Since I wrote the blogpost “One of the 3 top EU jobs must be held by a woman” early October, I’ve been delighted to see that the idea of a woman at one of the top EU jobs has gained momentum, both in social media and mainstream media, both among women and men.
Get a Twibbon!
Just a week ago, after a few EU geek girls met in Brussels, linotherhino launched a clever campaign on Twitter to raise support for the nomination of a woman at one of the top EU jobs. The concept is simple and efficient, you add a pink “twibbon” -a Twitter ribbon- with the motto “Woman @ EU top” to your profile picture on Twitter (you can do it here). The initiative was a dazzling success: my twitter page turned all pink in just one day. And I was very pleased to see that many men adopted the pink twibbon as well, and so did a few MEPs. Join the Woman @ EU top campaign now!
The European Women’s Lobby said earlier this year that “it is hardly acceptable in the 21st century that all kinds of criteria are used for high-level nominations, including nationality, political affiliation, even country size, but never including gender!” This is exactly what is happening at the moment for the EU top jobs selection process. Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström -who has been at the lead of the campaign for a woman at one of the EU top jobs- recently said that the President of the European Council should be a woman. Commenting on the fact that most names mentioned for the job so far have been men, she said that “From a democratic point of view it reduces that 52.6 percent of women to a minority…and I don’t think this is acceptable in the European Union of 2009.” It is a good thing that some top EU women react to this injustice. However, as blogger Julien Frisch wisely told me on Twitter: “Women don’t need more women to support them, they need more men”, which is why I was happy to see Jerzy Buzek, the European Parliament President -holder of the fourth top EU job- say regarding the European Council President post: “I would prefer if we could find a chairwoman because we need gender equality”. European Voice reports: ”He said that after appointing someone from a central and east European country as head of one of the EU institutions, “we should make another step to have a woman as president of the Council”.”
Compared to the list of potential women candidates I compiled in my last blogpost, where do we stand? Angela Merkel was reelected German chancellor, so she’s obviously out. Mary Robinson managed to raise incredible support from online campaigners but she ruled herself out. The name of Tarja Halonen -President of Finland, Social-democrat- has gained more echo for the European Council President job, and so has Ursula Plassnik’s -former Austrian foreign minister, Christian-democrat- for the job of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Meanwhile, new female names have been mentioned. For the President job: Vaira Vike-Freiberga -former President of Latvia, independent- for whom a new Facebook group has just been created. It is difficult to put other names forward as this post is designed for a former head of state or government, and extremely few women have reached this level of responsibility in Europe. For the High Representative job, there are more female names on the line as the experience needed for the job is that of minister of foreign affairs or European affairs, which more women have held. Two new female names have popped up: Elisabeth Guigou -former French minister for European affairs, centre-left- and Dora Bakoyannis -former Greek minister of foreign affairs, centre-right.
As a socialist, my first instinct would obviously be to support Tarja Halonen and Elisabeth Guigou. But here is where it gets a little more complicated. Two-thirds of the heads of government sitting at the European Council are right-wing. So why the heck would the socialists want one of theirs as head of the European Council? In my opinion, that would be a political suicide for our family. This is why the European socialists are pushing to get the High Representative job. French socialist Elisabeth Guigou is a fantastic candidate for this job. However, she’d have to be nominated by the French, and considering the French government is currently right-wing, there is very little chance they would accept their only Commission member to be a socialist. So I believe that given the current state of the race, if a woman is to get one of the two top EU jobs left, it would be that of President of the European Council, and it would be Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Bets are on! Feel free, as usual, to comment and suggest other female names for these jobs.
If you take a look at the European Parliament’s page on political groups, it seems that four months after the European elections, the Tory-led European Conservatives and Reformists Group still does not have a website, and neither does the even more Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group.
Yet if you search on Google for “European Conservatives and Reformists Group” you will see that THERE IS a temporary website for the group called ecrg.info. The page provides an email address where you can contact the ECR group. In a recent blogpost, the social-democrat blogger Jon Worth reveals that he is the owner of the ecrg.info domain name. He has received all sorts of queries regarding the ECR group through the contact email address, and has replied “informing them that they are victims of cybersquatting and asking the valid question: how can any political organisation that has gone three months without a web presence be taken at all seriously?” Very good question, indeed.
Click to read the full story on Jon Worth’s website.
German Christian-Democrats and Portuguese Socialists are happy. They won the elections. It is true that in terms of percentage of votes, they did much better than their competitors. However I can’t help but think that the real winner of these elections is abstention. And if abstention is the big winner, then it means that democracy is the big looser.
Turnout rate at Sunday’s German elections: 70.8% (source Euronews), the lowest since 1949 thus confirming the clear trend towards a decline of turnout rates since the 1970s, where they peaked at 90%.
Evolution of the turnout rate at the German general elections (source International IDEA)
Abstention rate at Sunday’s Portuguese elections: 40% (source Euronews), ” an abolute record for legislative elections since the accession of Portugal to democracy in 1974″, reminds touteleurope.fr
Evolution of the turnout rate at the Portuguese elections (source International IDEA)
And the worst is that Germany and Portugal don’t have the exclusivity on this phenomenon. On the contrary, this is a pan-European trend, as shown by the steady decline in turnout rates at the European elections since the 1970s.
Evolution of turnout rates at the European elections (source: European Parliament)
The roof is on fire. Less and less citizens use their voting right. The legitimacy of our democracies is based on elections. Will our democracies still be legitimate when less than 50% of citizens vote? Will we be waiting until we reach this point to react? Looking at the smile on the winners’ face of Sunday’s elections and last June’s European elections, I am afraid so.
This week, I felt there was actually much ado about nothing.
It all started with the results of the European elections on June, 7th . We had been campaigning for months. There was a huge window of opportunity for the left within the context of neo-liberal crisis. All that for… a conservative-eurosceptic-liberal grand coalition at the European Parliament. Business, as usual. All is for the best in the best of all worlds.
Shortly after, the 27 heads of state of the European Union unanimously nominated Barroso as their intended candidate to head the European Commission, despite the wide majority of commentators -journalists and bloggers alike- saying that Barroso should leave. The contrast was striking.
Anyone But Barroso campaign
In the beginning of September, Barroso presented his political guidelines for the five years to come to the European Parliament: a 50-page long document, which is 95% copy-paste of proposals or programmes that already exist. To make it clear: if Barroso were a student and had written a paper for school, the teachers would have accused him of plagiarism, and then, at worst, he would have been expelled from university, or at best, given a chance to rewrite his paper. But here again, despite the commentators’ criticisms, he got away with it.
On September, 16th, Barroso was reelected as President of the European Commission by an absolute majority of the Members of the European Parliament. There is nothing to complain about: Council unanimity, Parliament majority, his reelection is democratic, and unquestionable.
So business, as usual, will be ruling for five more years. Obviously, there is something wrong about all this. Does this mean trying to change things is worthless?
A beautiful testimony on how it feels to look different, to be a black girl in a white world. Read here. The post was written by Lady and published on Writing for y(EU), the blog of the European Parliament’s web communication team. The EU affairs world -just like any other power centre- is still missing a little variety, which is precisely why equality policies and positive discrimination are necessary. To read more on this topic, consult the report I wrote on the PES activists forum workshop “Championning equality for all”.
On Monday, Forum 311 -an association of young French professionals in Brussels- organised a debate on the theme “Communicating Europe: Mission Impossible?” I couldn’t go. Fortunately, other bloggers attended, and thanks to them I could read two reports of the debate. They are quite different in style and content. While communication professional, Michael Malherbe, makes a detailed presentation of the themes that were discussed, un Européen jamais content chose to report on the atmosphere of the debate. If you can read French, you should definitely visit those sites.
Although European institutions have made remarkable efforts this year to “communicate Europe” with a view to prepare the European elections, the turnout has been yet again lower than the previous vote. This is a depressing fact for the communicators of Europe, hence the title. One has to admit that they did do their best. Consequently, they can’t help but think it is a lost cause. It has been mission impossible. Willy Helin, Head of the European Commission representation in Belgium, went as far as calling it a “suicidal mission”. What if the problem actually laid in the very expression used to solve it? “Communicating Europe”: why not “communicating with Europe”, or even “communicating with (or between) Europeans”?
At the time of the debates on the French “non”, the Dutch “nee” and the Irish “no” to the constitutional treaty and the Lisbon treaty, each time I was stroke by the reaction of Eurospecialists from all sides. The vast majority shared the same analysis: had Europeans been more informed, they would have voted “oui”, “ja”, “yes” in chorus. Maybe. Possibly. But as with this debate, the problem isn’t there.
What is needed is not to “communicate Europe” i.e. to spread the good word of the enlightened elite to the uneducated, but to communicate in Europe, between Europeans about Europe. The idea of “communicating Europe” is didactic. Institutions provide information on what they are, but it just works one way. They send information towards recipients – the European citizens – while they haven’t even asked for it. The idea of “communicating with Europe” or “between Europeans” is interactive. The point is to foster debate about Europe. I think the main problem of the European communication is that it is institutional, i.e. consensual, depoliticised, and as such, non polemical. Consequently, it is boring. The whole problem is here.
Although I am sorry about the result of the referendum on the European constitutional treaty in France, I still think something utterly positive happened during this campaign. For once, we talked about Europe! The French have been passionate about this campaign. Everybody talked about it. Why was that? Because there were opposite sides that confronted one another over comprehensible political choices, because there were lively debates, because for the first time, Europe got politicised. I am convinced that the solution to the problem of the gap between the European institutions and the Europeans is the politicisation of Europe. That’s what my political activism is driven by.
Alright, I can already hear you say “here is another mission impossible!” Because national parties (some) are against it, because national political cultures are too different one from the other (is that really so?), because Europe is too complicated (not more than national political systems), because people are not interested in Europe (self-fulfilling prophecy?), and so on, and so forth… Despite all that, I still believe in it. Dislocating these prejudices by building bridges between national politics and European politics is precisely the focus of this blog. For there is no such word as “can’t” – literally translated into my mother tongue as “impossible is not French”. I know a similar expression exists in Dutch: “Onmegelijk bestaat niet”, which means “Impossible doesn’t exist”. Do you have a similar expression in your own language? The floor is yours!
Photo Credits: European Parliament on Flickr
I have found on the FEPS think-tank’s website an analysis of the European elections that I think is quite relevant, relatively comprehensive, and remarkably synthetic, which is always a plus point. Click here to access the FEPS analysis.
Wednesday at a press conference, the newly re-elected EPP group leader Joseph Daul said that his group was opened to any type of alliance for the European Parliament shared presidency deal. However Daul added that the EPP group would – of course- only make a deal with “people” who back the re-election of Barroso as Commission President at the EP first plenary session on July 15th. I am not sure if I understand why the EP presidency and the Commission presidency have to be connected. Journalists in the room didn’t ask this question though. This is a smart move from the EPP. Either the Socialists accept these conditions -thus risking to loose political clarity and to spur divisions among the PES, or they refuse -thus loosing the power the EP presidency seat gives. Smart move, indeed. Although this declaration sounds like a political bomb, none of the mainstream EU media picked up on it. From what I could see, only Europolitics made a story on it, but the article is not available for free. I haven’t seen anyone mentioning it on Twitter either. Strange thing. Joseph Daul said negotiations with political groups on the technical agreement would start next week. Let’s see what happens.
Update on June 27th:
EU bloggers have started picking up the story. See Jon Worth’s “Schizophrenic socialists and poker playing conservatives” and the European Citizen’s “PASD Strategy: Opposition or Office?”
Their views converge: the socialists would be better off refusing the EPP presidency deal, and positioning themselves clearly as the opposition party.
Update on June 29th
The press has started to pick up on the story. See Jean Quatremer’s blog (in French) and New Europe’s website, which even mentions the http://www.stop-barroso.eu/ and http://www.anyonebutbarroso.eu/ websites.