Tuesday 30 June 2009

Karlsruhe Constitutional Judgment on the Lisbon Treaty

The German Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has ruled that the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with German Constitutional Law (Grundgesetz) in a landmark case today. You can read the judgment in German here, or as a detailed summary in English here.

I've been away from the computer all day, so this post has been outpaced by the speed of the bloggosphere, which has thrown up some good analyses - I especially recommend Nosemonkey, Grahnlaw and Julien Frisch.

The case involved 2 pieces of legislation: 1. the Act ratifying the Lisbon Treaty (verdict: constitutional); 2. an Act detailing the involvement of the German Parliament in the EU system (unconstitutional).

Julien Frisch has hit the nail on the head when it comes to the bottom-line in this judgment: the Lisbon Treaty was ruled constitutional, but national legislation was ruled unconstitutional for being insufficiently democratic. The effective thrust of the Court's reasoning is an attack on how the Council works with regard to Germany: the executive is too powerful here, and the Parliament should have more say over the German representation in the Council.

In many ways this judgment highlights how democratic oversight of the EU's legislative work is at the discretion of the member state, and that purely national measures can have a big impact on this: it's not the EU's competence to set the procedure or manner of parliamentary input into the Council. There will now be a revision of the unconstitutional law to bring it into line with the judgment (i.e. increase the Bundestag's influence over the German delegation to the Council). Until there is a national law satisfying the judgment, the Lisbon Treaty will not be completely ratified by Germany.

The Court also stated the legal position in several areas:

- The EU is a union of states, and its authority derives from the states via the principle of conferral.
- The EP has not developed enough politically to support a democratically legitimate government. (Though if the political requirements that the court mentions [basically effective party politics], then the court's opinion could change there).
- The Lisbon Treaty does not make the EU Constitutional Treaties (Rome and Maastricht) "self-amending".
- Turning the EU into a federation (rather than a federation of states - "Staatverbund" - which it currently is), would require constitutional change in Germany and a referendum.
- The member states' status of sovereignty is not affected by the Treaty of Lisbon.
- Further integration short of establishing a federation(and which leaves the member states in control of the development of social policy, etc., effecting citizens) is compatable with the constitution provided there's sufficient democratic involvement of the elected state institutions.
- The Lisbon Treaty does not give the EU a say over the deployment/use of armed forces.

Hopefully this judgment will have a positive influence on any future treaty reforms in pushing for increased democratization of the EU generally, but also in forcing the Council to be more open and accountable (at least to national parliaments). In many ways this judgment seems to have given the EU a better and more holistic and citizen-centred review than those who are negotiating and drawing up treaty reforms. If the rationale behind the EU is to benefit the states and citizens through economic integration, then reforms should be focused on making the decision making process more open and participatory. Any bets on that happening?

Update: The Bundesverfassungsgericht judgment could have an impact in the Irish Lisbon referendum; it should be noted that it effectively dismisses many of the No side's arguments from last time, especially the more alarmist ones. Also note that the judgment confirms that the guarantees that have been won for the next referendum are unnecessary in the legal sense (i.e. they restate the legal situation under the Lisbon Treaty as it was pre-guarantee). The only practical change for the second vote is that each member state will retain a Commissioner (as opposed to the legal position under the current Nice Treaty).

For a more in-depth analysis, Gavin Barrett, a lecturer in European Law at University College Dublin, has written an article on the subject here.

Sunday 28 June 2009

Tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nationalist rhetoric is increasing in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where the Assembly of the Serb-dominated state of Republika Srpska had issued some "Conclusions" which staked out claims for the state for power which are now held at the federal level. The High Representative (who is appointed by the international community, and also the EU's Special Representative to BiH) has vetoed the Conclusions as:

"Implementation of the conclusions would undermine the division of competencies between the State and the Entities, seek to give the RSNA veto rights in State level matters, undermine final and binding decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court, a Dayton institution, and determine that the HR’s powers are unconstitutional."

[You can read the veto's legal instrument here].

The country is a two-state federation of the Serb Republika Srpska and the Muslim and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose federal government has slowly been strengthened by transferring some of the competences of the states ["Entities"] to the centre, while ensuring that power is shared between the "constituent peoples" fairly at federal level. The process of integration and state-building has been presided over by - and sometimes directed by - the Official High Representative (who is always also the EUSR for BiH) who is empowered by the Peace Implementation Council under the Dayton Agreement. Naturally, any move to weaken the central government and strengthen state power has nationalist implications for each side and threatens the break-up of the state.

Why does this matter for the EU? Well, BiH is practically an EU protectorate. The EUSR is the OHR as well, who can veto legislation and remove elected representatives from office. The EUSR also has a hand in advising the European Commission on BiH's progress and the implementation of Stability and Association agreements and advises the EU on progress in general (visa liberalisation is one of the carrots for BiH's progress). The EUSR is also the focal point for the political co-ordination of the EU's police mission there and EUFOR, as well as helping the HR for CSFP (Javier Solana, who was in BiH in May) on BiH matters. BiH has signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement and an Interim Agreement, with the eventual goal of EU membership. [The Council's Joint Action that installed the current EUSR, Dr. Valentin Inzko, gives a good picture of the EUSR's remit: link].

All of which means that the EU is heavily invested in the success of BiH as a state. But would the EU be prepared to act in BiH or be able to properly support it if tensions continued to grow to boiling point? The EU finds it hard to act in foreign policy at the best of times, and it will be caught up in a busy, and mainly inward-looking, agenda for the next 6 months: the Lisbon Treaty, a new Commission and Parliament, the Copenhagen Summit on climate change, the financial crisis, etc. Ultimately, of course, the US guarantees stability in BiH, despite European control of the peacekeeping forces and European control of significant political power - still, it would take an almost complete collapse to draw the US in, and the EU would generally be expected to keep the state functioning.

There's no real indication that there's anything beyond an increase in nationalist rhetoric, and Dr. Inzko hasn't mentioned any real instability in his report to the Political and Security Committee of the EU. But it may not take a crisis for EU politics to become entangled in BiH-ian politics: BiH has some ongoing border disputes with Croatia, and these could affect Croatia's accession (since the EU may be unwilling to admit Croatia if it will cause the same problems with BiH-ian accession as Slovenia is with Croat accession). It's likely that there won't be any big (EU-affecting) news coming out of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Swedish Presidency of the European Council, but it still might be worthwhile keeping an eye on BiH-ian politics given the economic crisis.

It's worth noting that for the next 6 months Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister would be a capable pair of hands when it comes to BiH, since he is a former OHR/EUSR himself.

Some interesting EP analysis links

Ok, by "some", I mean two.

Here's a good short overview analysis on the possible shape of coalition politics in the EP over the next five years at The New European Parliament.

And Eurosocialiste has flagged up an interesting analysis of the elections here (from a think tank close to PASD).

Friday 26 June 2009

PASD Strategy: Opposition or Office?

The PASD are in a tough spot. Barroso has the political backing of the Council and the EPP has linked the continuation of the shared EP Presidency deal to supporting a second Barroso term. Do the PASD bow to the EPP and Barroso to maintain some of their traditional influence, or do they continue to oppose Barroso on principle? The question has been pondered by eurosocialiste and Jon Worth.

I agree with Jon Worth's conclusions:

"If I were in the shoes of a leftist MEP I would refuse to play the game with the EPP, and aim to develop a clear and coherent opposition to the right in the EP throughout the next 5 years. That doesn’t need a socialist as the President of the EP to be achieved, and might help the left determine what it stands for before the 2014 elections. I somehow suspect that won’t be the way many MEPs in the PASD will see it."

The PASD need to act like an opposition. I don't mean they should oppose for opposition's sake, and they have acted in the last parliament to oppose or change legislation their way, so it's not a massive change. Still, if you want to win an election or win power, then there must be a risk of loosing, otherwise there's not much motivation to go out and to try and win support or for supporters to vote for you. There is no sense of change if the results of an election do not change the party colour of the EP Presidency or how politics is conducted in the chamber, it's harder to demonstrate how people's votes count.

Barroso will likely be elected, in the teeth of opposition from the PASD and the Greens, but it would be better for the PASD to make sure that it is in the teeth of their opposition. The PASD need to establish why they are different and what values and policies they stand for - and show that they are willing to stand up for them. Demanding a programme for government, standing up for parliament, opposing Barroso are all good things, but if the PASD caves to the EPP, then they tarnish their record for the next election.

It could be argued that record doesn't matter for the European elections - and it would be a very strong argument: European issues weren't prominent in the campaign. However, it would be wrong to rule it out as a strategy. Eurosceptics and the Greens did do quite well in the elections; both ideologies were able to give some clear link to Europe, and with parties that did campaign on European issues. It would be a mistake to think that voters don't expect some form of European campaign. At the same time, the hope that voters would vote against their national governments simply didn't work out. In the next election, the PASD might also be in a better position to try and run a candidate for the Commission Presidency - Barroso won't be able to serve a third term, so there's no incumbent to support, and the UK's Labour party is likely to be out of power and may have little objection to running a candidate - and if Lisbon is passed, then the Parliament's (and Parties') hand will be stronger.

So the PASD should be more confrontational - to show that parliament is somewhere where politics happens, and that the PASD have a vision of where the EU should be going. They should push for a greater input for Parliament and greater scrutiny of the Commission and Council, and push for expenses reform and greater transparency - be able to prove just how progressive the PASD is (or can be), and be able to show that the PASD is trying to remedy what critics have highlighted, and present themselves as a party worth voting for. They should also try to get more media attention - a big ask, since the media care little for European politics, and especially EP politics. But they could try starting off by informing the media of their position if they are interested in a significant piece of legislation, or by informing them of important votes coming up.

If the PASD do aim for a more European campaign in 2014, then they should push for electoral reform. A single electoral system in itself would boost the European dimension to the election just before it, and if the system allows for voting for individual candidates and/or pan-European lists, then it will add an incentive to campaign on European issues.

Also, the PASD need a brand relevant to Europe, and they will have a tougher struggle to achieve this than Eurosceptics and the Greens. Whereas Green issues are seen as partly European issues, and Euroscepticism is obviously linked to Europe, the EU is generally seen by left-leaning voters as neo-liberal, or purely concerned with free market-ism. If the PASD is able to associate itself or its parties with even a few policy goals at European level (e.g. worker's rights), then it would be easier to demonstrate that voting for them has a purpose. Changing the group name from the simple "Party of European Socialists" to the PASD was a bad move in this regard - alliances appear weaker in purpose and direction than parties, and it's unnecessarily long and explanatory.

Now that Barroso is almost certain to win a second term (failing some ruthless Council politicking), the Liberals are likely to align with the EPP in order to win influence and to try and win a stint at the head of the EP (could Graham Watson end up winning via the same "smoke-filled room deals" he was trying to rid the Presidency contest of?). The PASD must not fall into this trap. The Liberals are the third party, and it makes more sense for them to try and win concessions and influence via deals, but the PASD is the main opposition, and should be playing for - and seen to be playing for - bigger stakes.

Will Klaus be overruled?

President Klaus of the Czech Republic is holding out on signing the Lisbon Treaty, despite both houses of the Czech Parliament ratifying it - the only other head of state to do so is President Lech Kaczyński of Poland. Klaus has even stated that he'll be the last person to sign it.

But EUobserver has reported that Czech MPs (from the CSSD party) are getting tired of Klaus' antics (and presumably also of the ceremonial president ignoring the will of parliament), and may draw up a motion to override the President so caretaker prime minister Jan Fischer can sign the Treaty and complete the ratification process in the Czech Republic. If there is a vote, it is likely to only take place after the Czech Constitutional Court has dealt with the latest Lisbon Treaty complaints (which may be September, or, if the case is thrown out, mid-July). The motion would only need a simple majority in both houses to pass, so it would be easier to get through than the Treaty itself, but there's no guarantee that the motion would have enough support. At the moment the CSSD are only debating the option.

Pat Cox for Europe?

A new pro-Lisbon group has been launched in Ireland, calling itself Ireland for Europe, and is lead by former Irish MEP and President of the European Parliament Pat Cox. Cox himself could have much to prove in the Lisbon campaign - he could be a great candidate for the next Commission, given his experience in the European Parliament and of European politics, the perception that he's not heavily partisan in Irish political terms, and the fact that his selection would not cause another by-election for the embattled government. (See the analysis by Honor Mahony in her EUobserver blog).

He would also be a credible enough candidate for a decent Commission post, or any Commission post if Lisbon isn't passed and the number of Commissioners is reduced - though, of course, he'd be in a weaker political position in that scenario. Brian Cowen can hardly afford to send any of his cabinet off to Brussels (not many of whom are seen as credible in Ireland), but there's a good list of other possible candidates by Frank Schnittger.

If the referendum is to be won by the pro-Lisbon side, then it probably has to be won by civil society groups such as Ireland for Europe and Generation Yes - I can't see the government putting across a good, clear argument for, and the pro-Lisbon opposition will probably still complain about the government not involving them enough.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

European Conservatives and Reformists

The UK Conservatives, Polish Law and Justice Party, and the Czech Civic Democrats have formed a new grouping called the European Conservative and Reformist Group. The new conservative grouping in the European Parliament will be officially formed/recognized on July 14th when the EP holds its first meeting after the elections. Their manifesto/values can be found here.

The news has been well covered in the Euro-Bloggosphere over the last few days, by Nosemonkey, Jon Worth, Julien Frisch, Grahnlaw, to name a few. The ability of the new group to hold itself together over the next Parliament has been called into question by Jon Worth and Nosemonkey after the Finnish member decided to stick with ALDE instead of making the leap to the ECR.

The Group has 55 members, making it the fourth biggest group in the EP, outstripping the European Greens-EFA by a narrow margin. At the same time, in order to fulfill the EP's rules on group formation, the Group has no less than 5 individual MEPs from several countries in order to show some element of the pan-European support necessary to justify the civil service and funding support they will get as a group from the EP.

As Nosemonkey has commented:

"...that’s five individual MEPs that the new group has to keep sweet in order to maintain the requirement for all groups to have members from at least seven member states. They can afford to lose one, and that’s it. Any more and their new group is kaput."

Now, the Tories have come under attack for the strange parties they would likely have to get into bed with to form the new group. This attack hasn't worked out for those who oppose the new grouping because the Tories could point to a few strange MEPs in all of the main EP groupings. I agree, however, with Jon Worth's assessment that it's the percentage of nuts in your party that counts.

Still, there are a number factors which will give rise to arguments that the Conservatives will have a harder time ignoring.

1. Committees:

In the EP, committees count. There parties can play a key role in shaping legislation, and as the fourth largest party, the ECR will only be entitled to 1 committee and 1 sub-committee, and they won't get one of the more prized ones as under the D'Hondt system the bigger parties get the first few picks. It is likely that the Conservatives and the Law and Justice party will get the two chairs as the biggest parties within the group, but in return they may have to give the "independent" MEPs of the group more of the group's speaking time in plenary sessions.

Fewer Committees means less influence. And more speaking time won't offset that.

2. Cohesion:

The new group is unlikely to be cohesive when the loss of 2 "independent" MEPs would result in the collapse of the group. The relevance of the group naturally depends on the cohesion of its vote. If the group cannot muster its votes for common policies/stances on legislation, then it doesn't lend the ECR much weight. It also affects some of the other factors.

3. Alliances:

The Conservatives have said that they will work together with the EPP when they can find agreement. The ECR, however, may not be an attractive partner if it cannot display a good level of cohesion - why bother chasing votes if they'll slip away when it comes to the vote? The EPP may turn back to the traditional alliance with the PES and ALDE out of habit and reliability. The ECR will have influence, however, and it would be a mistake to discount it completely. It is, after all, mainly made up of 3 parties and if they can stick together for votes then an alliance with the ECR on several issues will be worth something - I doubt that the "independents" will threaten dissolution too much if they're satisfied with talking time and office facilities.

4. Opposition:

Federalism or integrationism is hardly ever a part of the work of the EP, given that the member states decide on the level of integration and on the competences of the EU and the EP. Most of what the Parliament does has a left-right divide to it, and this will probably mean that the ECR will end up - or the Tories will end up - supporting the Commission a surprising amount of the time. In other words, they're more likely than not to be a pro-Government party, despite the rhetoric of being the "first real opposition".

This will depend on the PES to a degree - the more the PES can influence legislation, the more the ECR is likely to oppose it. Still, the Commission will be dominated by conservatives for the next five years, and is likely to produce legislation that the ECR will - or could bring itself to - vote for. There will be more regulatory impulses now due to the economic crisis, but Barroso is likely to propose quite weak regulations, and the ECR will probably try to resist attempts by other parties to strengthen Commission proposals. The ECR could end up voting the Commission's way more than its rhetoric lets on.

Also, if (when) the Tories get into government it will be harder to be obstructionist in the EP, since they can hardly build good diplomatic relations by making deals in the Council and then trying to torpedo them in Parliament.


I think that the ECR will have some influence: it will be periodically sidelined and have occasional moments when it can wield real influence - depending, of course on its ability to capitalise on such moments. The ECR could be quite an "establishment" party, in the sense that it will probably seek to back up the more conservative Council and Commission's position in Parliament, unless it sets out to be purely obstructionist. This could give rise to a strange situation where the "first real opposition" ends up defending Commission positions in times of division in the Parliament.

Finally, the lifespan of the group is hard to tell, but I'd say that it will probably survive at least until the Tories come to power in the UK, since it will be easier to indulge the "independents" while in opposition, and the collapse of the group would be a damaging story the Tories would want to avoid before the election. So failing a group crisis where it would be more embarrassing for the Conservatives to make the sacrifices necessary to keep the group going, I think it will stay alive this side of a UK general election.

Monday 22 June 2009

On last week's EU Summit

I haven't exactly been quick to blog about this summit, mainly because I wasn't sure what to add to what I previously wrote about the politics of Barroso's agenda and re-appointment. Julien Frisch has a good Barroso overview here, and Tony Barber has written about the possible effects of the Slovenia-Croatia border dispute, which is still trundling on.

EUX.TV has a good video overview of the state of play:

Again, Barroso's comments on excluding politics from the selection of the Commission is a blow to anyone who wants to see the EU to be made more democratic, the Commission more accountable, and for the EU as a whole to be more open to proper debate on the policy issues they so often tell us effect us in our everyday lives. This attitude alone, and the implications for the role of the European Parliament, is enough reason to oppose his re-appointment in my opinion.

There's been anger at the decision from the PES (as I think they're still called that for now) and the Greens - but the EP may face an uphill struggle in asserting itself, with no real alternative candidate and a fractured Parliament.

Sarkozy, meanwhile, will make a speech on EU reform on Monday (later today), and has called for a strong Commission President and for institutional balance. I doubt he envisages a relative reduction in Council power (as the Council's the most powerful EU institution), but it will be interesting to see how many people he can annoy at once. The Commission does need reform; I might post about that later.

You can read the European Council's conclusions here.

In other news, a Bill on Ireland's membership of the European Defense Agency is being formulated. It's likely that it will pass (and ensure Ireland's continued membership) - as far as I know, only Sinn Féin and the Greens are against membership, and Fianna Fáil (senior governing party) is for membership, as well as the main opposition party, Fine Gael.

Thursday 18 June 2009

The Barroso Agenda

After calls from both the EP and from France and Germany for Barroso to give details on his "ambitious agenda" for a second term, Barroso has finally attempted to outline his vision for the next 5 years in a letter to the heads of state and government (PDF). (Via EurActiv).

The letter doesn't detail any policy (his policy preferences were probably in the letters he sent to each government individually, if at all), but it stresses his believe in a responsible and effective internal market, environmental protection and the importance of a low carbon economy, and in the European ideal of a strong Europe and respect for national competences. The focus on generalities is to limit the objections that could be raised in the European Council summit today against nominating him for a second term - Barroso is anxious to prevent Sarkozy from ensuring that Barroso only get the political support of the Council. If Sarkozy gets his way, and the Lisbon Treaty passes, the Commission Presidency could become part of a package deal of EU posts, and Barroso's political backing could dry up pretty quickly.

It's also noticeable that the letter is addressed to the European Council - I'm not aware of any similar letter to the group leaders in the European Parliament. This is a sensible tactic from Barroso's point of view, because if he wins the Council's support, it will be much harder for the EP to oppose him, especially without an alternative candidate. Any doubts the EPP might have about his candidature will be suppressed by his letter and Council support. At the same time, the EP - and certainly his critics - would demand more detailed proposals, which could damage his standing with some governments and slow down his endorsement by the Council. Still, it's a shame that the European Parliament has been neglected by Barroso.

In other news, ELDR now backs Barroso. (Link. Via Julien Frisch). The Anti-Barroso coalition didn't have enough votes to make Guy Verhofstadt a viable candidate, but this announcement makes Barroso's second term a near certainty, unless he falls out of favour with the Council in the next few months. The EP needs to make the most of its opportunity to grill Barroso before it votes on a second term.

So, given that Barroso's re-election/appointment is so likely, should the EP just bow to the inevitable? Tony Barbar at the FT seems to think so, on the basis that the left lost, so they can't complain. However, Julien Frisch has written a great counter argument on his blog. There needs to be more political competition and debate over the post, and an opposition-government divide in the EP would force more scrutiny of the Commission and help open the Brussels political world up a (small) bit more to the public.

There is also the question of the EP standing up for itself in the EU system. The Greens are suggesting that an early Barroso appointment could be invalidated by the EP's own procedural rules. The European Parliament needs to make its voice heard and to ensure that it is respected as an institution within the EU system. If it can't stand up for itself, and force the Council and Commission to listen to its views, then why should it expect people to vote for it?

No Upgrade for Israel

On Tuesday, the Israeli Foreign Minister was in Luxembourg for an EU meeting; the question of strengthening relations between the EU and Israeli has been thrown into doubt lately due to the Gaza conflict in December/January and the election of a right-wing, more hardline, Israeli government.

Now the Israeli government has accepted in principle the two state solution (probably due to Obama's insistence on it, but the desire to upgrade relations with the EU would also have been a factor). It remains to be seen whether or not the Israeli government can remain united behind the PM's peace plans, and he may have to rely on the main opposition's qualified support in the future to keep on track. In Luxembourg, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, who is even more hardline than PM Netanyahu, has been pushing the line that this development is a positive step on the path to peace. Did Israeli get the upgrade in relations? No.

Why? Because the support given to the two state solution comes with conditions attached; though the proposed negotiations are to be "without preconditions" (a phrase that seems to be spreading since Obama made it fashionable), Netanyahu's vision of a Palestinian state is one without any part of Jerusalem, and without an army of its own. So while Netanyahu's speech has been praised as a "step forward" by the EU's head of the CFSP, Javier Solana, and the External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, have very much stressed that it is only a first step.

The Swedish Foreign Minister has even commmented that it's debatable whether or not Netanyahu's vision of the Palestinian state can really be classified as a state.

In many respects, he's right. The Palestinian state demand is a demand for equality, and it would be hard to present the implementation of the Netanyahu vision as a state equal in status to the Israeli state if it is forbidden to have an army. It also wouldn't help Israel's position much in the long term - the whole point of the peace process is to produce an outcome where both sides are moderately satisfied and so the support for violence is vastly reduced. A demilitarized Palestinian state, however, would be more likely to look to other Arab nations to guarantee its security, and it would be more likely to be a revisionist state - constantly seeking to reverse the conditions imposed on it. This could lead to an unstable international situation (though it could be more stable than the one at the moment) where Israel is constantly tempted to intervene to uphold the settlement, and other Arab states, if Palestine-aligned, could be drawn in.

Th EU is right to keep up pressure on Israel to commit fully to the two state solution.

Of course, the speech could have just been an opening bid to increase the bargaining chips of Israeli, or a attempt by Netanyahu to slowly move his party/coalition and cabinet towards the concessions Israeli will have to make if there's to be a viable two state solution. I think that would be a very optimistic view, however.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Barroso's Ambitious Agenda

The Greens/EFA (or one of their activists) have come up with a great Stop Barroso video (which I saw via Kosmopolit). In the absence of a firm agenda from him, perhaps we could take this as his programme for government?

Tuesday 16 June 2009

The Irish (Provisional) Guarantees

The guarantees for Ireland are coming ever closer to being finalized, with EU ambassadors scheduled to work through a draft text later today. You can read the draft text here (via RTÉ). The guarantees will be passed via Croatia's Accession Treaty, though there is a chance that it could be passed along with a Spanish proposal to amend the Treaties so that the extra MEPs it, along with Germany and others, would have had, had the Treaty been in place before the elections, could be elected without waiting for the next election in 5 years time.

Croatia's accession wasn't brought back on track after talks to get Slovenia to unblock the opening of several new acquis chapters after ministerial meetings in Luxembourg. Since Croatia has disputed borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina, if it is finally admitted, we might have to go through the whole process again in a few years time.

The guarantees are quite comprehensive on the first reading of the draft; it's interesting to read the provisional language for each area. The strongest language is reserved for the issue of defense, to counter the claims of Sinn Féin and neutralist groups of militarisation. It is stated that the Treaty creates no army; that there'll be no conscription; that there's no obligation to increase defence spending; that the clause concerning mutual solidarity doesn't impose an obligation to provide military aid; it guarantees the Triple Lock system; and that it doesn't affect Ireland's military neutrality. There's a categorical statement that the Treaty doesn't change the tax competence of the EU (this guarantee applies to all member states).

The Constitutional provisions concerning rights to do with life, the family and education are also guaranteed not to be affected.

The commitment to workers rights however (something the Labour party was keen to see emphasised), seems to be qualified by the sentence: "In doing so, it underlines the importance of respecting the overall framework and provisions of the EU Treaties." The provisional draft simultaneously underlines that there will be (under Lisbon) a positive obligation for the EU to consider the social effects of legislation and to guarantee a high level of social protection, as well as underlining the discretion of national and local authorities in setting standards. This wording, and the final wording, will try to seek a balance between the desire to ensure social standards, and safeguarding the right of member states to set lower standards. It will only apply to Ireland, but the balance is to prevent any worries of it affecting other member states.

This is the provisional draft, and, though the final guarantee will probably pretty much do the same thing (the general shape of these guarantees has been quite certain for a while now), it could be tweaked later today.

The most important part of the guarantee will be that of one commissioner per member state, as the other guarantees really just restate and clarify the situation under the Lisbon Treaty. There have been some ominous noises out of Germany that it could push for a drastically reduced Commission if the Lisbon Treaty isn't passed - from 27 to between 12 and 18 commissioners. Under the Nice Treaty the number of commissioners must be reduced for the next Commission to be lower than that of the number of member states.

(On a side note, I wonder if the number of Commissioners is reduced, would this create pressure from the small states to make the appointment of the Commission more directly the responsibility of the EP in order to lessen the influence of the big states in setting the agenda?)

Friday 12 June 2009

Parliamentary Shifts and Whatnot

A few bits of news are floating around, so I'll comment on them in one post.

First, PES is changing its name to ASDE - the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats for Europe (via Stephen Spillane and Julien Frisch). The change is due to the main Italian opposition party, the Democratic Party, committing itself to the block and swelling its numbers to 183. It may strengthen the left after a disastrous election, but the change of name is a unnecessary and idiotic decision - the PES has built itself into a kind of brand, and even if it doesn't exactly have a high name recognition among the public yet, it hardly helps to change the name (especially since some candidates pointed to their group membership in their campaigns). The new name also dilutes the credibility of the group - an "Alliance" sounds much weaker than a "Party" and Alliance is associated more with ALDE. The Lobby has speculated on the effect the PES-enlargement will have on the race for the Commission Presidency.

Sarkozy and Merkel have come out in favour of Barroso, though, just like the EP, they're also pressuring him to produce an agenda for the next 5 years. Barroso has, of course, stressed the need for a quick Commission selection, since the faster the process, the less time his opponents have to organise themselves and back an alternative; though it seems that GUE has already signalled that it would back Verhofstadt rather than Barroso.

(Interestingly, Sarkozy seems to think that the EP elections result is a kind of endorsement for a second term of European Presidency. Modest as ever, though his brand of modesty is unlikely to help the second referendum in Ireland if he ever follows up on his promise to help in person if needed).

The demand for Barroso to outline his agenda is quite reasonable - if not for the simple reason of parliamentary scrutiny, then because Barroso has himself made the acceptance of his agenda a condition for taking the job again. (He's leading a very strange campaign, demanding acceptance of an agenda he refuses to explain, while threatening to not take the job when many of us would be happy to see the back of him).

Richard Corbett has indicated to The Parliament that he would be interested in the post of the Commission's representative to the UK - something that was suggested by the Economist. It would be great to see Corbett remain active in EU affairs.

And for anyone interested, the Communications Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom will be at a "Townhall meeting" that will be streamed online by Generation Yes at 1.30pm Irish time.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

The Battle for the Commission Presidency

It seems that there could be a contest for the office of President of the European Commission, whether the Swedes like it or not. It's not that Barroso is particularly loved by the Swedes or that he would be an asset to the EU as Commission President with a renewed mandate, but that Council wrangling could undermine the effectiveness of the Swedish European Council presidency and generally make life harder for everyone.

However, there's news that ALDE, the Greens and the PES are considering proposing the Liberal Guy Verhofstadt has stirred some debate on the EU Blogosphere (see Stephen Spillane, Julien Frisch and Jon Worth).

Does Verhofstadt have much chance? Stephen has pointed out that the Traffic Light Coalition of Socialists, Liberals and Greens only has 294 seats, which is well short of the majority required, 369. There's also the problem that the coalition would be hard to maintain - especially since in order for Verhofstadt to have any chance, the appointment of the Commission President needs to be delayed. The cohesiveness of each group is questionable: the PES have 41 votes whose national parties back Barroso, and the PES as a party has little power to wield over these MEPs. The Liberals may be split in opposing Barroso, and the temptation of Commission portfolios could outweigh the desire to have one of their own heading the Commission - a temptation that is likely to increase in force as time drags on and the weakness of the coalition becomes more apparent. The Greens are the most cohesive group here.

Attracting the support of the Left (seats: 32) would bring the coalition to 326 - still short. The Left would be a fickle friend, however, as if they do support Verhofstadt, it will be in the sense of voting for the "lesser of two evils". The Eurosceptic strains among the GUE-NGL make Verhofstadt an unattractive candidate in a sense, and the Left may not be united in any pro-Verhofstadt coalition.

The No Group MEPs are unlikely to support a Commission President with such open federalist opinions - indeed the presence of such a candidate could move them into the pro-Barroso coalition.

It will be harder to justify the delay with the right scoring a convincing victory in the EP, and Jon Worth is right to point out that a clear result should mean that there's a clear winner in Presidency terms. Verhofstadt also needs the support of the Council. Barroso has been campaigning for re-election for a while now (a campaign which undermined the relevance of the European Parliament), and Verhofstadt hasn't been campaigning (openly, at any rate) for Council support.

The Pro-Barroso coalition, if you count the EPP, UEN and future EC MEPs together, equals 333 seats, also short of the 369 mark, but bigger than the anti-Barroso coalition. However, if you add in the possible-PES-rebel-MEPs, you get 374.

And that's not counting how the InDem and other No Group votes could fall.

This opens up a few political calculations. Should the Liberals risk an alliance with a disparate coalition that could collapse? It would be risking Commission influence to bag the top job, but is its own membership - and that of the PES's - cohesive enough not to split and betray the party leadership's plans? Should they align with the PES to increase the value of their votes, then switch to the Barroso side to gain more influence? How will this political gambling affect their position in the political playing field for the next 5 years?

Similar calculations apply to the PES too - is it better to buy influence at Commission level or risk damaging relations with the biggest group and other group relations for a bigger payoff? The next five years will be difficult for the PES - could a failure now make it worse?

A factor I've left out until now is Barroso himself (well, he's left himself and the Commission out of important decisions before, so it's not that big of an oversight). His frankly insane and PR-insensitive comments that:

"...I am against partisan political confrontation in Europe. If we are a supra-national reality, we need to be supra-partisan politicians."

...and refusal to set out a term timetable for the EP he wants to elect him:

"I am against political parties’ artificial dramatisation...We must talk about Europe positively, because what most encourages eurosceptics in times of crisis is the pessimism of pro-Europeans."

...is just counter-productive. He's against open political contests? Hello - did you want a proper EP election or not?! You can't have politics or political choice without a political contest. To elect him without a contest - even at this late stage - would be damaging to the EP groups and to the EP, since it denies their true relevance and potential. And who will vote next time?

The refusal to submit a programme/timetable for government is a similarly callous disregard for the European Parliament. His ineptitude may yet turn EP allies against him.

Still, I predict that Barroso will secure a second term. If not him, it will be a compromise candidate and not Verhofstadt. Whoever it is, there needs to be a passionate and open debate and contest in the European Parliament. It is unlikely and hard to achieve given the coalitions involved - but if the EP can't attract interest now, when appointing the next executive, then when can it?

Blogger's not working properly....

Does anyone know how to get the hyperlinks working on blogger again if they mysteriously start refusing to hyperlink words?

European Elections 2009: Afterthought

This is a bit late (I took yesterday off blogging-wise), but the results in Ireland were only finalised after I wrote my analysis, so I think I'll add a few afterthoughts.

First of all, it was a great result for the PES in Ireland - they've now got 3 seats in the Republic, which is a surprise win, really. It puts them only one behind the EPP. ALDE have done well in Ireland too - they're up 3 to 4 MEPs, due to Fianna Fáil joining ELDR in this parliament (the other ALDE MEP is an independent that isn't an ELDR member).

For pro-Lisbonites, it was a good election, even though Lisbon wasn't really an issue, since the anti-Lisbon MEPs did quite badly. Kathy Sinnot (InDem co-leader) lost her seat in Ireland South - online glee here (http://stephenspillane.com/blog/index.php/2009/06/ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead/) - and Mary Lou McDonald (SF/GUE-NGL) lost her Dublin seat. Though Joe Higgins (Socialist) is equally as anti-Lisbon as MLM, her scalp is of higher value given her prominence in the Lisbon I campaign.

Of course, the failure of Ganley to win a seat is the clearest victory. He had called for a recount (during his appearance on the BBC he made out as if the officials had spotted a problem and called for a recount rather than him being the one to demand it), and the result of this has produced my favourite line of the elections:

"However, that recheck found that Mr Ganley had been awarded 3,000 extra votes in error."

Around Europe, Libertas were defeated left, right and centre - they've only managed 1 of their desired 100 seats, and that was de Villiers in France, who was an outgoing MEP, and likely to have been re-elected simply on the local support he had there, rather than on the strength of the Libertas brand.

Monday 8 June 2009

European Election 2009: Analysis

Not all the results are in, but the shape of the next European Parliament is clear enough to give some analysis of the general trend and impact of the results.

The results at the moment are: (Numbers taken from European Voice here).

EPP: 263 [-25]
PES: 163 [-54]
ALDE: 80 [-20]
Greens/EFA: 52 [+9]
GUE-NGL: 33 [-8]
UEN: 35 [-9]
InDem: 19 [-3]
No Group: 91 [+61]

No Group includes the British Conservatives and the Czech ODS. The InDem group doesn't have enough to survive unless it can attract more MEPs from the No Group, and the UEN is likely to be dissolved, with members probably moving to the new European Conservative Grouping that the Tories want to set up.

[Contents: 1. Centre-left losses; 2. Far-right gains; 3. Lower Turnout]

1. The Centre-left is slaughtered:

It was a disastrous elections for the centre-left across Europe - this is the biggest story of the elections, despite the big headlines for the far right. Though media commentators have been saying that the centre-left should benefit from the crisis - and from the fact that the centre-right is largely in government across Europe - it was generally held, and predicted (see Predict 09), that the EPP would win the election.

It is the scale of the defeat that is most striking. The PES had been expected to go slightly under the 200 mark, but 163 seats will leave them reeling. This defeat will be a significant factor in the politics of the EP for the next 5 years.

First, Barroso will get re-elected/re-appointed. A second term was always the most likely outcome, given how hard it would be to hold together a disparate anti-Barroso coalition on the left. The EPP may be weakened by the departure of the British Conservatives, but any new Conservative grouping is likely to back Barroso and any liberalising moves (see NI's Conservative/UUP candidate's stance on Barroso and regulation here). Still, whatever the PES does to oppose a second term, or even the shape of the next Commission, their influence at an executive level will be diminished. They will received fewer Commissioners.

Second, the conservative, centre-right majority has been maintained across the EU institutions. Legislation will be more favourable to business and market liberalisation and there will be less protection for workers in legislation. The economic crisis will mean that more regulation for financial services is almost unavoidable, and considering the (EPP aligned) UMP's and CDU's favouring of regulation over bailouts, it's likely that there will be more financial regulation. However, it won't be as tough as it would be, had the centre-left been stronger, and it doesn't translate into an agenda more favourable to employees.

Third, it strengthens the new European Conservatives as a group, should they form. With the PES weakened, and the EP as a whole more fractured, the new EC group is likely to have a bit more bargaining power than was first assumed. However, it should be noted that the EPP isn't as right-leaning as the Tories, so common ground with the Liberals and the greater number of votes they hold, means that there are a few dampening factors on any influence the EC may hope to have, including a lack of influence in Committees, which are the most powerful positions from which to exercise influence and shape legislation.

Why did the PES do so badly?

Well, naturally the second order perception of the EP elections and the tendency to vote for smaller parties at EP elections, as well as the indirectness of the vote's impact on the formation of the Commission, are factors. These factors apply to all main parties, but the effect was greater on the left due to its general disarray. It failed to put forward a vision in a national context, never mind a European one - perhaps due to Third Way-ism in some cases discrediting the parties' new found love for regulation. The centre-right are in most cases more stable and, despite the economic crisis, more consistent if they can draw successfully on the more social elements of Christian Democracy.

The left was also undermined by the far right who traditionally draw support from the left/far-left's power based of the working class. The strength of the Greens could indicate a loss of support among the left-leaning section of the middle class. I certainly know people who would have voted PES but voted Green instead. The effect was most dramatic in France, where the Greens equaled the Socialists, though here the far-left, rather than the far-right, benefited as well.

This trend is reversible, though. The Greens tend to be further left than the PES, and the increasing promotion of Green policies by the PES may mean that the can win back support from the middle classes once they get their act together. The far-right's gains may - hopefully - be an aberration of the crisis, and as the economy returns to normal, their support will drop. The main thing now for the PES is to work on a social vision that can win voters back, and to counter any exploitation of the far-right's gains.

2. The far-right's gains:

The most impressive far-right gains were in the UK and the Netherlands, where there usually isn't that much support for the far-right. Nevertheless, the rise in the far-right has been an expected effect of the economic crisis, and though they've won seats across Europe, they still only control a handful of seats. Low turnout helps. It means that the EP will be more splintered - as noted above - and the most important thing now is to ensure that they don't capitalise on their gains.

It should be noted that in some places the hard Eurosceptics didn't do too well; most notably in Poland, where the InDem and No Group were wiped out, both being reduced to no seats. (Though I don't know the make up of the Polish No Group contingent, No Group MEPs tend to be on the extremes).

3. Lower Turnout:

Turnout fell again despite the EP campaign to raise turnout and awareness of the elections. It was around 43%, down from 45%. Annoyingly, the media coverage of the elections in the run up to the vote seemed to consist of talking about low turnout predictions. Think of how better the time asking politicians about low turnout could have been spent asking them questions about the environment, financial regulation, the economy and the next Commission! Has financial regulation become less of a issue? Not only have the elections not been a debate on European issues, but they haven't even been a good debate for national issues or any issues at all!

Here's the BBC interview of the 3 main EP group leaders (Link).

Note that the BBC interview them only after the result, and that the BBC is now parroting the myth that the majority of all legislation comes from the EU. (Perhaps reading Nosemonkey's excellent article on the subject should be made required reading for all journalists and politicians).

It might be unfair to only pick out the BBC for this, but they are the main PBS channel for the UK, and the "most watched" column ruined the last Apprentice episode for me. Two damning reasons, I'm sure you'll agree.

Sunday 7 June 2009

European Elections 2009: Polling Day 4

There are a lot of member states voting today, and I'm afraid it turns out that I won't be able to cover all the countries as I'd originally hoped (enlargement will make it even harder in the future...). Below are a few countries I had begun on, plus a few stats I've seen floating around the web (well, Twitter mostly).

At this point there's not much point in covering the rest of the countries since the results will be in in a few hours, and I'll only have sporadic control of the computer. I'll try to comment on results. Sorry for the (many) member states that I've left out.


- France
- Slovenia
- Hungry
- Germany
- Austria


Polls opened for the Outre-mer or overseas territories yesterday, and polls open for metropolitian France today. Still not much more to add since the bust-up between Daniel Cohn-Bendit and MoDem leader Francois Bayrou. It looks like the UMP/EPP will do well here with a good poll lead (about 27%) over the socialists (PS/PES) at about 21-2%. MoDem/ELDR are at 11-2%, and Cohn-Bendit's Europe Ecologie (European Greens) is at about 9%.

France 24 has reported that at midday it looks like the turnout may have increased slightly.


I can't claim much knowledge here, but the current government is lead by the Social Democrats, with Zares, the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia, and a pensioner's party. Slovenia has 7 seats in the European Parliament. [The below isn't that well informed].

the Social Democrats (PES) are the biggest party in national parliament and are in danger of losing a seat.

The main opposition party, the Slovenien Democratic Party (EPP-ED), is likely to remain on 2 seats.

Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (ELDR), which was part of the government until 2008, currently has 2 MEPs. They have been in general decline however (judging from national parliament results) and are likely to lose a seat in this election.

New Slovenia - Christian People's Party are EPP-ED-aligned, and are not represented in the Slovene parliament (it went from 9 seats to 0 in the last 2 elections). Despite that, opinion polls (that I've seen) indicate that it has a fairly good chance of winning a seat.

Zares/ELDR from the opinion polls look to have an outside chance of winning a seat. The pensioner's party, Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia, also has an outside chance of winning a seat.


Hungry has 22 seats in the EP. Hungry has been badly hit by the economic crisis and has been bailed out be the IMF. There are concerns that far-right parties could do well here. See the Predict 09 predictions here.

Fidesz (Hungarian Civic Union/EPP) is the main opposition party and is set to do extremely well in the elections, with around 60% in opinion polls. They've 12 MEPs at the moment on a 47.4% share of the vote in 2004. Fellow EPP party, Hungarian Democratic Forum, has a chance of retaining its sole seat.

The Hungarian Social Democrats (PES), currently in a minority government and with 9 MEPs, are likely to come a distant second on around 20%. They had around 34% of the vote last time around.

The Alliance of Free Democrats (ELDR) could lose a seat (currently on 2). The far-right Jobbik could is predicted to win their first seat in these elections.


ARD prediction of CDU/EPP 31%, CSU/EPP 7.5%, SPD/PES 21%, FDP/ELDR 11%, Greens/European Greens 11.5%, Die Linke/GUE-NGL 7.5%. Via 27etmoi.

Turnout in Germany will be a big influence on the EP's legitimacy and on turnout overall.


Figures floating around Twitter:

Social Democrats/PES 24%
Christian Democrats/EPP 30,6%
Martin 18,1%
Freedom Party 12,7%
BZÖ 4,5%

European Election 2009: Update (4)

Twitter has been a good source of info over the last few hours on turnout and initial polling indications, though health warnings should be attached to any polling info coming out before the confirmed results come out after 9/10pm tonight.

A notable Twitterer for polling info is 27etmoi, who has reported that for Malta the exit polls state: Labour/PES on 57%, with the Nationalist Party/EPP on 40%.

In Cyprus the turnout was down sharply with an absentee rate of 41.12% - a high turnout on an EU-scale, but a sharp drop that's worrying Cypriot politicians. Read Athena Arsalidou's post over at Th!nk About It for good analysis.

In Ireland, the votes are already being counted, with analysis over some very, very patchy exit polls. The results of the first count will be held back until 9pm in Ireland, when voting ends across the EU. Exit polling has indicated a few tight races for third seats (all 4 constituencies are three-seaters) - unsurprisingly Dublin, but also in the North West constituency where Ganley has polled better on the day than he has in opinion polls. The North West constituency is the biggest by area, however, so special care needs to be taken when looking at the very sketchy exit polls.

In the South constituency, FG/EPP could be in with a chance of winning a second seat, though it will be a tough fight with SF/GUE-NGL. Labour/PES's candidate seem unlikely to be in with a chance, according to exit polls. Kathy Sinnot (InDem) could loose her seat (I'll keep my fingers crossed).

Italy is voting for the second day today, but it's already looking like turnout will be down again this year as there was only a turnout of 17% yesterday (down from 20% in 2004).

In other news, it turns out that the naked man pictured in Berlusconi's villa was in fact Topolanek, former Czech PM and leader of the UEN/EC aligned Civic Democrats (ODS).

In Latvia, pro-Russian minority parties seem to have done well, with indications that the Harmony Centre may have topped the poll on 20% (and could elect Alfreds Rubiks, Latvia's leader when it broke away from the USSR, and who's been jailed for attempting to overthrow the democratic government). The European Greens look set to retain their Latvian seat - the For Human Rights in United Latvia is on 13%. The Civic Union is on 19%.

Saturday 6 June 2009

European Election 2009: Update (3)

Short update this time (promise).

ELDR is naturally very pleased with it's result in the Netherlands, with an increase of one seat (to a total of 6 seats), which is bigger than the EPP (5) or PES (4) delegations. They've already posted about it on their website here.

The EPP has backed (4th June) the Commission's unemployment strategy - though the PES has no candidate to put forward their own strategy, the support of the EPP for this policy won't have any effect on the outcome of the election.

Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek is going to be the EPP candidate for EP President. The EPP aims to get Buzek elected for the first EP Presidential term.

For those who like to see at least some elements of a transnational campaign, there has been a Danish Liberal MEP, who's been campaigning across Europe (though EuroNews didn't say how many member states he covered). (So that's at least a few seconds of media time on a pan-European campaign...).


Fianna Fáil have suffered at the polls for the local elections, dropping as much as 8% from a low starting point in the last local elections (2004). This is likely to be reflected in the European elections, though with a high quota to win a seat, the only FF seat in real danger is Eoin Ryan's in the Dublin constituency.

Labour and Fine Gael have been the main beneficiaries of the FF loss. Interestingly in the Dublin councils, Sinn Féin haven't done too well, with Labour and more minor left-wing parties (Socialist Party; Worker's Party) attracting the swing votes. There are sketchy reports that Eoin Ryan is on 13.25%, Mary Lou McDonald on 13.1% and Joe Higgins on 13.45%.

Declan Ganley is reported (in a similarly sketchy way) to be doing better than expected, and is putting pressure on independent Marian Harkin. Reports are more accurate on a local election and nation-wide basis however, and counting won't start until 9am on Sunday.

Northern Ireland:

RTÉ has given a break down in turnout across Northern Ireland, and it's interesting to see. The votes will be counted on Monday.

European Elections 2009: Polling Day 3

The European elections have started in Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Malta, Slovakia and Outre-mer parts of the French Republic.

Czech Republic

Polling continues for the second and final day today in the Czech Republic, with President Klaus only voting this morning - he famously derided the EP elections as "unnecessary". Turnout is expected to be low, and many of the 30 parties running for a share of the Czech Republic's 22 seats won't win enough votes to send any MEPs to Brussels/Strasbourg. Former President Havel has backed the Green party, but it's unclear how much of a boost they'll get: Green parties generally haven't attracted much support in the new member states.

Lubos Palata has complained that there's no real choice for pro-European voters.

More detailed info on the Czech Republic here.


In Italy, immigration and Berlusconi's private life are talking points, but it's unlikely that divisive immigration rhetoric or continuing questions over Berlusconi's private life is going to dent his People of Freedom party's chances. With the left in disarray (as in France), and Berlusconi's ratings amazingly high for a leader in power during the economic crisis, the EPP can expect a big win here.


Poor turnout for the final election rally of the ALDE-aligned European Party is not encouraging for their prospects, despite the leader claiming that the party wanted it nice and quiet. The ADLE-aligned Democratic party is almost certain of a seat.

The Communist, GUE-NGL aligned AKEL party (who controls the country's presidency), is one of the main parties fighting the elections - in 2004 they returned 2 MEPs. While the Democratic Rally (DISY), EPP-aligned, also returned 2 MEPs in 2004. Both parties are certain of returning 2 MEPs each again in the 6 seat country constituency.

The final seat is up for grabs. Low turnout and an overview of the elections in Cyprus here.


I'm afraid I don't know much about the elections in Latvia at all, though their economic is one of the worst hit in the economic crisis, so issues such as joining the euro early or devaluation of the Lat are likely to be high up.

The EPP-aligned New Era party is currently leading a 4-party governing coalition (only came in March 2009) but they've faced a loss of popularity over recent years. The People's Party headed the old government, but is still in the governing coalition (it's also EPP aligned), so I'm not sure how far the governing parties can escape punishment at the ballot box.

The Latvian Social Democratic Worker's Party is the PES-aligned party in Latvia, but it doesn't have a history of doing well in elections and is currently not in Parliament.

For Human Rights in United Latvia returned a MEP to the Greens-EFA in 2004 (I think it was the only Green-aligned MEP to be returned from the new eastern European Member States in 2004). It is currently represented in parliament, so it should have more of a chance of retaining its seat than the LSDWP has of gaining one.


Immigration is a big issue, as in Italy, and for similar reasons (though minus the Roma issue). Malta returns 5 MEPs to the European Parliament. Predict 09 has forecast no change in the party share of MEPs, with 3 MEPs for the Labour Party (PES), and 2 for the Nationalist Party (EPP). The Nationalist Party is currently in government.

Turnout (as of 2pm) is around 34%.


The country with the lowest turnout in the last European elections (17%).

The governing PES-aligned Direction - Social Democracy was suspended from the PES in 2006 for forming a government with the right-wing Slovak National Party, which was PES considers as a party that stirs up racial hatred.

The Party of the Hungarian Coalition and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union - Democratic Party are the main EPP aligned parties in Slovakia and are in opposition.

There's recently been a controversy over the Hungarian minority, with the party leader of the Hungarian right-wing Fidesz party, Orban, stressing the importance of electing Hungarian MEPs to defend the interests of Hungarians across the border in a comment in a meeting with the Hungarian Coalition. There was a meeting of the Slovak parliament on the last campaigning day to discuss the event - and it may have been used in an attempt to boost turnout and for party advantage.

Predict 09 predicts that Direction - Social Democracy will gain two seats, while the EPP aligned parties will lose seats.


Not much to add since my last update - the clash between Daniel Cohn-Bendit and MoDem leader Francois Bayrou seems to be the big story of the campaign.

European Elections 2009: Update (2)

Some more news and updates on the elections and stories that could affect the elections:

In Italy, which will start its 2 day long poll today, Berlusconi has been caught up in yet another scandal in the media, with pictures of naked women in his villa (and a naked man who may or may not be Topolanek, the leader of the Czech ODS party). The pictures were published by El Pais and are banned from appearing in the press in Italy due to being a breach of privacy. I doubt the pictures, or rumours of pictures, will have much effect on Berlusconi's EPP-aligned right-wing party in the elections - none of the other scandals have (including divorce proceedings).

In France, there's been a big clash between Danny the Red and the leader of ELDR aligned MoDem, Francois Bayrou, on French television. Daniel Cohen-Bendit viciously slammed Bayrou as a leader and presidential candidate, while Bayrou countered by raising old allegations of pedophilia against the former '68 student leader. I wonder how much of an impact this will have on the Greens and MoDem in France - Sarkozy's UMP are expected to comfortably win a good number of votes, with the Socialists behind due to their disarray. A new communist group is doing well in the polls, perhaps to the socialists' expense, but it means that MoDem and the Greens could be fighting for third to fifth place. Perhaps this outburst will damage the chances of either reaching third.

MoDem has also declared themselves against Barroso's bid for a second term.

The Commission is once again annoyed with the Netherlands for producing preliminary results before the rest of the member states have voted. There have been some indications that the Commission could actually do something about it and perhaps even refer it to the ECJ. However, the lack of a truely pan-European campaign means that the Dutch results are unlikely to have much of an impact on the rest of the voting.

Analysis over the preliminary result is already taking place - especially on what the surge in support for the right wing PVV actually means.

RTÉ predicts that there will be a healthy turnout in Ireland - around 60%, and perhaps higher than the last local and European elections due to the economic crisis (then also 60%). On Northern Ireland, RTÉ reports that there was a 42.8% turnout (a drop of around 9% from the last European election), and speculates that de Brún will top the poll with a big lead, making Sinn Féin the "biggest party in any election" - not that it matters in this election. The DUP could have been hit hard (they've not exactly run a good campaign, with a candidate who was frankly embarrassing at times). I suspect that the extent of the vote-splitting with have a lot to do with how Diane Dodds has gone down with DUP voters.

Friday 5 June 2009

European Elections 2009: Polling Day 2

The European elections have opened up in Ireland and for the first day in the Czech Republic.

[Edit: I'll add in a small "contents" for this post, considering it's size].

- Ireland.
- Czech Republic.
- UK.
- Northern Ireland.


In Ireland, where there are local as well as European elections (and 2 by-elections), turnout is looking to be pretty healthy on early indications. Politically, I don't think there's much to add since Wednesday/Thursday and on the news I've commented on before then.

It still looks like 2-3 seats at the most will change hands, with Dublin the closest battle ground - Eoin Ryan (FF/ELDR), Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin/GUE-NGL)and Joe Higgins (Socialist Party/Non-Aligned) have been very close in the polls. It will be interesting to see if the interventions by politicians on possible alliances and how to transfer will have much effect on the third seat race there.

The Irish Independent has an article on 12 key local election battlegrounds, if you are interested.

[[The news has been focused to a certain extent on a Leaving Certificate (A-Level) story, where the English 2 paper was accidentally opened a day early, resulting in the exam being rescheduled for 9.30am on Saturday. Then there was an issue over Jewish students who didn't want to sit the test on the Sabbath (they will now be in isolation in a house over the Sabbath so they can take the test later). The Leaving Cert is always a big story in the Irish media each year with stories on exam pressure, etc. (It is the Isle of Saints and Scholars, after all).]]

Czech Republic:

In the Czech Republic, polls opened today (they will be open tomorrow as well). Here's some summary and news:

The two main parties are of course the ODS (President Klaus' old party and Topolanek's party) from which Topolanek's government was drawn until its collapse. It will form a new group with the UK Conservatives (which could be called the "European Conservatives"). Topolanek isn't exactly Lisbon-friendly, and notably described Obama's economic policy as a "road to hell".

The PES aligned CSSD played a major role in bringing down the government in the first place, which may not have done their image any good with the electorate as the fall of a Czech government during the Czech presidency of the European Council damaged the perceptions of the Czech Republic in the rest of the EU. The CSSD's leader has been the target of an egging campaign recently (see the third story here). I can't see an enthusiastic turnout for his party or indeed overall.

(There's a chance that tensions between the ODS and CSSD could spill over into a legal battle).

The EPP aligned KDU-CSL has just chosen a new leader to improve its image and to improve its electability. The new chairman, Svoboda, signals a possible shift to the left in the centrist party. This party is a minor one however, so I doubt the EPP can expect to gain much here.

President Klaus has had a sharp exchange with French Foreign Minister Koucher since the Czech President declared that the EP elections are "unnecessary".

Post-communist president Havel has spoken out against the smear tactics in the election campaigning (fourth story here). From the news I've read and heard, I'm not expecting European issues to feature much at all, and I'd say the confidence in politicians will be very low as (some) voters go to the polls.

Turnout is not expected to be high, as interest in European issues in the Czech Republic seem to be quite low. European issues just don't seem to be being made visible and clear to voters in this campaign.


In the UK, local election results are mostly in (as of writing, 30 out of 34 councils have been declared), and they may indicate the shape of the European results (though the European elections may have a higher protest vote against the main parties).

Local Council Seats [Change in square brackets]:

Labour - 159 [+250]
Conservatives - 1330 [+217]
LibDems - 439 [-8]
Others - 159 [+34]

For more detail, see the BBC's website here.

A clear swing to the Conservatives in terms of seats important to note that the LibDems are the only main party to increase their share of the vote, while the Conservative share has fallen more than any other party - though it still leads the LibDems by about 10%. I wonder if who will benefit the most in the European elections - LibDems, Conservatives or UKIP? And if the Greens will make respectable gains.

Government-wise, trouble over the resignation of several cabinet ministers has forced a messy, if limited, reshuffle. Brown is in a weakened, but more secure position now. For some strange reason, Sir Alan Sugar will get a ministry (and a peerage). From a EU point of view, Europe Minister Caroline Flint, who resigned, has been replaced by Glenys Kinnock. Caroline Flint is supposed to have resigned over not being promoted - I wouldn't say that her performance as Europe Minister has been particularly deserving of a promotion however. Not that the cabinet is exactly bursting with talent...

Northern Ireland:

In Northern Ireland the turnout is guesstimated at 45% by BBC Newline, with the unionist candidates seemingly close together - predicted to be within 19-13% of each other. Mick Fealty over at Slugger O'Toole has flagged up some estimations, and there's some O'Toole analysis here. Transfers will be everything, and the turnout in different sections of society could be key to the transfer trends.

Upturn in Early Voting turnout

The Sofia Echo has reported that the turnout for early voting is up around 1.1% in Finland and 1.77% in Sweden. It's not a big increase, but it may indicate a bigger interest in the elections by the public.

Given that the turnout has probably fallen in the UK, and only risen slightly in the Netherlands, there will probably need to be a bigger turnout elsewhere for the EU average to be raised significantly.

Early voting is over in Finland but it will continue in Sweden until the official polling day of the 7th of June.

European Elections 2009: First day of polling over

The first day of voting in the European elections is over - the polls have closed in the UK and the Netherlands, with low turnout still apparent.

The Dutch turnout was around 40% according to France 24 (4/6/2009), which would be up a percentage point from 2004 - hardly spectacular. It would be interesting to know how much of the EP's voter turnout campaign was spent in the Netherlands. I doubt the campaign had much impact anywhere.

Preliminary results have started coming out of the Netherlands too - even if it turns out not to be a strict breach in the rules, it is certainly a breach in the spirit of the election rule that no results would be revealed until all countries have voted. Reports say that Geert Wilders party, the PVV, will return the second largest Dutch contingent to the EP at 4 seats, while the senior ruling party (the Christian Democratic Appeal party/EPP) will remain the largest contingent despite losses at 5 seats. The PES-aligned PvdA should get 4 seats (down from 7).

Based on preliminary results (2004 seats in brackets) [Change in square brackets]:

EPP - 5 (7) [-2]
PES - 4 (7) [-3]
ELDR - 6 (5) [+1]
European Greens - 2 (2) [0]
GUE-NGL - 2 (2) [0]
InDem - 2 (2) [0]
Non-Aligned - 4 (0) [+4]

The swing is strongest in the direction of the non-aligned PVV, with a smaller movement towards the liberal ELDR group (two Dutch parties are members of ELDR, with one losing a seat and the other gaining two, so there may be voter movement within the ELDR group parties). The PvdA, currently in coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal) was clearly the hardest hit.

In the UK the orthodoxy is that the main parties will be hit hard due to the expenses scandal. The most interesting aspects of the votes, when they're released, will be (1) how well the minor parties did - and which ones, and (2) how well the Conservative and LibDems did compared to Labour. Turnout-wise, the Times has put it at around 30% (via Jon Worth).

EP-wise the elections in the UK will likely lead to PES losses, a UEN/EC gain (though this can only be compared to the Tory delegation to the EPP-ED group in 2004-2009 since their new splinter group won't be formed until this term) and either no change for ELDR, or a slight gain.

The UKIP result will probably depend on how well they've managed to capitalise on voter discontent compared to the BNP and the Greens. I think that their vote will remain quite stable with perhaps a small increase. UKIP have complained that their chances being damaged by how the ballots were folded.

In the meantime, we can amuse ourselves with the Council election results for England, which will probably give an indication of the European results (since both are being treated as a referendum of the government anyway). Currently the results stand at:

(Seats with [Change in square brackets])

Labour - 16 [-8]
Conservatives - 17 [+4]
Liberal Democrats - 36 [+4]
Others - 1 [0]

Though obviously hardly any vote have been counted yet and it looks like a LibDem council may have been the first one to have been counted since only the LibDems have been confirmed to have won a council (Bristol), according to the BBC's council election counter. Still, a better picture should emerge later.

In Northern Ireland, turnout is going to drop as well, from around 51.7% last time to between 38-45%. Over at Slugger O'Toole they've been gathering the turnout data from polling stations around Northern Ireland. (See here and on the backup site here).

Of course, it's not just overall turnout that will matter in NI, but what sections of the community turned out and in what strength. Turnout among middle class nationalists and unionists will boost moderate parties and there could be some cross-community transfers. Turnout among working class nationalist and unionist areas generally favours Sinn Féin/DUP/TUV, with transfers more limited to intra-community parties.

A lower turnout could help Jim Allister (TUV), who, as a party to the right of the DUP, may be able to rely on a more hardcore support base. There may also be a chance that the unionist vote is split enough for Alban Maginness (SDLP) to win the third seat, though it's likely that Jim Nicholson (UUP/Conservatives) will retain the third seat.

[Side note: Frank Schnittger has written a good article on the tribalism of NI politics on Th!nk About It here].

The balance of turnout between the communities and the general transfer trends will be poured over, but it will have to wait until Monday, when the votes will actually be counted.

Today (June 5th) voting will begin in Ireland and for the first day in the Czech Republic.

Thursday 4 June 2009

European Election 2009 Update

Today the UK and Netherlands have started voting in the European elections (France 24 overview here). DerStandard has complained at the lack of pro-European/moderate party passion during the elections (here - in German).

The European Greens say that the latest polls predict them (the Scottish Greens) winning a seat in Scotland, with 18% of the poll.

I haven't voted yet myself (I will after posting this), and BBC Newline has reported that there's a steady stream of voters going to the polls, even if it's a bit quiet. Turnout may or may not pick up later when more people finish work.

There has been controversy over the decision of the Netherlands to release some "preliminary results" before the elections are over in other countries - but for the NI results, they won't be counted until Monday. It's not a breach, but it's annoying that we'll vote first here, and find out last...

If you're voting in NI and haven't made your mind up yet (or want to know a bit more on the candidates' stances on some European issues) you can read the responses of 4 of the candidates to some of my questions here. Not all parties replied (4 out of 7 replied), but I did email late on in the campaign (just on Sunday, in fact).

Some members of the liberal Radical Party in Italy are on hunger strike because the media there is not giving them enough attention in the run up to the elections, despite a ruling that said that Rai (the main channel they're in dispute with) should give them equal airtime.

In the Republic of Ireland, voting doesn't officially start until tomorrow, but voting on the offshore islands takes place today (they traditionally vote a day early).

In the Dublin Euro-constituency (which votes tomorrow), the battle for the third and final seat is still a tight one, with Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Féin/GUE-NGL), Eoin Ryan (Fianna Fáil/ELDR) and Joe Higgins (Socialist Party) close in the polls - MLM has had a slight lead in the polls lately, but there have been a few events since then.

A Fine Gael strategist has hinted that a possible Fine Gael-Sinn Féin coalition after the next general election, and Trever Sargent has claimed that FG leader Enda Kenny approached him after the last general election to sound out SF on the possibility of a rainbow coalition (FG-Labour-SF). In the Republic coalitions with SF are taboo, so naturally enough Enda Kenny has rejected these claims.

It's unclear whether or not the whole episode will have much impact on the vote at all. Former FG leader and Taoiseach (and French-speaking Europhile) Garret FitzGerald has called on people to transfer to pro-Lisbon parties in this election - which really means transferring to Fianna Fáil's Eoin Ryan in Dublin, who is facing a feirce battle to retain his seat (Dublin is down 1 seat from the last elections).

Enda Kenny has stated that Eoin Ryan's loss will be Fine Gael's gain - and both Fine Gael and Labour have unfortunately pushed the line that the elections are a referendum on the Government (a Fianna Fáil-Green coalition). It's a pity since some of the MEPs have tried to give a more pan-European flavour to the election by highlighting the European Group aspect of pan-European politics.

Irish Minister for Health Mary Harney (independent; formally Progressive Democrat) has clashed with Mary Lou McDonald over MLM's attendance record and the issue of maternity leave.

Labour's Dublin candidate De Rossa, launched a report "No Time to Waste" slamming Ireland's record on environmental protection and compliance with EU environmental law. He also took a swipe at the Greens who have been in government for 2 years now in Ireland (their first time in government here), stating that they haven't improved the government's record on the matter. Ireland apparently accounts for 6% of environmental infringement cases despite only having 1% of the EU's population. I doubt the report will have much of an impact (de Rossa is favourite to win the second seat with a healthy first preference vote predicted), but it could prevent "slippage" of voters to the three candidates fighting over the third seat, since that battle is getting more media attention.

Apparently, the Mayo News has called the third seat in the North West constituency for Declan Ganley. Why? Read here. I think that Ganley's vote could be bigger than predicted considering the size of the constituency, but I doubt he will win a seat. As for his promise not to play a leading part in a No campaign in the upcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum - well, there are other roles apart from leading ones, and Libertas could still play a role (if it can exist independent of Ganley/operate effectively without his leadership).

The Irish Examiner has written a good article on "Making the EU work for You", explaining how individuals can try to make their voices heard at different points in the EU system. Naturally one way is through your MEP, so vote to make sure you've a good one!