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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…
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!
A chat over coffee (with Veiko Spolitis, Latvian MEP candiate)
That the Latvian public is the most eurosceptic in the EU is very much due to a flawed legislative process and complacent politicians. The public’s distrust vis-à-vis the democratic regime is being transmitted into distrust against the EU institutions. Rather ironically, Eurobarometer polls show that for the last four years the EU institutions were trusted more than Latvian political parties, Latvian governments, and the national Parliament (known as the Saeima).
Distrust could describe the overall mood of the Latvian urban population, whilst apathy and indifference could be said to characterise the countryside. Stagnation of the Latvian political elite has lead to a mushrooming of political parties during the past year. New parties have appealed for transparency, the rule of law, and the “Europeanisation” of Latvian post-Soviet political culture.
While touring Latvia during the election campaign I witnessed a significant amount of indifference and distrust. One of the many questions people asked me was whether they would need to go to Brussels to elect the European Parliament! Such questions made me thoughtful, but in the meantime I also witnessed hope among the younger generation that the EU could assist Latvian civil society in cleaning up the mess. To rid the Latvian political system from its complacent politicians and to upgrade its legal system would take some time. Pan–European party groups could be more instrumental in this process, but they are also institutionally tied with existing political parties.
Two weeks ago I was in a TV debate with Rihards Pīks (MEP – People’s Party). It was a sheer coincidence that the “Guide to Open Europe’s League Table of MEPs” was published at that time. The Honourable MEP in the TV studio – contrary to the results of the study (he was the worst performer among the MEPs from the Baltic States) – tried to convince the audience that the European Parliament must embody transparency and openness if it is to become a credible institution. With such hypocrisy, it is impossible to raise the credibility of EU institutions. It was rather symptomatic that, while the TV host engaged us in a debate about energy security, climate change, and Europe-wide migration, I was preoccupied by the notion that Latvian voters want to see politicians who do not lie and are able to deliver.
Latest news from Denmark courtesy of the EU Observer suggests that, in order to boost turnout in the upcoming elections, Danes will at the same time be able to vote in a referendum on the country’s tradition of Royal succession that would allow men and women to have equal status within the Royal line.
Now, far be it from the The Lobby to be negative about the EU elections, but what has Danish succession got to do with the European Parliament? Once the voting is over, is this not another opportunity for the powers-that-be in Brussels to laud the “surprisingly high turnout” from a traditionally eurosceptic country?
In the same way that the average turnout in EU elections is calculated to include those strange countries where voting is actually obligatory (Belgium and Luxembourg), is this yet another example of skewing the figures artificially upwards?
Low turnout in EU elections sends an important message to the political classes. Lumping in EU elections with an emotive national issue is bound to send the wrong signal to Brussels, even if the signal might be more easily digestible than the reality on the ground.