High Stakes and possible troubles Irn-Bru-ing as #ep2014 approach

31 Jan

Here is my article from this week’s BEERG Newsletter looking at mounting tensions in the race to take the EU Commission Presidency

ib_cansYou call tell that there’s an election approaching by how targeted, populist and political the press releases from MEPs become. Take the Scottish Nationalist (SNP) MEP Alyn Smith, who has suggested that Scotland consider banning Canadian-born singers Justin Bieber and Celine Dion in retaliation for Canadian authorities prohibiting several Canadian stores from selling the popular Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru. Smith justified his call, albeit tongue in cheek, by saying that between them, Bieber and Dion have produced “more sugary schmaltz” than Irn-Bru ever has.

While Smith’s demand has the virtue of humour and creativity, the same cannot be said for the political attack made by the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) on German Socialist MEP, Martin Schulz (photo) on Wednesday as reported by the EurActiv website http://www.euractiv.com.

Schulz is the outgoing President European Parliament and the likely Socialist candidate to be President of the next EU Commission

The attack centres on allegations made by the EPP that a €60,000 European Parliament contract was awarded to the wife of Sergei Stanishev, the president of the PES: Party of European Socialists. The €60,000 contract was for an information project promoting the European elections in Bulgaria.

Leading the attack for the EPP, German MEP Ingeborg Grässle claims the situation has alarm bells ringing over an “obvious” conflict of interest involving some of the most prominent figures in the European socialist family, saying “European Parliament staff under the direction of Socialist President Martin Schulz handing out a contract worth €60,000 to the wife of the European Socialist Party President – this smacks of political favours… Is Mr. Schulz using parliament funds to help his political friends?”

EurActiv reports that its sources say that Schulz is concentrating on his campaign to succeed to José Manuel Barroso as Commission President and shudders at any piece of news which could upset his plan.

The fact that the attack was led by a German MEP is significant as Grässle and Schulz’s own parties the CDU and SPD are now in a grand coalition partnership government in Germany. Expect to see and hear more political skulduggery as the May parliamentary elections approach. The stakes are high with more than just the political balance in the European Parliament to consider. As the BEERG Newsletter has reported reforms made under the EU’s Lisbon Treaty means that heads of government must take the results of the European elections “into account” when selecting the next EU Commission President.

With polls suggesting a swing to the Socialists in the May election, possible sufficient to make it the largest single group in Parliament, Schulz is well placed to become the next Commission President, however the centre right EPP group is not likely to allow this prized post slip from its grasp.

12 of the 28 heads of Government are members of the EPP, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and Poland’s Donald Tusk. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory Party quit the EPP in 2009.

The EPP is planning to select its candidate for the EU Commission Presidency at its Congress in Dublin on March 6th & 7th. There are four possible contenders: the Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, the Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the current commissioner for the internal market Michel Barnier and the former Luxembourg Prime Minister and EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker.

The PES, whose European Parliamentary group is called the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) will hold it pre-election congress in Rome on 1 March.

ENDS

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