Monday

22nd Oct 2018

EU commissioner backs Royal in French election

  • Margot Wallstrom - offering personal opinions in her public blog (Photo: European Community, 2006)

Although Brussels is formally keeping quiet on who it would like to see win the French elections, certain individual commissioners have been less discreet.

Margot Wallstrom, the EU communications commissioner, has made an all-out plug for socialist candidate Segolene Royal in her blog.

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In an entry posted on Monday, the day after presidential elections that saw Ms Royal go through to the second round run-off on 6 May against Nicolas Sarkozy, the commissioner wrote that she "cheered" the achievements of her fellow socialist politician.

Continuing her blog in French, Ms Wallstrom says that "maybe more than anything else, I was so happy to see that a woman will take part in the second round of the presidential elections."

Noting that there are women ministers in several governments, particularly in Finland, she emphasizes that this is the first time a woman has made it through to the second round in France.

"It's historic and I wanted, as a woman involved in politics, to pay homage to Segolene Royal and wish her 'good luck' for what comes."

A spokesperson said her comments were "personal" but they reflect the increasing trend towards politicisation of the European Commission.

Dutch commissioner Neelie Kroes sparked criticism in 2005 when just days before the elections, she openly supported Angela Merkel to become chancellor of Germany.

In addition, blogs also raise the question of where the line is drawn between the personal and the public. Last year, Ms Wallstrom's comments in her blog in support of scrapping the European Parliament's seat in Strasbourg were widely reported as news.

Not above a little politics

In previous years, the commission and its commissioners - often ex-politicians themselves - tended to keep a distance between Brussels and national politics, hovering somewhat above the domestic fray.

The treaty itself says that commissioners should be impartial and work for the European cause, stipulating they must be "completely independent in the performance of their duties" in the general interest of the European community.

But as the European Union has evolved, the commission has sought to rebrand itself as more of a political entity.

This is partially as a reaction to its own commissioners, some of whom have found the corridors of power in the commission stultifying when compared to the cut and thrust of domestic politics.

At the moment, Louis Michel, the EU's commissioner for development, is on unpaid leave because he is taking part in Belgium's federal elections.

During the last commission Italian prime minister Romano Prodi actively campaigned in the general elections in Italy while still head of the Brussels executive and Greek commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou also took a leave of absence for domestic elections and then resigned after winning a seat.

The commission says this is part and parcel of the job, that its commissioners are politicians and that they do not exist in a vacuum.

Its revised code of conduct for commissioners allows them to "be active members of political parties or trade unions." If they are to play an "active" role in an election campaign they have to "withdraw from the work of the commission for the duration of the campaign."

Connecting with citizens

Some also say, including Mr Michel himself, that it is part of reconnecting with Europe's citizens.

But critics argue the practice undermines both the commission and the portfolio concerned. For their part, MEPs in the development committee have asked for a legal opinion on Mr Michel's electioneering, saying it violates the EU's treaty.

He is expected to be called before the MEPs at the beginning of next month to justify why he should be able to remain as commissioner when running in the 10 June elections.

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