‘No Winner’ in the 2nd EU Presidential Debate

Written by | Monday, May 12th, 2014

  The European University Institute (EUI) in Florence hosted the second EU Presidential Debate in the run-up to the EU parliament elections in two weeks (22-25 May), in which four candidates for the European Commission president – front-runner German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, and Luxembourg Christian Democrat Jean-Claude Juncker, the Belgian Liberal Guy Verhofstadt, and French Green José Bové – may have left many in the audience rather perplexed about what the real political message and agenda of each of the four contenders actually is. They left the impression that the four presidential candidates generally agree on most issues raised during the debate – in short, there were no winners and no losers. Even George Soros, the billionaire financier and prominent international supporter of democratic ideals and causes, who was invited to join a discussion about the disintegration and revival of the European Union, held ahead of the EUI debate seemed to be equally puzzled when he noted that “The chap from Luxembourg certainly did not win it. I am not sure about the other three.”
It was only when they focused on the issue of growth and stability pact that the candidates openly argued about whether countries should be granted greater flexibility to meet the criteria. Otherwise, much like in the previous debate, the contenders again spent lots of time and their energy discussing – and agreeing on – the institutional process of selecting the EU Commission president. The leaders must take into consideration the results of the elections rather than taking one of the candidates selected to head the campaigns – if they fail to do that, as Juncker pointed out, “they will create a major incident [since] they would show the Europeans that their vote does not count.” Overall, the two presidential debates have so far not really been structured according to various important themes that would have allowed the candidates to focus in a greater detail on specific policy areas. Instead, the contenders seem to have largely repeated the same points over and over again in these two consecutive debates.

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