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While EU news is focussing on candidates for the new top jobs created by the Treaty of Lisbon, The Lobby goes back to basics and lists the seven things you should know about the upcoming President of the European Council.

  1. He will chair the European Council (aka European Summit) that becomes an official EU body with Lisbon. This body will gather all EU Heads of State or Government at least twice every six months – with the main task of giving a political direction to the EU.
  2. He will act as a supreme deal breaker in the horse-trading taking place when the EU’s top leaders discuss contentious issues and will have to ensure continuity when they establish the EU’s political priorities.
  3. He will not chair the Council (aka the Council of Ministers) meetings; hence the 6-month rotating Presidency system among Member States remains broadly unaffected, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council which will be chaired by the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
  4. He will be elected by Heads of State by qualified majority (though unanimity would be highly preferable) and will be in office for 2.5 years, renewable once.
  5. He will not replace the European Commission President, but will probably cast a shadow over him given the profile of the job, his official function of external representation of the EU, and the added complexity this brings to the EU structure.
  6. He will not have any voting rights in the European Council, and nor for that matter will the Commission President who is also a member of the body.
  7. He will not be the President of Europe, his functions will be merely administrative, and his actions will no doubt be restrained by the mandate he receives or doesn’t receive from the Heads of State.

Finally, it looks like he will not be a “she” bearing in mind the absence of women among the currently most plausible candidates. For his part, Jerzy Buzek, the President of the European Parliament, has called for the European Council to choose a woman ideally from an eastern European country.

– Talander

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To change, or not to change?

To change, or not to change?

Boiko Borisov – former fire-fighter, bodyguard, karate black belt, and most recently Mayor of Sofia – won the Bulgarian general elections, with his centre right party (GERB) gaining a landslide victory of 40%, beating the ruling Socialists by a 22% margin.

Other than a change in government and new negotiators around the table of the Council of Ministers, the election outcome may have one more important consequence for Brussels. Current Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who was elected to the European Parliament a month ago, may be persuaded by Sofia to vacate her position in the Commission.

Highly respected in Brussels, Commissioner Kuneva has a good chance of retaining her post in the Commission if the new Borisov government thinks that her popularity will secure an important portfolio for Bulgaria. Yet voices in Sofia reproach her for not having supported more vehemently the Bulgarian cause in the EU, and Kuneva’s liberal party suffered a resounding defeat on Sunday.

Therefore alternatives exist, and The Lobby has heard that the most likely person to replace Kuneva is rumoured to be EPP Vice Chair Rumiana Jeleva, a founding member of GERB, who has been sitting in the European Parliament’s Regional Committee for the last two years.

While Jeleva may not possess sufficient standing within Brussels to obtain a key post in the new Commission, her expertise in regional policy may well give her a fighting chance of replacing departing Regional Commissioner, the Pole Danuta Hübner. After all, heading the department that takes the spending decisions on the EU’s cohesion and structural funds would be an attractive alternative for Bulgaria – currently one of the poorest countries in the EU.

– Felix

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One person’s democracy is another person’s dictatorship.  Or so you would believe if you’ve been following the interminable debate surrounding the next Commission President.  Will it be the incumbent José Manuel Barroso?  Or will it be….er…. well, actually there are no other candidates at the time of writing.

Barroso is of course affiliated to the EPP group, who increased their lead over the Socialists and the rest so markedly following last month’s elections.  No other party has put forward a candidate, so he’s a shoe-in, right?

Not according to the Socialists.  Or the Liberals.  Or the Greens.  According to them, the Council has foisted Barroso on a reluctant Parliament and is trying to rush MEPs into approving Barroso this month. So much so that there is now increasing support for the vote in the Parliament to be put back until the Autumn – or until Barroso decides that he faces too much opposition in the Parliament and calls it quits.

Barroso has the support of the largest party in the European Parliament, the support of the Member States including “Socialist” leaders in Spain and the UK, and – so it would appear – the support of the European electorate, since it was his party that stormed the elections in June – and not the Socialists.  Or the Liberals.  Or the Greens.

Hence a Barroso appointment would appear to meet all the requirements of “democracy”, yet his political opponents in the Parliament are trying to portray this process as precisely undemocratic, because they don’t feel they have been properly consulted.

All of which leaves Barroso in limbo, the EPP holding their collective head in their hands, and the EU electorate wishing they could elect the Commission President to spare us this whole charade.  Now that would be democracy in action….

– Rob

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Verhofstadt eyes up his eurosceptic opposition

Verhofstadt eyes up his eurosceptic opposition

After the EPP, the newly-termed PASD (Socialists), and the Greens had elected their leaders last week, the Parliament’s third force, the Liberal ALDE group finally followed suit yesterday by nominating Guy Verhofstadt as their new leader. Since the support for his candidature was so overwhelming, Diana Wallis, the only other serious contender for the post, dropped out of the race before it even came to the vote.

It will be interesting to see in which direction the former Belgian Prime Minister steers the European Liberals in the coming months. No doubt his nomination as group leader will set off some heated confrontations between the currently-confident Eurosceptics and the markedly Euro-federalist Verhofstadt.

Within his own party, composed of diverse representatives from around 18 Member States, there could yet be some sensitivity towards Verhofstadt’s ambition to create a “United States of Europe”, a stance that had previously led to his defeat in the 2004 nomination race for President of the Commission.

In an ironic twist, Verhofstadt, who just a couple of weeks ago was one of the most likely contenders to challenge Mr Barroso, may now actually play a crucial role in re-nominating his former opponent for a second term. Verhofstadt will now make his support for Barroso subject to a number of concessions, one of which may be a liberal President of the European Parliament. Finally, Graham Watson’s dream may come true…

– Felix

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Yesterday’s election of party leaders marked another important staging post in the build-up to next month’s first session of the new Parliament.  Unfortunately, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  Frenchman Joseph Daul of the EPP and the German Martin Schulz of the PES were both re-elected comfortably – in the case of Daul, only 3 members out of 239 voted against him.

Joseph Daul - overwhelmingly elected

Joseph Daul - overwhelmingly elected

Martin Schulz - lucky to be elected

Martin Schulz - lucky to be elected

Where are the new faces set to light up the next Parliamentary term?

Both Daul and Schulz are well-respected within the Parliament – Schulz has been mooted in the past as a potential German Commissioner – but it seems a shame that the two largest groups seem happy to retain the status quo and not look for a fresh start, particularly in the face of growing disillusionment – or boredom? – reflected in the record low turnout at the ballot boxes earlier this month.  Schulz in particular can count himself lucky to still be leading a party group which foundered alarmingly in the EU elections.

Where is the backstabbing?  Where is the political intrigue?  The coups?  The veiled threats?  Politics should be more exciting than this…

– Rob

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Proof that MEPs are back at work

Proof that MEPs are back at work

Spotted by The Lobby in the halls of the European Parliament:  a poster advertising a 6-hour course for MEPs on how to work with lobbyists.

Or possibly it is merely a command to our new Parliamentarians: “Work with lobbyists”.

Either way, The Lobby is heartened to see MEPs taking “les lobbyistes” seriously, and if ever they require a guest speaker for any future sessions, we would be all too happy to oblige.

– Rob and Delphine

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We’ve seen it all before. Susan Boyle, the Mentos + Diet Coke experiment, the Star Wars kid, and MEP Daniel Hannan – they’re excellent examples of concepts going viral, propelling their protagonists and or content to international ‘fame’ in a matter of days.

Now it has happened again, but this time on Amazon.com. In the last few weeks, sales of a kitschy t-shirt depicting three wolves and a moon have shot up 2,300 %(!) after comments on the online retailer’s website went viral. Amazon user ‘Bee-Dot-Govern’ posted the first review of the t-shirt stating “Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women” but “cannot see wolves when sitting with arms crossed”. This comment helped generate another 454 reviews, many of them ironic, and these have in turn been read by 5,831 readers (figures at the time of writing) effectively making the shirt go viral.

Viral marketing is for many marketers the Holy Grail (making something go viral is easier said than done though). It’s high time MEPs and MEP candidates start thinking about their electorate in a different manner. Just as marketers try to identify individuals with a high Social Networking Potential (SNP) and create viral messages tailored to this segment of consumers in the hope of giving their messages a higher probability of being passed along, so should MEPs.

Generation Z is growing up quickly and politicians will pay dearly if they ignore these digital-natives. It’s time to re-think the traditional campaign poster…

– Emil

(UPDATE 18/06/09: Presently the number of reviews have risen to 1,094 and the number of  people having seen the reviews to 10,754)

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A French Farmer Activist. For those of you who are not French, this may sound like tautology, but the French farmer activist who The Lobby would like to draw your attention to is the controversial José Bové, elected in France on the green ticket. No doubt he shares most of the political beliefs of the other Green MEPs – anti ‘malbouffe’ (junk food), anti-GMOs, anti-nuclear, pro consumers, pro organic, pro environment. But away from ‘HOME’ one wonders if José will not feel like a fish out of water sitting in the European Parliament!

Firstly, Monsieur Bové is no great EU supporter, as proved by his campaign for the “No” vote in the French referendum on the EU Constitution in 2005. What’s more, he is the “salt of the earth”, a man ready to fight – literally! – for his convictions. His track record is impressive: deported by the Israeli police for leading a protest in the West Bank, a former member of the anarchist organisation Alternative Libertaire, sentenced for having destroyed documents belonging to the French Army, sentenced for the destruction of several transgenic plants, and declared “ineligible” to enter the US as a result of being prosecuted for “moral crimes”.

But the most famous event which brought Monsieur Bové to everyone’s attention was the dismantling of a McDonald’s franchise in 1999. So who knows what will happen to the Parliament now that Brussels is his new playground!

– Delphine

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Barroso at risk?

Barroso at risk?

As expected (see Elections re-shape party alliances), the Socialist group in the European Parliament has agreed to re-brand in a move to welcome the main Italian’s opposition party, the Partito Democratico (PD). In the past legislature, the Partido Democratico was split between the PES and the ALDE, putting the Italian Democrats in an uncomfortable position.

Renaming the “Party of European Socialists” as the “Alliance of Socialists and Democrats” (ASDE) was not an easy task due to the opposition of several socialist MEPs, scared of losing the socialist essence of the second largest group of the Parliament. However, the poor election result of the Socialists across Europe made the re-branding a less bitter pill to swallow and the Socialists were finally pleased to welcome their new fellow-members.

The first consequence of this move is numeric, and as such, political: the current 162 MEP strong socialist group will be propped up by another 21 members from Italy, which will also significantly shift the left-right balance of the parliament back towards the centre, thereby making centre left majorities more likely again. Second, the PES is opening-up to a wider spectrum of parties across Europe, possibly attracting further MEPs into their group. Finally, the move could increase the growing support for Mr Guy Verhofstadt to replace Barroso at the helm of the European Commission: one of the conditions for the Italian Democrats to join the new group was that they would oppose a new term for Barroso.

It is therefore no accident that Socialist leader Martin Schulz was quoted yesterday strongly opposing Barroso’s run for a new term. Today, the NUE/GUL group also suggested that it would rather support Guy Verhofstadt than Barroso. The Socialists, the Liberals, and the Greens have now announced their dissatisfaction with the Portuguese candidate.

The coming weeks will be exciting indeed…the scene is set; let the political wheeling and dealing begin!

– Ilja and Felix

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Newly elected Father Mitro

Newly elected Father Mitro

A few rather unusual new members of the new European Parliament introduced by Le Figaro newspaper reflect a new direction within EU politics.

It seems that EU citizens no longer solely choose their representatives along the traditional left-right lines but instead opt for personalities and specific issues that cannot be classified simply as “right wing” or “left wing”. New campaign topics and campaigning tools are creating a new form of public opinion which can be very fast-moving, very topic-focused, and very much linked to charismatic personalities.

A few recent electoral successes illustrate this point well: a media-friendly Finnish priest known for his sense of humour (“Father Mitro”), who’s stated he will never stop wearing his cassock, gathered more than 71,000 direct votes, although he decided to go with the Social Democrats only in May; the Swedish Pirate Party which fights for the freedom of access to the internet and the right to online privacy won 1 seat, despite the party only being created in 2006; the sudden focus on transparency has led to populists such as Austrian Hans-Peter Martin being re-elected; the Greens have shown that citizens now care as much about the environment as about social and economic issues; and the revival of nationalist and xenophobic parties in some countries poses a serious threat to traditional democratic parties.

Today, debates flare up and die out very quickly. Politicians who catch the right trends at the right moment can enjoy substantial success.

Now, with all these guys around, who says the new Parliament won’t be hitting the headlines in the months ahead?

– Stephanie

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