Every fifth year is decisively different for the EU: election years. And this year is one of those years. For the 40% of the population that will go to vote it’s a relatively minor event, but in Brussels itself election years are very different. MEPs try to cram a few extra reports into the few sessions in spring, the European Commission winds down, and then everyone plays a game of chicken behind closed doors to determine how the juicy jobs are going to be allocated. At best it all looks opaque, at worst you get a mess similar to that caused by Rocco Buttiglione.
The EP election debate, in as far as there will be one about EU matters, will be dominated by a debate to what extent the EU should influence our lives. Eurosceptics will bemoan the ‘Brussels Bureaucrats’ taking away national power, and the governments in power won’t contradict this to say that it was their permanent representations that gave the go ahead to everything anyway. In the meantime the mainstream parties will put forward safe candidates that are not going to do anything radical on the election campaign trail.
Then there’s the issue of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Czech Republic took on this task yesterday, meaning the scary combination of Topolanek’s weak government, and Vaclav Klaus, will be responsible for giving the EU direction. The Presidency website looks like something made out of lego and I’m worried what will happen if the EU hits a crises with these guys in the chair.
Lastly the new Commission: we’ll almost certainly get flaccid Barroso back for a second term (Anyone But Barroso if you don’t want it!), the only Commissioner who is remotely down to earth and communicative will step down, and most of the member states will either nominate relative unknowns or people that they have outlived their useful lives in national politics.
So what hope for anything positive in 2009? I’m not hopeful… And I haven’t even mentioned Ireland and the Treaty of Lisbon.
Presidency of the Council:
at least a permanent website, please, at least a permanent website…
Seriously: my only hope is Sarkozy,
not because I trust him (if I had been French I would never have voted him!) but because of his boundless ambition, he felt in love with the power which can rise from a continental union and he will seek for it again… and if Lisbon will get in this can be a key to a stronger President of the Council, perhaps President of the Commission at the same time… but of course this couldn’t happen in 2009…
Recently I started to think if it could be better for EU to have a stronger Council more and more similar to a real federal government with a very strong Parliament as a counter balance and a Commission just charged to safeguard the respect of the treaties. Well, I know this seems just abstract speculation.
Some very true points there. My best bet for genuinly positive rays of light in 2009 will be the discussions on climate change, energy security and workers’ rights. If a few conflicts flare up maybe even some good stuff on conflict prevention and negotiation.
Apart from that a rather dull and uninspiring year awaits pro-Europeans whereas Eurosceptics will be in for one hell of a year. The first pan European chance to ‘protest vote’ against the EU or unloved governments since 2004 – bearing in mind that since the 2004 elections we have witnessed the peoples of 3 member states voting against important EU referendums while the most citizens just watched the EU in pure Schadenfreude. To be honest, I’m scared. The 2009 EP elections have the potential to create similar silly discussions about Europe as witnessed by the Libertas campaign in Ireland or far-right anti-muslim campaigns across Europe… Whilst a majority of ‘moderate’ or ‘mainstream’ European voters will not go to the polls, those who actually go out and vote might just manage to facilitate the emergence of one or even two significant anti-EU factions in the EP.
We’re in for a tough year.
Some interesting thoughts there Ralf… I hope some of those do come to pass. While I agree with you on many of the points (energy, recession) it’s undoubtedly the case that the EU needs some decent leaders to put those sorts of ideas forward. I doubt where those communicators are to be found.
Also don’t think I am just against stuff! The atheist bus campaign tries to be a positive alternative to religion, and I would be happy to see a modern British republic! 🙂
You have already relaunched your web site and your No to God, the Queen and Barroso, so perhaps it is an opportune moment to think about what 2009 might mean for EU citizens.
Let us imagine:
1) Three or more Europarties field candidates for the Commission Presidency, giving the European Parliament elections at least some European dimension (and these parties an excellent media platform).
2) The economic recession makes a few more people realise that European level answers (incomplete as they are) give more hope than solo acts and protectionist moves.
3) Despite problems and tensions, the euro is strengthened in the eyes of the public, who see the greater vulnerability of national currencies.
4) Energy security shifts European leaders towards less obstructionism in foreign and security policy.
5) Iceland applies for EU membership and the negotiations are concluded in record time, because the country is already part of the internal market through the European Economic Area and participates in a number of EU programmes.
6) The Czech Council (not EU) Presidency manages to pilot the approval of the Lisbon Treaty through the only member state parliament that has not as yet voted for the treaty, namely their own. (Even Gibraltar and the Åland Islands manage to decide if they want to apply the Lisbon Treaty.)
7) The Irish electors realise that they need Europe with the Lisbon Treaty or they more or less gracefully bow out.
8) The British anti-EU opinion thrives until there is hardly anything left to opt out of anymore, but it takes the more farsighted parts of Europe well beyond 2009 to construct a robust, effective and democratic union, which has left the paralysing ‘liberum veto’ behind it.
9) Newly independent Greenland dreams of oil and gas riches, so it isn’t going to rejoin the European Union anytime soon.
10) After the most high-flying hype has been laid to rest, the United States and the European Union build a reasonably constructive relationship.