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Anyone but Barroso February 16, 2009

Posted by didacgp in Uncategorized.
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by Dídac Gutiérrez-Peris

What makes us democrats? Is it some kind of passion for a set of values and principles? Is it the will to be ruled by ourselves more than by an established, distant, authoritarian power? When is democracy “democracy”? If we have to choose one concept, one word, this would be responsibility. Responsibility understood as accountability, as the power and the guarantee given to the citizens to “judge” the political action of the governors. Max Weber said that a politician needs three things, passion, sense of responsibility and sense of distance to take the right decision at the right moment. Responsibility is what makes us democrats.margot-wallstrom-us-lied14oct03

In Europe we don’t have a democracy yet. The European Union remains something of a hybrid, between a federal association of States and a pure functionalist set of institutions, protecting the national interests of each State. We have a Parliament, but we don’t have a parliamentarian system where the members elect and appoint the “executive” power, the Commission. We have elections yes, but the result of these elections is not linked directly with the future composition of the “government” of the European Union.

The question that we, as Europeans, have to ask ourselves is if this institutional imperfection that doesn’t present the European Union as a truly democratic entity can be an excuse for not being democratic, or at least, for not acting with a democratic sense of responsibility.

Five years of a “no man´s land”

All that for saying something pretty simple: I have a problem with the current president of the Commission, J.M Durão Barroso. During his mandate the European Union has failed to present a convincing enough project to the citizens for a new constitutional treaty. During his mandate the Council has become clearly the predominant institution of the EU, the Commission being more at the will of the Member States than that of the “general will” and “general interest” of the European Union, which, as established by European treaties, should be his first mission. During his mandate the Commission has presented some of the most unpopular legislative propositions, some of them rejected by left-right coalitions at the European Parliament like the 65 hours directive. Also, during his mandate, the role of the President of the Commission of improving the “image”, the “prestige”, the “transparency” and the “visibility” of Europe has decreased. I will not make cruel comparisons with the credibility of Prodi or Jacques Delors. I will not comment all the enormous mistakes made by this Commission when dealing with journalists, treating them as “potential spies”, or “boycotting” some of them, as Jean Quatremer puts forward in his blog, one of the most read about European subjects.

Nevertheless, after all the political mistakes and 5 years where Europe has become some kind of no man’s land, Barroso wants to be reappointed.

No one in the public sphere in Europe has the courage to say no (perhaps with the discrete exception of Daniel Cohn-Bendit?). Not even the former president of the Council of European Union, Nicolas Sarkozy, nor the President of the European Parliament. Not even the Party of European Socialists that remains silent in choosing a candidate for the post (and we just have now five months before the European elections). Just some citizens, some teachers, some scholars, some Europhiles look at our leaders asking them: are we the only ones here with a sense of democratic responsibility? Are we the only ones worried about the construction of a more integrated and efficient Europe? Are we the only ones that want a more visible, more popular and more political Europe? All in all, perhaps it is the case.

Credible alternatives

I was thinking these days who I will like to see as the next President of the Commission. The credible alternatives are three (as some blogs and websites as “Anyone But Barroso” created by Jon Worth are pointing out): The French Pascal Lamy, director General of the WTO and former European Commissioner. Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian PM, involved in EU matters for many years, a liberal committed to a strong role for the EU in the world. And finally, my favourite one, Margot Wallström. Probably the only member of the European Commission “who genuinely believes in communicating with citizens and an openness of the EU institutions” as the website “Anyone But Barroso” points out. She is also the first commissioner to have a blog and the current Vice-president of the Commission in charge of Institutional Relations and Communication.

The force of new media

A Swedish socialdemocrat, Europhile convinced. Relatively young. Former Minister of Civil Affairs responsible for Consumer, Women and Youth matters in Sweden, as well as former Minister of Culture for two years.

She has a crucial advantage. During the last American elections we saw how a candidate can win by understanding the power of the Internet and new media and how these media can put ahead the choice of the people before the choice of the administration. Margot is the only one that can mobilize the supporters, mostly young internet users, using the power and force of new media. Internet users are very devoted. They recognize and support pretty easy those politicians who work seriously for them, in their digital field, in their “world”.

Perhaps it is a good opportunity to mobilize us. Some kind of “Internet users of Europe, unite”. Perhaps it is a good opportunity to show that we matter in the decision of who is going to be President of the Commission. I don’t want someone that has failed. If Europe was a democracy, I would vote no to Barroso.


(Jean Quatremer Blog)

http://www.anyonebutbarroso.eu/en/   (Anyone but Barroso)


1. Camille - February 17, 2009

Didac, I share your view, but what about the impact of the European elections? Admittedly, the choice of the President of the European election is not only dependent on the European elections’ result (it would have been stronger with the Lisbon Treaty) but also on the European Council. But if European political parties nominate candidate for the Commission, this could in my mind mobilize voters for the Elections. But for the moment, it looks like we have no other alternative than Barroso. The PES has not ruled out presenting another candidate but it hasn’t done it yet (the Spanish and Portuguese socialists seem to be the troublemakers). How are we going to mobilize voters if at the end, not matter how we vote, Barroso will stay?
I also like your idea of Margot Wallström. Your arguments are interesting. It would also be a strong symbol to have a woman at the head of the Commission! She would be a good candidate for the PSE for the campaign.
As for other alternatives on the left-wing
– Lamy would be great but will he left the WTO while the Doha round is at a crucial stage? and he is left wing and from a large country.
– why did not you mentioned Milliband as the petition’s website mentions him? He indeed did an interesting speech in Bruges in November 2007 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7097162.stm), so I am not fully convinced.
– A commentary on the petition’s website also mentioned Fisher, I would also have like to mention Cohn Bendit, but being Greens, would they gather the support of the two main political groups of the Parliament?
Moreover we should bear in mind that most European government are right-wing or centre-right. And for the moment, there is no left wing coalition in the European Parliament, even on emblematic legislative pieces like the “return directive” or the “working time directive”.
So we should also find alternative name on the right-wing side. You mention Verhofstadt but he had already not succeeded in 2004.
I have also tried to find some names of women and/or politicians from the new member States (that would be another great symbol), but it’s really hard to find out people sufficiently well-known. I have just thought of another Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, liberal, former Bulgarian Minister of European Affairs, and Chief Negotiator for the EU accession process and Special Representative at the Convention on the Future of Europe in 2002/03. She is doing a good job as Commissioner for consumers and she is also very fond of communicating (http://euractiv.com/en/pa/commissioner-kuneva-weapon-communication/article-178573) but I am wondering whether she has really a political vision beyond consumers’ needs.
So a real brainstorming is needed, without being too irrealistic.

2. Vera - February 19, 2009

Even if an ideal democracy we should have at the head of the European Commission “anyone but Barroso”, I would say that right now it seems that we will have “No one but Barroso”!

There is no other credible alternative, and the Portuguese candidate is still a consensual figure.

Of course, it would be audacious and creative to appoint an Eastern European candidate (and also a good strategy to further EU´s integration) but, I agree with Camille when she wonders who that person could possible be.
Any hints? A lot could unfold in the next 8 months..

3. dgp - February 20, 2009

Camille, Vera!
I have not mentionned Miliband because his nationality… I’m afraid that today it is difficult to imagine a british as President of the Commission (I think it is even more possible to see a president from a new member State than brit… 🙂 but I’m sure that he could be a very efficient alternative… we will see, I’m following him since a long time.
And Meglena…. of course!! She was the European Commissioner of the Year 2008 (prize from European Voice if I’m not wrong…). I’m sure she could be a credible alternative for the post too.
I agree with the internal problems of the PES (and more precisely the lack of courage of the portuguese and spanish socialists… 😦
Thanks for sharing your “connaissances” and thoughts 😉

4. DamienRM - March 13, 2009

I agree with all that has been said here, I’m surprised I didn’t stumble into this article before.

Unfortunately Margot really doesn’t seem to want to do it… I have been reading her blog for seemingly years now (oh well, yes I know it’s *has* been years. Time flies, no need to rub it in.) I always thought she’d make a really good president…

But how can no-one have mentioned Rasmussen? He’s been beating around the bush about his candidacy, but it also makes sense, he’s president of the PES.
And as much as I would love to see a woman first elected president of the EC, I must say Rasmussen doesn’t have many defects apart from being an old white straight male, which admittedly he didn’t chose.
And I mean the inventor of flexicurity and life-long learning could be a more heavy-weight alternative to Barroso…

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