, say people who travelled with him.

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  • Generate your own poster with Verhofstadt (Photo: Accendis)

Selmayr on Thursday (15 May) proudly showed journalists around the "war room" of the European People's Party (EPP) in Brussels, where 25 "e-campaigners" from different countries were tapping away on their laptops, wearing Juncker tshirts and hoodies.

The EPP and its top candidate have the highest campaign budget – €1.65 million – which is mostly spent on staff and "petrol for the bus," quips Selmayr.

At the other end of the European Parliament's campaigns budget is the European Left Party, whose top candidate, Alexis Tsipras, can count on little over €100,000.

The Party of European Socialists, with their candidate Martin Schulz, who is also head of the European Parliament, have a budget of €1.5 million.

Campaign spokesman Tim McPhie told this website that PES did not opt for a bus or other "gimmicks" and said Schulz had "normal travel arrangements", including trains where he can spend some time with voters.

Staff is also smaller than at the EPP, with only 10 people working in the PES Brussels office for the campaign.

With over 100,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook, Schulz is ahead of the other top candidates on social media. But the German politician was criticised for turning his European Parliament Twitter account into a PES campaign one, while keeping his presidential followers.

McPhie said the account was a personal one to begin with, created in 2008, before Schulz became EP president. "And even if you look at the statistics from the takeover, we've picked up more followers than Juncker," the spokesman said.

The Liberal top candidate, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, may not have the most followers on Twitter and Facebook, but he has some of the most exotic ideas on how to engage the audience.

One is to generate your own blurb on an online poster with him. The other is to send a selfie (a picture of yourself) showing "your favourite thing about the EU". The winner of the contest gets to spend a day with Verhofstadt.

"I don't want to win that contest, I know how a day with him looks like – travelling around, no time for family and kids," says Didrik de Schaetzen, the Liberal (ALDE) party's head of communications.

De Schaetzen did not want to reveal the overall campaign budget, but said it is "substantially less than the EPP or PES" and "under €1 million".

As for the Greens, who have two top candidates – Ska Keller (the youngest and only female top candidate) and French firebrand Jose Bove – their group is smaller than the Liberals, but larger than the European Left, which would put their budget on around €300,000 to €500,000.

Money aside, the question remains if this first-ever experiment of a pan-European campaign will be successful.

To Selmayr, success will be measured if Juncker or Schulz are appointed President of the EU commission.

"The idea of lead candidates will have become an irreversible process if one of two becomes president," Selmayr said.

Increasing turnout "would also be good" as a consequence of the 'Spitzenkandidaten' system, but not the sole success criterion, he added. EU elections turnout has been on a steady decline ever since EU elections were first held, in 1979.

The ultimate decision, however, lies with EU leaders, who will put forward a name also taking into account the other EU top posts available this year.

But the European Parliament could veto the proposal, which would mean leaders need to come up with a different name within a month.

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Member state leaders have been backed into a corner. They have, as it were, been overtaken by the campaign bus; or outspoken at the TV debate. Yes, the European Parliament is in the process of staging a rather successful coup.

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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.

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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.

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British PM Cameron has reached out to Juncker, after having failed to prevent his nomination as European Commission chief.

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