Europarlamentet godkendte Jean-Claude Juncker som ny formand for EU-kommissionen idag. Redaktionen ønsker tillykke!
Jeg skrev i foråret en artikel til en konkurrence hos avisen Financial Times, hvor man skulle besvare spørgsmålet: ‘Who should be the next President of the European Commission and what should they do?’
Artiklen blev shortlistet til The Nico Colchester Journalism Fellowship, et legat og praktikophold til unge europæiske journalister, der uddeles af Financial Times og The Economist.
A London postman pushed a thin letter through my mail slot two weeks ago. I was baffled. It was a letter from the local city council. Somehow they found out that I, a Dane studying in London, live in a small street in East London. And I am entitled to vote for the European parliamentary election. Impressive.
The list of candidates for the presidency of the European Commission is less impressive.
The truth is some eight unknown Europeans battle for an office nobody cares about. On a date no one remembers. Actually, scratch that. Only two candidates currently stand a chance of winning. But even when you narrow the race to two, hardly any of the 507 million citizens in the union could name both without getting at least one wrong.
It is said that in a democracy citizens get the ruler they deserve. If that’s the case, then we, the citizens of the European Union, will likely elect a disengaged bureaucrat to match our lack of enthusiasm. We should care, however.
The European Commission is the executive branch of the Union. It’s responsible for drafting out legislation. If you feel French farmers receive too much pocket money from the taxpayers (€8.3bn in subsidies in 2012) or if you’re scared that immigrants from far corners of the continent will steal your job, then you should do your research – and vote.
The two leading candidates, Martin Schulz from the centre-left coalition Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats, and Jean-Claude Juncker from the conservative group European People’s Party, have both drafted out sensible solutions to sensible problems. But don’t get too excited about the two candidates. You cannot vote directly for the president. We, the people, vote for the parliament. They, the political elite, decide if they want to listen.
According to Poll Watch, a website that collects polling data from all member countries, it’s currently a tie between the conservatives and center-left parties. If it’s any comfort for Martin Schulz, he leads his opponent 2:1 in monthly searches on Google. Schulz rakes up 18,100 monthly searches, his competitor 8,100.
In comparison, 11 million people punch in “Miley Cyrus” on Google every month. In other words the people of planet Earth are 600 times more interested in the life of 21-year-old Cyrus than EU’s coming president. All hail the twerk.
The power of the presidential office, arguably, beats that of any American pop star. The European Union is the largest economy in the world and the president presides over a yearly budget upwards €142bn.
Why then, does no one care about the election? Three reasons.
First, Europeans are not fools. They know when they are served a microwave heated dinner instead of a quality meal made from scratch with organic ingredients. Citizens refuse to take interest in mediocre candidates such as Catherine Ashcroft and Herman Van Rompuy. Schulz and Juncker are perhaps better contenders but who knows. In England, for instance, Labour has all but banned Schulz for visiting because his agenda opposes theirs.
Second, European politicians fail to connect with the people they are supposed to govern. They fail to grasp public opinion. A big minority of French, Brits and Danes consider voting for Front Nationale, UKIP and Danish People’s Party. That doesn’t make them racists. They have legitimate concerns for their future, job, families and cultural traditions. Those voices should be respected. And they need representation.
Third, the old ways of doing politics is flawed. The headlong liberalisation of financial markets, laissez-faire regulation and over reliance on debt was utterly wrong. In February, almost 26m Europeans were unemployed. Nearly 5.4m of those are people under the age of 25. The politics of yesterday must make way for the politics of tomorrow. We need change.
The citizens of Europe deserve a president who works for them. That means two things.
The financial service industry must be hauled in. The banks brought the world to the brink of collapse in 2008 and the crisis led to the longest recession since the 30s. The new president must ensure that banks shrink, becomes less risky and enforce the financial transaction tax as proposed. The levy curbs derivative speculation and high frequency trading for short-term profit.
The European Commission estimates that the member states supported banks and financial institutions to the tune of €1.6tn (roughly the same size as Brazil’s entire economy) from October 2008 to December 2011. The financial tax brings in €57 billion annually. It takes 53 years before the revenue equals the amount European taxpayers coughed up to keep the financial sector alive. You’re welcome.
Finally, the presidency must become a true European politician not merely a Brussels bureaucrat. The approach to the office must change. The president must engage in televised debates with common people, visit town hall meetings and listen to the citizens’ concerns. The president must do things that separate a bureaucrat from an elected official. The president must act like a president.
Only then will the presidency be an office worth remembering.