When an MEP is invited on to the Today programme for the 7.10 slot it’s normally because they’ve said something outrageous and have been told by the party leadership to limit the damage. It was notable then that the leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, Martin Callanan, was being interviewed in that very slot recently – Mr Callanan is not one to come out with silly comments about women.
Instead the topic was the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections. I say forthcoming, they’re actually not until May 2014, but the State of the European Union address given by Commission President José Manuel Barroso on Wednesday September 11th marked the start of the campaign.
Mr Barroso’s speech was not exactly illuminating, which is unsurprising since his time as President is drawing to a close: the Commission itself is also due to be reconstructed after the elections. It was President Barroso’s reaction to Mr Callanan’s post-speech remarks that raised British interest. Having listened to Mr Callanan describe his attitude as being one that represents “vested interests of the European District in Brussels not the people of Europe”, Mr Barroso responded by saying that Mr Callanan, and the European Conservatives and Reformists group which he leads, were “looking like UKIP”. It was not meant as a compliment.
The Commission President then, perhaps unwisely, strayed into electoral predictions, speculating that next May the British public “are going to vote for Mr Farage”, though he appealed to the Conservatives to “make the case for Europe”.
That’s unlikely. European Parliamentary elections are curious beasts, often dominated in recent years – both in the UK and throughout the rest of Europe – by people and parties who claim to loath the institution that they are joining. The elections are also tailor made for populist parties; despite a growth in its powers, the European Parliament will never “govern” as such, so there is no need to be responsible with the things you promise.
This is a shame. The European Parliament has moved on from being a fig leaf of democracy to being increasingly assertive in its dealings with other European institutions. Elections to it deserve to be more than just referendums on the domestic government of the day, or on a country’s relationship with Europe. Don’t bet on it though – take President Barroso’s advice and put money on UKIP coming first instead.