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COMMENTS 

'Highly problematic, to put it mildly'

Deciphering the Conservative Party’s proposals for a new ‘British Bill of Rights’ is not an easy task, as the eight-page policy document is riddled with errors, distortions and imprecise language. What is more, their two main policy aims are highly problematic, argues
Colm O'Cinneide
9 October 2014
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Starts: Oct 9, 2014 12:00:00 AM

UK & EU: New Faces, Old Problems?

The row between Britain and its allies that accompanied the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as the new Commission President was seen by some as an effective short-term tactic from David Cameron. But the ‘Juncker bounce’ was short-lived and left Cameron in a long-term strategic pickle.
Paola Buonadonna
6 October 2014
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Starts: Oct 6, 2014 12:00:00 AM

Five lessons of the Juncker Affair

It is now three months since Jean-Claude Juncker was elected President of the Commission, against the express wishes of the British and Hungarian governments.  What lessons can we draw from this episode about British attitudes to the European Union?
6 October 2014
Prof Michael Shackleton
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Starts: Oct 6, 2014 12:00:00 AM

"This time it's different" – The Impact of the European Election

Publication date: Dec 19, 2013 2:25:00 PM

Start: Dec 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM

"This time it's different", according to the European Parliament information campaign about the 2014 European Elections.  Posters and videos are urging citizens to "Act. React. Impact." But what has actually changed since 2009?
Fional Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP for the North East of England
December 2013


For the first time, there will be a direct link between the elections to the European Parliament and the question of who will take on one of the most powerful political role in Brussels -  the President of the European Commission. Due to a paragraph in the Lisbon Treaty (2009), the European Council must take into account the outcome of the election when making its choice for Commission President, thereby raising the political stakes for all European political parties. This is one reason why it can be argued that the results next May will have a bigger impact than before.

Like the other main political parties, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) wants to field a strong candidate for Commission President. All of the main groups in the Parliament will do so, with some already announcing their candidates. The idea is that this will put a face on the campaign in a way that is unusual for European elections. The first step in the process was the ALDE Party Congress at the end of November, when delegates  adopted the ALDE party election manifesto. Potential candidates will have to explain what they would do, if they were President, to further the manifesto aims. Possible nominations will be discussed when Liberal leaders get together shortly before the European Council meeting on 19th December, and should more than one candidate emerge there will be a selection campaign followed by a vote at a special conference at the beginning of February.

Candidates are being rather shy about coming forward, although a number of high profile names have already ruled themselves out. Sir Graham Watson, Liberal Democrat MEP for the South West of England and President of the ALDE Party has said that he is not putting his name forward as he is overseeing the process as President. It seems likely that Guy Verhofstadt, the controversially pro-federalist ex-Prime Minister of Belgium, will announce his candidacy. Other possibilities include the Liberal Finnish Commissioner Olli Rehn, high-profile German Minister for Foreign Affairs Guido Westerwelle (although this is less likely since the electoral disaster for the FDP in September this year) and the current Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The problem is that these high-profile people do not want to put their name forwards only to lose, and may well be engaging with the process with more subtlety, establishing whether they have the support to announce their candidacy.

This process will impact what happens immediately after the European Elections in May when the process of deciding who will become Commission President will begin. There will be a package element to the negotiations, with the posts of President of the Parliament and President of the Council in the frame as well, because no one would think it right that one party or nationality takes all. The new Parliament will face some intense weeks of discussion and negotiation to determine which of the party candidates can command the support of a majority of MEPs. There is also an emerging convention that due to the increasing role of the European Parliament, MEPs would prefer to vote for someone who has come from the Parliament (although this is not specifically set out in the treaty). This is an added complication with candidates, as it raises the questions of how to get those who are not currently MEPs to become one.

A stand-off between the Parliament and the Council could occur if the Parliament, having gone through an intense haggle to get MEPs lined up behind one candidate, then finds that the Council has chosen someone completely different. A recent announcement from Angela Merkel that there was "no automatic link" between the votes cast in the European Elections and the appointment of people to the top positions could also  prove to be controversial, not least for her own European grouping (EPP), which had promised to "put a face" on the election.

Will any of this bear upon how people vote in the European Election campaign in the UK? Probably not. Ask people in Newcastle what they think of “ALDE” and they are likely to tell you it is cheaper than Tesco’s but Morrison’s has better biscuits. It may be a few years yet before that changes.