vineri, 4 mai 2012

Is it still possible to have European primary elections?

In a recent debate, Daniel Cohn-Bendit – representative of the Greens in the European Parliament (EP) – presented a proposal to organize primary elections in order to elect the successor of José Manuel Barroso.

Also recently, Guy Verhofstadt – leader of the liberals in the EP – highlighted the possibility to elect the president of the European Commission (EC) from the Members of the European Parliament. All these debates are taking place 2 years before the EP elections (in 2014), but already in 2010 I expressed a possible realistic calendar for primaries.

A recent visit to Bucharest of ex-prime minister Tony Blair confirmed my theory that it is important to have primary elections in the EU. National politicians showed enormous interest in Tony Blair, and national media largely covered his presence in Romania: all this visibility for a person who, although he did influence recent history of the EU, hasn’t held any official political position in Europe for a while.

Let’s imagine a mechanism in which a left-wing oriented person, like Blair, will run as a candidate for the presidency of the EC. Moreover, in order to have a “complete menu”, it would be interesting to organise primaries, where the left-wing candidate for the presidency is chosen by the European citizens from, for example, 4 eligible left-wing candidates. Much like the French Socialists primaries in autumn 2011 (it’s true that in this example, the primaries were for the national elections, but it was still interesting).

Let’s take the argument a bit further and say that the 4 other left-wing candidates are for example: David Miliband, Sergei Stanishev, Jose Luis Zapatero and Alfred Gusenbauer. All of them would go to each Member State to claim the votes of the Socialists or Social Democrats from that state. I am sure that in the weeks leading up to the primaries, there will be big media coverage around this nationally: debates will be aired live across the country where the primary will be held next, and the subject of campaigns will clearly be European topics, not necessarily directly connected to local and national subjects and issues.

This would facilitate the dream of the EP, and the EU in general: debates across Europe focussing on EU topics, which will be featured on front pages of newspapers, and hours and hours on national television in order to ‘mediatise’ the possible leaders of the EU.

More and more academics say that “the EU public sphere will merge with the national public spheres”. The mechanism discussed here will give more legitimacy to EU institutions, involving the citizens in this communication game. I expressed this publically already in 2009 and I hope that the window of opportunity offered by the 2014 elections will not be missed.

Dan LUCA / Brussels

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