Over the course of the convention, the line-up of candidates for the presidency of Commission was completed. The center-right group chose to send Jean-Claude Juncker, 59, former prime minister of Luxembourg, into the race for presidency. J.C. Juncker was able to prevail against Michel Barnier, the current European commissioner for the internal market, with 382 to 245 votes. This came by quite a surprise given that Barnier had already expressed a keen interest in the position and actively campaigned for it prior to the convention.
Critiques describe Juncker, who is strongly supported by Angela Merkel, as the candidate for an intergovernmentalist Europe. They fear that he, as the former president of the Eurogroup, will merely play a mediating role among member states in a time in which Europe is in need for a strong leader.
In the next stage, J.C. Juncker will be competing against Martin Schulz (Party of European Socialists), Guy Verhofstadt (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), Alexis Tsipras (European United Left), and the two candidates of the European Green Party, José Bové and Ska Keller. As Juncker stated in his closing speech at the congress, the EPP is motivated to launch its campaign and enter the race for presidency, a move the socialists have already done.
In presenting their candidate for commission presidency, the majority of the European Party has thus agreed to move in line with the rules set by the Lisbon Treaty, which ensures that citizens have a real say in these elections and take ownership of their institutions.
A European campaign centered on the election of a commission president constitutes a step forward to a gradual establishment of a European public space. An opportunity is in fact given to the French, Spanish and Greek voters to vote for MEPs who support a Belgian, German or Luxembourgian candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, on the sole basis of his political affiliation. All these elements let us hope that we are shifting towards a more democratic Europe or, at the very least, convince European voters to mobilize themselves to build their own Europe.
Jean-Claude Juncker for his part wants to focus his campaign on the old Europe: « the old Europe that has proved that Europeans are capable of great things when they are united ». Furthermore, in his account we should be more proud to be European and of what we have accomplished in a time when Ukrainians are taking a look full of hope to the old continent. Towards the end of his speech, Juncker stressed the demographic and economic challenges that Europeans are faced with today and the importance of overcoming these issues together.
Besides EPP politicians, unexpected guests also wowed the audience at the Dublin Convention Center. Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion and front-runner in Ukraine’s presidential race, and Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine and political prisoner under the Ianoukovytch administration, both got standing ovations as they arrived on stage to address the congress.
With the geopolitical situation in Ukraine dominating the proceedings in Dublin, Ms. Tymoshenko caught the mood well by saying: “The European Union is not ideal, but it was not expanded at the point of a Kalashnikov as Russia is doing now.”
Lastly, the highlight of this congress was clearly Bono addressing Europe’s role in the world, saying: “I love Europe for all this progress, for all these achievements, nearly 60 years after the Treaty of Rome, Europe is an economic entity that still needs to become a social entity… Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling.”
The European People party congress represents the start of a vigorous and intense two months of campaigning. The new commission presidential election is an open race for all contestants and Europe will look closely at the outcome of this historic event that we hope should chart a more democratic path for the old continent.