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01 May 2014

The First Presidential Debate

Better late than ever. After 60 years of EU, European elections have finally faces to match the insignias. In great measure due to internal youth movements, European political parties where forced one by one to present a candidate to the post of European Commission President. Euronews took the chance and invited the candidates for the first ever presidential debate in the history of the EU. In an university auditorium packed with students and the door open to citizen participation through the internet, the stage was set for a unique moment in the 28th of April.

Below the fold is a brief analysis of the performance of each candidate.

Jean Claude Junker (EPP)


Did not start badly, and deflected intelligently the accusation of having lead a tax heaven, but after being forced to track back on euro-bonds never recovered back. Found himself frequently in difficulties and was hardly combative; appeared to be not completely at ease with the English language, something that also impaired him. Was an easy target, above all for having a discourse on Europe that is far more progressive than his own party. The following face-to-face debates with Schulz in French and German will provide him opportunities to correct, but has ahead a hard campaign, where he must convince electors that he is capably of swaying the EPP towards his goals.

Ska Keller (Greens)


The heretofore unknown green (in more than one sense) European parliament member had her baptism of fire and did not compromise. Raised applauses several times and was able to mark differences from hers to the other parties. Nevertheless lacked substance in her discourse, remitting to common places even in favourable questions; like Junker, was not combative. Keller is above all the symbol of a wager on youth and political renovation from the greens; the internet may be a capital means in the eventual success of this strategy.

Martin Schulz (PES)


Almost after Junker's retreat on euro-bonds, raised the first applause by rising against remarks on Keller's youth by the moderators; from then on kept the advantage. Was the candidate with more depth in discourse, managing to present concrete proposals on almost every subject. Was also the only one that tried to temper Verhofstadt's exuberance, applying an intelligent pragmatism. The allegation regarding the illegality of the present functioning of the European Council would be enough to get wide attention from the media, but left further remarks on the trans-Atlantic trade agreement and the digital agenda that must have left some multi-nationals wondering.

Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE)


The champion of Federal Europe showed once more that he is one of the greatest European politicians of the post-war. Notwithstanding a somewhat superficial discourse - reducible to more markets, less regulation - lit up the auditorium several times with his ambitious vision of a united Europe. The inflamed way in which he exposes the flaws in the present structure of the European Union and the unswerving faith on Federalism swayed the audience. Post debate analysis and polls gave him a close victory, leaving the message to other parties that electors may yearn more for long term objectives than they might thought. Personality larger than the party, Verhofstadt can take the liberals to an historical result.

Alexis Tsipras (GUE/NGL)


Was absent due to calendar reasons; will hardly have another chance to face all his rivals beyond such a wide audience. On the other hand, the same debate, with five candidates, the same number of subjects and the same time frame, could have simply not functioned.

Reflections


A first note regarding José Manual Barroso. Was referenced several times, always in a very negative way - the President that no one wants to be. His political carer has definitely ended in Europe; to be seen his future in Portugal.

The debate was surprising in several ways. The ninety minutes simply flew, with exciting moments, humour and - in spite of the strict time controls imposed by the moderators - substance. Also for the participation, Euronews received an average of ten thousand electronic messages per minute during the debate, with some questions posed lived to the candidates. With present actors, a national political debate of this quality is unthinkable in most member states (especially Portugal).

These elections can be a turning point for the European Union. The novelty of pre-known candidates can put an end to the declining citizen interest on the European construction, providing a new breath for the tackling of our collective problems at the level where they must be tackled.

Unfortunately, this historical moment was missed by most European citizens, by the sheer ignorance from the national media at large (a modern sort of censorship). Fortunately, this event will stay forever available through the internet; unmissable for an informed vote on the 25th of May.



The following day Euranet ran its own version of the debate with the same candidates.