In May 22-25, European citizens will decide who will lead the Union for the next five years. Despite being the eighth general elections for the European Parliament since 1979, this time is particularly important. For the first time candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission had been nominated before the elections. And this means a lot.
The Lisbon Treaty (art. 17.7 TEU) says that the European Council “shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members.” Despite (but not against) this clear indications, for the first time six out of eleven European Political parties had indicated their candidates before the elections. This, politically, has a great meaning: the Commission is the unique legislative body of the European Union called to serve only the interests of the Union as a whole; the Council, on the contrary, is called to serve the Union as a group of States. If the citizens have (even indirectly) elected the Head of the Commission, the latter has more political power in facing the single states’ wills. Given that, how much do these six candidates care for science and scientific research? Which fields do they mostly push up? But, above all, did they speak about science in their election programs?
The candidates and science: a general overview
Dealing with science related topics, there are really few differences between candidates. Science has entered the political debate in no more than four general fields, namely environment, agriculture, digital technology and energy. Science seems not to be a politically fashionable issue. Anyway, most of the scientific policies are not on the immediate power of the European Parliament or Commission. Horizon 2020 or the Common Agricultural Policy had already been decided both in general budget and in aims. Nonetheless, the Commission has a lot of power in putting in practice these roadmaps year after year – at least when the Head of Commission will have to decide the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. So, let’s have a quick look at every candidate’s stance about science.
Martin Schulz – European Socialist Party
Martin Schulz was born in Germany in 1955. Educated in a private catholic high school, he started is working life in the publishing retail sector. In the early 1990s, he entered the mainstream society of the German Socialist Party, finally accessed the European Parliament and remained there since 1994. He can speak six languages.
He voted for all the most important decisions in favor of European funding for scientific research. But, despite that, he is not particularly focused on science. In his manifesto for the 2014 general elections, he did not use directly the word “science” and used only twice the word “research”, moreover in a very general meaning. He wrote: “to create jobs and relaunch the economy, we will prioritize innovation, research, training and a smart reindustrialization policy, so that amazing breakthroughs discovered in European laboratories and universities can be translated into more jobs for workers in Europe” (point 2) and “we will give opportunities for Europeans to develop their potential by investing in education, skills, childcare provision, life-long learning, culture, student mobility, research, and knowledge” (point 4). Other relevant science-related issues on the manifesto are the one in point 9, where he describes his (general) idea of a “Green Europe” recalling climate change and renewable energies.
Jean-Claude Juncker – European People Party
Jean-Claude Juncker is one of the most known politician outside his small state: Luxembourg. He attained a Master degree in Law in 1979 at University of Strasbourg, but never practiced as a lawyer. His political career started in 1984 as Minister of Labour in Luxembourg – and he had a prominent role in building the Maastricht Treaty (1992). From 1995 to 2013 he has been Prime Minister of Luxembourg, meanwhile he became President of the European People Party since 2005.
Juncker is one of the most known politician outside his small state: Luxembourg. He attained a Master degree in Law in 1979 at University of Strasbourg, but never practiced as a lawyer. His political career started in 1984 as Minister of Labour in Luxembourg – and he had a prominent role in building the Maastricht Treaty (1992). From 1995 to 2013, he has been Prime Minister of Luxembourg, meanwhile he became President of the European People Party since 2005.
In his “five priorities” manifesto he had an attention on science related issues, as the first two priorities are those regarding a digital agenda for Europe (with an interesting reference to a European open data policy) and renewable energy. He stressed its vision of a high-tech Europe by emphasizing the creation of digital jobs. This general views are deepened in his manifesto, at point 2 (which deals with public private funding opportunities, R&D and small-medium technological enterprises) and point 7 about data protection.
Guy Verhofstadt – Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
Born in Belgium in 1953, Guy Verhofstadt graduated in Law at the University of Ghent. At the age of 29 he became President of the Liberal Party and he was known as the “Baby Thatcher”. He has been Premier of Belgium for almost 10 years (1999-2008), making Belgium the second country in the world to introduce the gay marriage and euthanasia. Since 2009, he is leading the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the European liberal party.
In his “why vote for me” points, he just makes a quick reference to science by saying that “I want to fix the economy by setting the conditions right for the private sector and by redirecting the EU budget to large-scale, innovative projects with a clear return on investment.” Anyway, his vision is quite clear: private sector can best allocate funding into practical R&D results. Moreover, he presented 4 priorities to digital Europe and took the chance of the recent EU Court of Justice ruling against Google to set up the data and privacy policies in the European Union.
Ska Keller and José Bové – The Greens/European Free Alliance
They are both candidates for the Green Party, after the first ever Europe-wide online process to select leading candidates for the European elections.
Franziska Keller is born in Germany in 1981. He graduated in Islamic Studies at the Free University of Berlin and speaks six languages. Her main political interests are those related to immigration and youth unemployment.
José Bové is a French no-global leader since years. Son of researchers at Berkeley (he speaks English fluently), he was pushed out of the Jesuit Lyceum in France for being “faithless”. Then, he always merged his anti-militarism and alter-globalist activities (for which he has been imprisoned for 44 days) and his passion for agriculture. In 2009, he entered the European Parliament through the Europe Ecologie French party. He is more focused on scientific topics, such as, of course, GMO, Common Agricultural Policy and non-conventional gas.
Alexis Tsipras – European Left
Alexis Tsipras was born in 1971 in Athens. He graduated in Civil Engineering. Alongside doing research at the University and carrying on its own career as engineer, he joined the Young Communist Society. In 2006, he was elected for the first time at the Greek Parliament as member of Syriza, a far left party. Point 2 of his manifesto deals a bit with science, as it describes a “new model of ecological development”, with strong accent to energy and climate issues.