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.

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