With the highest abstention rate in the history of the Union and the election at Strasbourg bringing in a fearsome army of Eurosceptics, one would have thought that the single biggest priority of European politics would be to assert the European Parliament’s role as a forum for debate and an arena of choice and democracy, in a system gnawed away at by intergovernmental and partisan thinking.
Power-sharing deals behind closed doors
Instead, it was decided not to change course, but to carry on as if the 13th June never happened. So Josep Borrell arrives in Europe after years of difficulties in his political career: a background role in the Convention, financial scandals and resignation as leader of the Spanish socialist party (PSOE), the end of the Gonzales era in Spain. The methods used in the election of Josep Borrell to the presidency of the largest transnational elected assembly in the world, not to mention its significance and implications, go against European democracy. During an electoral campaign that interested no one, the conservatives and the socialists seemed to belong to two separate worlds. They who seemed divided on every issue waited for the first parliamentary session… and voted identically. An event that the European media, if it existed, would have trouble explaining to European voters. As well as to the hundreds of new EU delegates from ‘new Europe’ whose first experience of European politics has been the ratification of a decision taken in private by one section of the whole body, behind closed doors and without witnesses. 388 votes leave us with a part-time socialist president who will give up his position in two and a half years to the current president of the Conservative group, Hans-Gert Pöttering.
The Geremek alternative
Secret ballots represented the only safeguard of the freedom of individual parliamentary representatives against the control of the parties. And more than 80 socialist and conservative delegates, in the privacy of the ballot box, decided to take back their freedom by voting for the Liberal group candidate Bronislaw Geremek, symbol of democratic transition in the countries of ‘new Europe’, and one of the first to accept his invitation to join the future ‘friends of café babel’. The 208 votes for Geremek transcended traditional political divisions. They were deeply symbolic as a welcoming of ex-Communist Europe’s experience, history and challenges.
Tuesday morning was a missed opportunity to put an end to the Europe of technical agreements in a political void, of political parties’ supremacy over the individual liberty of delegates, of power coming from and being exerted away from the institutions and media control. A missed opportunity to react to apathy and disaffection with the European project. Now we have five years to put it all right. Better get to work, President Borrell.