The EP elections, the five year democratic interruption to the Brussels game, are long in the past. Everyone is back from their summer holidays, ready for a bout of jousting and positioning in that depressing and opaque game: how to put together a team of 27 Commissioners.

Barroso - CC / Flickr
Barroso - CC / Flickr

The nomination of José Manuel Barroso as President of the Commission looks to be a dead cert. The Heads of State and Government have already nominated him but the EP is waiting to give their approval until the Irish have made up their mind on the Treaty of Lisbon.

The Socialists and the Greens in the EP say the Commission needs strong leadership yet they lack anyone that could provide it. This has not stopped Barroso getting a bit nervous however, and it seems he has hit upon the idea of putting in a high profile socialist as Vice President of the Commission. Barroso doesn’t want a socialist like Margot Wallström who might actually stand for something; he instead wants Alfred Gusenbauer, ex Chancellor of Austria, a man who never acquitted himself at European level. He’s best known in Brussels for once calling Barroso “Barolo”.

Werner Faymann - CC / Flickr
Werner Faymann - CC / Flickr

Problem is that the Austrian government, a grand coalition headed up by current social democrat Chancellor Werner Faymann, doesn’t want a social democrat in the Commission at all. The government in Vienna has made it clear it wants a member of the ÖVP, the conservative junior coalition partners – probably Wolfgang Molterer or Ursula Plassnik – to get the position in Brussels instead. The game being played out is reported in more depth in English here and here, and all the candidates are explained in German here.

I can’t make up my mind what’s more stupid here. Surely a social democrat Prime Minister should put forward a social democrat Commissioner, rather than rewarding the ÖVP? I suspect however it’s realpolitik from Faymann, sending an opponent like Molterer away to Brussels for 5 years. Gusenbauer is probably no threat to Faymann, and hence does not need to be rewarded. With games like this being played by its politicians, and the role of the Kronenzeitung, is it any surprise that Austria is one of the most eurosceptic countries in Europe?

Alfred Gusenbauer - CC / Flickr
Alfred Gusenbauer - CC / Flickr

But what is Barroso playing at? Surely he should properly have sounded out Vienna before the name of Gusenbauer was raised in public (although Barroso’s spokesman Laitenberger has denied Gusenbauer is in the running). But then, as Julien Frisch points out, we should have no more hope that Barroso is going to be any better in a second term than he was in his first.

On another issue regarding the Commission – what its plans are for the next 5 years – I was asked by a friend in the UK Labour Party if it was not strange that Michal Kaminski, leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) containing the UK Tories, has said things like “Much of the agenda presented by Barroso, such as his focus on completing the single market, is welcome” (more here). Just think about that for a moment. It’s actually not at all illogical for Kaminski to be backing Barroso because the Portuguese is vacuous and weak, just the way parties of the right would want it.

What is completely wrong and unacceptable is that politicians of the left – Faymann, Zapatero, Socrates, Brown – are all so willing to defend a right wing agenda for the Commission. You can bet that when the left gets crushed again at the 2014 EP elections there will be a further bout of soul searching but the left is making the errors now, every day, at European level, and will deserve whatever kicking it gets in the future due to a complete and utter lack of leadership or ideology. It’s hopeless.

(Cross-posted to Social Europe)


  1. Nils Woerner

    Your frustration with a process that should be political but ends up tactical is understandable. But I believe that your conclusion that it is the failure of leadership and consistency is not hitting the cause of the problem.

    It is perfectly normal that people and politicians act according to their individual advantage. This is popular knowledge in political science since Machiavelli in the 15th century. Hoping for the heads of state to put the well-being of ideals before the well-being of their particular interest is a noble wish but unlikely. Waiting for it is indeed a hopeless thing.

    It is not the socialists as a movement that fail in this case. It is the decision making process that leads to such an outcome. The whole procedure how the Commission President is chosen is “festered” and the symptoms that you complain about are a demonstration of it. It has nothing to do with political families as such. The liberals and greens have the same problems. And the conservatives would have the same problems if they were not in the majority.

    In my eyes it’s the process that needs to be changed. Hoping that the European parties (that are helpless in the face of governments decisions) change their approach means hoping that Machiavelli’s observations can be overcome.


    We added your article on our EU news website for Austria.

  3. I am not sure that Faymann really wants to “send away an opponent” – I think it’s far more simple: he has promised his coalition partner that they will get the post of EU Commissioner. And he wants to keep that promise.

    When the deal was made some people have speculated that the it was all about the following: the SPÖ will get the post of director-general of ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, which is – as public broadcaster – by far the most influential media of the country) and the ÖVP can get the post of EU Commissioner (who is not important at all for winning elections in Austria).

    More in an interview here (last paragraph) and a press release here.

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