Sunday, June 28, 2009

A relevant, comprehensive and synthetic analysis of the European elections

I have found on the FEPS think-tank's website an analysis of the European elections that I think is quite relevant, relatively comprehensive, and remarkably synthetic, which is always a plus point. Click here to access the FEPS analysis.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The EPP is openly blackmailing the PES but apparently journalists don’t care

Wednesday at a press conference, the newly re-elected EPP group leader Joseph Daul said that his group was opened to any type of alliance for the European Parliament shared presidency deal. However Daul added that the EPP group would – of course- only make a deal with “people” who back the re-election of Barroso as Commission President at the EP first plenary session on July 15th. I am not sure if I understand why the EP presidency and the Commission presidency have to be connected. Journalists in the room didn’t ask this question though. This is a smart move from the EPP. Either the Socialists accept these conditions -thus risking to loose political clarity and to spur divisions among the PES, or they refuse -thus loosing the power the EP presidency seat gives. Smart move, indeed. Although this declaration sounds like a political bomb, none of the mainstream EU media picked up on it. From what I could see, only Europolitics made a story on it, but the article is not available for free. I haven’t seen anyone mentioning it on Twitter either. Strange thing. Joseph Daul said negotiations with political groups on the technical agreement would start next week. Let’s see what happens.

Update on June 27th:

EU bloggers have started picking up the story. See Jon Worth's "Schizophrenic socialists and poker playing conservatives" and the European Citizen's “PASD Strategy: Opposition or Office?”

Their views converge: the socialists would be better off refusing the EPP presidency deal, and positioning themselves clearly as the opposition party.

Update on June 29th

The press has started to pick up on the story. See Jean Quatremer's blog (in French) and New Europe's website, which even mentions the http://www.stop-barroso.eu/ and http://www.anyonebutbarroso.eu/ websites.

Tired of legislation and taxes? Head off to the libertarian paradise!

Thanks to Compass Youth for drawing my attention to this amazingly funny (and so true) video.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The good thing about a crisis is that it brings about change

The French PS is going through a severe crisis. Nobody denies it anymore. Everybody knows. It’s out there. It’s a fact. On a more positive note, let’s keep in mind that one has to reach the bottom of the swimming-pool so they can give a good kick and surface again. I hope that’s where we stand now.

In the aftermath of the European election defeat, French PS leaders have started the blame game. They all come up with their very own explanation of the reasons why we lost, and what needs to be done to recover. The views expressed are all different of course, and there is no common stance on the situation. That’s part of the issue. Some think the party should lean more towards the left, while others would like to see it closer to the centre. Some would like to bring all left-wing parties together; others wish the PS rather reasserted its specific identity. Some even go as far as saying the party should change its name –the most extremist advocating that the party is dead, and we should thus dissolve it. In short, it’s a big mess.

Amid this cacophony, one idea has emerged as quite unusually popular, and it is generating more and more interest among the activists. The French PS is seriously thinking about organising primaries to the presidential election, after the US model. The idea has the advantage of being both new to the French political debate and innovative, and above all it is surfing on the Obama wave. A very interesting report has been written on it by a PS group dedicated to brainstorming on the party’s renovation. I’ll get back to that in upcoming posts. The idea is certainly inspiring, and worth giving a lot of thought to. However it shouldn’t be a smoke screen over the deeper problems of the party. We should not put all our energy in this new project at the risk of not tackling the real issues. Yes, the PS is going through a serious crisis, and that new electoral gadget – as interesting as it may be – will not solve the root problems our movement is suffering from. Let’s not act in haste. Our defeats are the results of a disconnection between our party and our electorate. Our party has not managed to renew its identity according to society evolution. That’s what we have to work on.

For activists, the current situation is very difficult to live. The mood is bad, of course. We all are a little knocked out. But something tells me we are not far away from that moment when reaching the bottom of the swimming-pool, a good kick pulls you back to the surface, slowly but surely. What makes me feel like that is precisely the fact that we all agree our party is in trouble so we cannot shilly-shally any longer. Either we change or we die. All methods are allowed in this kind of decisive moment, and that is a good thing. People speak their mind out, volunteers multiply, and so do debates. We take a new look at problems, put prejudices aside, forget about the old recipes, and open up to all new ideas. So yes, at that moment, everything is possible. Stay tuned, coming up: fascinating times.

picture credits: jayhem @ flickr

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Something of a déjà-vu: from the 2002 presidential election to the 2009 European elections

The European elections left me with a bitter taste of déjà-vu. After reading the terms some commentators are using to describe the disappointing scores of the European socialists –debacle, collapse, rout, disarray- another expression comes back to my mind… an expression I got familiar with 7 years ago under painful circumstances: ‘like a clap of thunder’. That was the title of a documentary on the then serving French PM Lionel Jospin while he was running for President. Reporters followed him during the last six weeks of his campaign, until the final clap of thunder: centre-right RPR Jacques Chirac was first, extreme-right FN Jean-Marie Le Pen was second with almost 20% of the votes, thus eliminating centre-left PS Lionel Jospin who only got 17.4% of the ballot. The French presidential election is in two rounds, only the two best candidates have access to the second round. This unfortunate event has been more of an electric shock than a clap of thunder to me, as it has been for a whole generation of young French people. I was studying political sciences in Grenoble back then. Like many, I didn’t vote. I was far away from my polling station in Paris. My parents were on holiday. They didn’t vote either, nor did my brother. For the very first time, none of my family members had voted, although we are a very civic family. We always vote. It is a matter of duty for us. Yes, I remember, it was holiday time. The Parisians had deserted the city. They figured they would come back to vote for the second round, which usually opposes the main centre-right candidate of the RPR/UDF to the main centre-left candidate of the PS. But that time so many of us assumed it would happen the usual way that the unthinkable actually occurred. The PS got dismissed. Even worse, the extreme-right overtook the PS. As millions of left-wingers, that terrified me. That’s when I decided to commit myself to politics.

Let’s see why the 2009 European elections remind me so much of the bitter memory of the 2002 French presidential election:

1. A favourable trend for the left. Jospin had done a good job. As a PM for 5 years – a record in France – he implemented significant progressive reforms such as the 35-hour week and the universal health insurance scheme. He was rather popular. The PS was strong, had a good track-record, and as such had quite a wide range of opportunity ahead of it, just as the PES member parties did this year. In the current context of economic crisis -when most European governments are right-wing led while the ones that used to vehemently advocate for free and undistorted markets are now using social-democratic recipes- centre-left parties should have been the front-runners of these elections. Newsweek ‘s headline even said « We Are All Socialists Now ». Yet most PES member parties suffered from a heavy defeat at the European elections.

2. Low turnout that mainly affects the left. It was holiday time in 2002. In 2009, the European elections took place during a bank holiday. The weather was nice. The result: record low turnout rates in both cases. In both cases too, there was a problem of clarity of what was at stake, and many actually wondered if there was a point in voting. In 2002, many thought it did not really matter to vote at the first round, as things were only getting serious at the second round anyway. As for the European elections, it is a well-known fact that what is at stake is not clearly visible. Voters don’t really understand what these elections are about. Moreover, low turnout rates have a more negative effect on the left than they do on the right. Right-wing voters are more disciplined and loyal. The elders, who always vote, tend to vote more for right-wing candidates while youngsters, who vote much less often, tend to vote for left-wing candidates.

3. A divided left-wing camp. In 2002 as in 2009, many left-wing voters voted for the Greens. Traditionally, at the first round of the presidential election, a significant fringe of PS voters are tempted to vote for the Greens, the Communist party or even further left, for some because the rhetoric of these parties is more attractive to them, for others because they want to send indications to the PS on what political line it should follow. First round, you vote as you please. Second round, you vote for the best realistic alternative. The European elections are like the first round of the French presidential election: the left-vote is divided. In 2002 as in 2009, left-wing parties preferred to attack each other, rather than attacking right-wing parties.

Lack of visibility of what was at stake, record low turnout levels, division of the left: like recipe like result, a tremendous defeat for the Socialist parties to the benefit of smaller left-wing formations. That’s just one way of looking at things, I know. It is not a comprehensive one. There are many other ways of analysing these elections. I plan on using different perspectives. After all, there is so much to say about these European elections.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hungover



Yes, hungover. There is no other word to describe the way I have been feeling like since that terrible Sunday evening. There is so much to say. As usual, everybody has already started to analyse what happened and give their own explanation of the situation. Everybody thinks they're right, that their explanation is the right one. The truth is there is no simple reason, nor is there one single easily identifiable culprit. I have my own ideas on the reasons for this defeat, of course. Too many ideas, actually. I need to step back, recover from this hangover, and sort things out a little, so I can see the bigger picture. I will then analyse those reasons one by one, the ones that I instinctively feel are right, and the ones that others think are right. There is a lot of work to be done. But my motivation remains intact.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

it's super Sunday!

Today 18 EU countries are voting to elect their representatives at the European Parliament. Tonight at 10, we will get the results from all 27 EU countries, and finally know what the European Parliament will look like for the next 5 years.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

D+2: Cyprus, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Slovakia

Today is the third day of the European elections.
Citizens of Cyprus, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Slovakia are to cast their votes.
Good luck to all PES parties!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fantastic atmosphere at the French PS final meeting in Lille

video

D+1: Ireland and Czech Republic

After the UK and the Netherlands, today it's the turn of Ireland and Czech Republic to vote.
Good luck to the Labour Party and the CSSD!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

It's D-Day

Today is the opening of a 4-day continent-wide electoral marathon!
The citizens of the 27 member states of the European Union are going to elect their representatives at the European Parliament. And no, they don't all vote on the same day. The first citizens called to cast their vote are the British and the Dutch. So, good luck to my Labour friends and Veel success voor mijn PvdA vrienden!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Call to vote from space

Even in space you can vote so stop making excuses and just go!

Who should you vote for?

Still confused? Grahnlaw's blog has brought to my attention this guide to the European parties' manifestos for the European Parliament elections. Have a look! It is quite well conceived. For a French equivalent, click here. Bonne lecture! 

just one day to go

I can hardly believe it is finally hapenning...
But no doubt, the European Parliament elections begin tomorrow!
27 countries will be voting over 4 days. 
Starting the race: the UK and the Netherlands.
Good luck to you all, and a special thought to my PvdA and Labour friends!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Abortion is an ‘aberration’ worse than pederasty, says Spanish PP head of list

In an electoral meeting on 29 May, head of PP European list Jaime Mayor Oreja expressed its support to Cardinal Antonio Cañizares’ assertion concerning a recent report on sexual abuses perpetrated for decades in Catholic schools in Ireland, reports El País. Mayor said that Cañizares is right when saying that what happened in Ireland was not as bad as “the hundreds of lives destroyed by abortion” and he claims to not understand the scandal Cañizares’ declarations created. The head of PSOE European list, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said that the PP vision is not “the majority perception of society” and that Mayor is trying to criminalise women who have made their choice. The next day, in a meeting in Esplugues de Llobregat (Barcelona), PP President Mariano Rajoy tried to avoid references to his support for Mayor. Spanish Socialist President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero also reacted by asking Mayor to “withdraw his declarations which are 30 or 40 years old”. “We won’t allow Mr. Mayor Oreja to impose his morals” on Spanish society, Zapatero added. 

For the record, Major Oreja also refused to support the declaration condemning General Franco's regime 70 years after his coup d'état in the plenary of July 2007. “Why should I have to condemn Franco´s regime?”, he said. “I did not condemn Franco, I praise the democratic transition. How can I condemn what represents, without a doubt, a very big part of Spanish society?”, he added. 

Now, is Jaime Mayor Oreja really the kind of guy you want to see making decisions for you at the European Parliament? The PP is allied –among others- to the UMP, the PdL (Berlusconi’s party) and the CDU. All these parties are gathered in the European People’s party, strongly claiming their Christian values, which to them are “true values”. I don't like to draw the fear card -that's too much of a right-wing tactic- but this is a little scary, isn't it? Please, mind your vote.

Monday, June 1, 2009

2009: a PES odyssey

Since I couldn’t help but notice the gap between the campaign as I know it from the inside, and as it is portrayed by the media  -see previous posts here and there- I decided to try and find a new equilibrium -if only a little- by relating the campaign through the eyes of a eurosocialist activist.

The Party of European Socialists has been preparing these elections for almost two years. Two years of consultation, debate and action. Two years trying to catch the attention of 27 national presses, in vain. Two years of hard work only to realise -at the end of the race- that the national media are just starting to show interest in these elections, only two weeks before the vote. This is a deeply upsetting situation for activists.

The PES manifesto is the fruit of an unprecedented approach in Europe. This manifesto is the result of a democratic bottom-up process, and not top-down as it is still done in other European parties.

For almost a year -from October 2007 to July 2008- the PES ran an open and transparent consultation of activists, NGOs, and trade unions over four key topics that were to become the PES campaign axes for the 2009 European elections. Gathered in their local branches, the PES activists debated for months in order to write contributions to the upcoming PES manifesto. The Your Space website was also an innovation in the field of political debate.  Internet users - either PES activists or not-  were invited to post articles or comments on the topics of the consultation. I took part in all of this. The result? For the first time, a common programme for all Socialist, Social-democrat, and Labour parties of Europe -a manifesto for the Party of European Socialists that states our values, describes six common axes for our future actions, and develops 71 concrete proposals for a new direction to Europe.

An ambitious manifesto, an unprecedented approach, transnational and democratic. Something that had never been seen before.

In December 2008, this manifesto was adopted unanimously by member parties at the PES council in Madrid (watch video). I was there too. This moment gave me the shivers. Along with the hundreds of activists that were there, I shared the feeling that the adoption of this manifesto was the emotional symbol of what we were building together: a Paneuropean political force that manages to elaborate and promote a common project, beyond the boundaries of language and culture, thanks to the enthusiasm of its activists. All together, united. Definitely moving. 

When I came back home, I was very disappointed by the French media coverage of the event. What was a major event, an unprecedented attempt at politicising the decisions made in Europe, was only reported through the participation of the freshly-elected head of the French PS, Martine Aubry. It is true that Martine Aubry was applauded warmly, but she was only one party leader among the 27 that attended the event.  What mattered was not her attendance or the way it was received. What mattered was the adoption of a common manifesto to all centre-left parties in Europe, and the way we managed to get there. Unfortunately, this was -according to the media- not a big story.

What was also innovating enough to be worth pointing out is the fact that the French PS has fully adopted the PES campaign: manifesto, mottos, visual identity, and logos alike. The PS chose to launch its campaign at the same time as the PES campaign was launched in April in Toulouse. On that occasion, all PES heads of list from the 27 EU member states gathered at a bilingual event. It was fantastic to see the audience - whose diversity was shown by the variety of flags being waved- so enthusiastic. This event was covered by the media -well, a little. Just a little since, once again, facts were covered through a national lens: it was reported as the PS campaign launch, rather than the PES’s. In fact, it was the opposite.

May, the final sprint. Every Saturday, there was a European day of action, for which PES party members organised events all around Europe, on the same date, and on the same topic: the 9th Social Europe, the 16th climate change, the 23rd relaunching the economy, the 30th our manifesto. When I read the live twitter comments that our activists posted on the events they took part in, when I looked at the pictures of these actions on flickr, and felt the sense of unity they shown, I couldn’t help but think that there was something truly innovating and unique in the 2009 PES campaign. A common manifesto for 27 countries, democratically elaborated, the enthusiastic mobilisation of activists all over Europe, and the use of the latest Internet tools as a means of overcoming distance, are some of the PES campaign features that should have triggered the interest of the media and other commentators.