Graham Watson, the leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament has decided to run for the Presidency of the Parliament (basically running for the position of "speaker" of the EP).
Traditionally the position has been "shared" by the two biggest parliamentary groups, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, with a MEP from one group holding the position for 2 1/2 years and then a MEP from the other for the next 2 1/2 years (the MEPs are elected every 5 years). But Watson's ambition is to bring the debate on who should be president away from "backroom deals in smoke-filled rooms." (Maybe a smoking ban in all EU buildings would do the job just as well?)
Considering that the office of President doesn't have much power associated with it (it would mostly involve representing the EP at official functions and meetings and ensuring that the procedural rules of the EP are followed by its members as well as chairing debates), it may be a better move to come up with a candidate for the Commission (either a Liberal one or a joint one with another party) and through the EP elections pressure the Council to accept its choice. But if you can do both - and they try to - then all the better.
But I'm nit-picking about this. Any move to try and make the selection of EU office holders more open and transparent is very welcome, and it's good that Europarliamentarians are trying to come up with ways of pushing this agenda.
It will be interesting to see how much this move will actually make a difference in the debate. Since the president is elected by MEPs, and the post isn't one which excites the public, debate is unlikely to extend much further than the EP itself. Also, MEPs do tend to vote with their groups - it would have been hard to keep the Grand Coalition of the Christian Democrats and the Socialists going for so long if they didn't - so as the Liberals are only the third biggest group, Watson will have to attract the support of MEPs from the other groups. If he is unable to break the Grand Coalition (which did break down briefly in the last parliament (1999-2004)), will he be forced to change his platform to please the groups further to the left and right of the Grand Coalition? Or will he stick to his platform, either hoping to the end that he can break the Grand Coalition, or simply with the aim of setting a precedent, not really aiming to win?
In terms of what Watson would be like as President, I can imagine him doing a good job at representing the EP, if only because it seems that he seems to be on Europarltv more often than any other MEP (as far as I can tell), and he seems to communicate quite well. If he can use the post to promote the EP in the wider public consciousness (and he would have to go beyond Europarltv for that), it would be a great service for the EP and promoting the democratic side of the EU (a big if, as it'd be a huge task).
The priorities of a Watson presidency will be released next week.