Friday

18th Aug 2017

Socialists want US-style primaries for commission president candidate

European social democracy is in the doldrums and the members of the continent's centre-left think that a major change at the top of the Party of European Socialists is the solution.

After a rout of the centre-left in last year's European elections, activists with the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) have launched a campaign to push for US-style primary elections within the party to select their candidate for the presidency of the next European Commission in 2014.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the PES at launch of last year's election campaign (Photo: PES)

Frustrated with the failure of the PES to nominate any candidate at all ahead of the June 2009 elections, a pair of long-time activists have rolled out a movement that is proposing that the members of the various social democratic parties across Europe vote to choose who the party will nominate as its presidential candidate.

The Campaign for a PES Primary was kicked off on 26 July by Desmond O'Toole, a member of the Irish Labour Party's Central Council, and Jose Reis Santos, a Lisbon city councillor, and, according to the pair, has met with a "huge response."

Its Facebook group has 570 members and is growing at a rate of about 200 a week. The pair has also set up a Twitter feed to promote the campaign, although Mr O'Toole was keen to stress: "It's not just a few kids playing around with some Facebook group. This is serious."

"Even in the middle of August, we are pleasantly surprised at how this is growing," he told EUobserver, adding that the idea will really take off in September when people return from their summer holidays.

The pair also argues that such a move will go a long way to counter the bloc's infamous "democratic deficit."

"There have long been questions about democracy within the EU and these are only increasing," Mr O'Toole said. "European Parliament elections do mater now more than in the past. But only the [centre-right] EPP put forward a candidate. The PES didn't and we clearly lost out as a consequence. The activists are unsatisfied."

The Strasbourg defeat is only a recent example of European social democracy's steady decline in popular support over the last 30 years.

At the national level, socialists' average level of support in the nineties of almost 30 percent in the then EU12 countries was down from 31 percent in the eighties and 33 percent in the fifties. Over the last decade, the descent has accelerated, dropping to an average of 26.6 percent from 2000-10.

Frustrated with last June's result, the party's annual congress last December in Prague decided that in the future, the PES would always select a European Commission candidate.

"But then this raises the question: How should this person be selected?" Mr O'Toole went on. "This wasn't spelled out, and it's frankly not democratic, it's not good enough if the person is selected by party officials in back rooms."

Mr Santos, writing on the campaign's blog, said this partly explains the falling turnout for EU elections: "Regular citizens are not voting in European and national elections - they just can't feel represented by the politicians in the ballots, as some are chosen behind closed doors, in the clubs and alleys dominated by the party hierarchical system."

They say that a decision on the candidate by the PES Presidium, its executive, or even by its congress, does not go far enough to engage citizens.

"All these options represent old ways of doing politics, and I strongly believe that the European citizens, in particular progressive citizens, do expect more from us," said Mr Santos.

The campaign is hopeful of success as it has yet to meet with any opposition to the idea at any level in the party.

"There is a general feeling that we must do something different. There is a strong value-add for the party. A successful primary campaign, the fight for the candidacy will grab media attention ahead of the elections the way it does in the US and, we hope, give a boost to the party come elections," Mr Santos explained.

The activists believe that such a move will improve democracy not just in their party, but the EU as a whole. Primaries in the PES, they believe, would put pressure on the other parties to make similar moves, so that whoever becomes the head of the EU executive would have a genuine democratic mandate from citizens.

Advocates for more democracy in the EU have long mooted a directly elected president of Europe, or at least of the European Commission. Such a move however would require a treaty change.

"The beauty of this idea is that it requires no such change and takes the treaty where we find it, but achieves a similar end," Mr Santos added.

The campaign intends to take soundings of national leaders and MEPs whom they hope will back the project.

"There is a huge issue about the legitimacy of the EU. Laws are made for us by people who aren't that accountable. Zapatero, Aubry, they are all as aware of this as anyone," said Mr O'Toole.

"The PES is supposed to be the progressive force in politics. Well, let's progress, let's inject some more democracy into the EU."

News in Brief

  1. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  2. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  3. Russian power most feared in Europe
  4. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  5. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  6. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns
  7. Danish police to investigate misuse of EU fishing rules
  8. German constitutional court questions ECB's €2tn spending

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy