EU rivals in TV battle for votes

 

Excerpts from EU rivals' TV debate

It was billed by the hosts as Europe's first-ever presidential television debate - which may have flummoxed Europeans unaware they had a president. And they don't.

But there is a President of the European Commission, and the four contenders taking questions from young voters in Maastricht are all campaigning for the job.

Wearing tiny microphone headsets and standing at their podiums bathed in blue lighting the quartet of candidates wrestled over Europe's economic future, immigration, disenchantment with the EU and Ukraine.

A brief reminder who they are: Ska Keller is the candidate of Europe's Green parties; Jean-Claude Juncker represents the centre-right European People's Party (EPP); the European Parliament President Martin Schulz is the Social Democrat in the race and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is the Liberal hope. All, I think it's fair to say, relatively unknown outside their own countries.

On one issue they all agreed - that this was an excellent way to pick the next EU Commission president. Citing the new powers of the Lisbon Treaty, they've agreed between themselves that whichever group is the biggest in parliament after the European elections - their man or woman (there's one) will lead the Commission.

As far as the candidates are concerned, this is about personalising abstract European politics. Putting faces to the parties. Increasing the democratic legitimacy of the Commission president and trying to arrest falling turnout in European elections.

The four rival candidates - from left, G Verhofstadt, M Schulz; S Keller; J-C Juncker The four rival candidates: (from left) G Verhofstadt, M Schulz; S Keller; J-C Juncker
Sharp words on Ukraine

So was this one of the greats in the annals of political TV debates? Not exactly - but its novelty gave it a character of its own. The host broadcaster Euronews parcelled out the time equally between the candidates across the 90-minute debate. Some spoke more on one subject than others - leading to good-natured confusion.

If there was a particularly punchy disagreement between two of the four their faces were paired together on the screen. Rhetorically the debate was strikingly free of stale sound-bites - even if the positions sketched out by the candidates were familiar.

Mr Juncker - the dry exponent of sound money; Mr Schulz - the passionate critic of austerity; Mr Verhofstadt vigorously harried his main opponents. Ska Keller - a generation closer to the audience than the others - received strong applause when she said Europe had to confront the far-right, not appease it.

The most heated exchanges were over the EU's response to the crisis in Ukraine.

So will this political version of the Eurovision song contest make a difference? In Europe's national capitals several governments mutter that it won't.

The European Council - the grouping of EU government leaders - is opposed to the parliament having the decisive say in picking the next Commission president. And that only adds to the surreal nature of these novel debates.

 

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 80.

    // Alan Marr
    There seems to be a lot of anti EU people here. Generally these people are ignorant to the enormous good the EU does ..//

    And there you go, thinking those of us who oppose the EU are 'ignorant'...

    Clueless arrogance on your part.

    You clearly don't realise plenty of countries outside the EU are great on the environment, and plenty inside are terrible.

    Check out Italy's record...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 79.

    It's a good start for the EU to become more democratic. As for the Ukippers, the UK already tried once to oppose to the formation of the United States of America.
    The rest is history.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 78.

    @75.Sam M
    Why Alex Salmond wants to leave the Union and join this bunch of .. europhiles is beyond me

    he doesn't Scotland is patently already in the EU, so from an anti-EU perspective he wants to leave the union which now only serves to limit the Scottish parliaments powers & give it a voice in the EU where most the laws are actually made - if that what you believe about the EU

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 77.

    What a bunch of nonentities , the sooner we leave the EU the better.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 76.

    There seems to be a lot of anti EU people here. Generally these people are ignorant to the enormous good the EU does especially for the environment. Britain has gained a great deal from membership because there has been legislation that a national British government would not do such as cleaning up the environment. We were the dirty man of Europe .

 

Comments 5 of 80

 

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