Wednesday 14 January 2009

Dreams of Presidency (2)

Graham Watson has produced his 5 priorities (or "themes") for his presidency of the European Parliament, should he be elected after the EP elections later this year. A new website has even been set up for his campaign.

Unfortunately, the themes outlined aren't that original or surprising (raise public debate and awareness of EP, make it more citizen-focused, etc.), so the week taken to mull them over is a bit odd. It will be interesting to see any proposals on how to further these aims, and I look forward (hopefully not naively) to seeing them emerge soon.

Still, despite some of my doubts over the worth of running for the EP Presidency (as apposed to trying to promote a Commission President candidate), and the likelihood of his campaign being a success, I can still see merit in running for the post, if a push is made to thrust the campaign into the public consciousness (perhaps as part of the EP election campaign?). Maybe Watson can do this.

"I will be pleased to debate my platform publicly with any other candidate prior to the vote."

It maybe far too much to hope for, but if there was a televised debate aired in all member states (and aired at a decent time of day), perhaps with an audience who could ask questions, it would be a great boost to the EP's image and to the EP elections generally.

Of course, other parties would have to put up candidates who'll agree to this; it would have to be organised, probably quite quickly; broadcasters in all the member states will have to be brought into it and there will be technicalities with broadcasting simultaneously (Perhaps the European Broadcasting Union's experience could help here?).... Also, a presidential-style debate may not be the best for the post, considering that a style based on consensus is perhaps a better style for a parliamentary speaker. And at the moment I remain blissfully unaware of the funding of the EP campaigns and how much such a debate would eat up money for campaigning on the streets.

But maybe the idea is worth mooting, if only to try and boost the EP's legitimacy. A simple parliamentary debate within the EP isn't going to do too much for the public's awareness, and Europarltv won't reach enough people for it to only be shown there.

Edit: There's a BBC Blog on the EP at the moment. In the entry for Wednesday 11am, it talks about Watson's EP presidental bid and quotes him several times. Extracts below:

"He believes it is in serious need of reform: "One of the things that frustrates me about this place is that it has never quite convinced me as a Parliament.""

"He believes the Parliament lacks the self-confidence to punch its weight and says it needs "to be a little bit more citizen-friendly and little bit more open". Crucial to this, he argues, is greater openness and accountability on allowances."

"The current EU President has also set up a working group for Parliamentary reform - but Mr Watson thinks this does not go nearly far enough. He wants to raise the profile of the Parliament's policies and personalities "so that people will be more motivated to go out and vote". That does not mean just televising Parliamentary debates - "because watching a Parliamentary debate is like watching paint dry" - but packaging the type of work Parliament does "so that people understand how we arrive at legislation"."

"He wants the European Parliament to work more closely with national Parliaments "on the design of legislation that is going to work" and on the implementation of policy. He says the European Parliament has grown in power since he first entered it, when the Commission was all-powerful. Now the power resides in the Council of Ministers, but that institution is increasingly bogged down in disputes between the 27 member states, and with its new power to recall legislation which is not working, he believes it could flex its muscles much more. Like most MEPs, he is frustrated by the lack of coverage in the British media, compared with France, Germany and other countries. Britain is "uniquely and anachronistically" focused on Westminster, when many of the real decisions are now taken elsewhere, including in Europe, he argues."

This sounds more promising. Hopefully his plans will be expanded on a lot in the run up to the election.

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