Thursday, April 10, 2014

Same Combat?

Martin Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker 'confronted' each other in a broadcast debate last night (see video here), but it isn't clear they contested much of anything. "More a polite conversation than a boxing match," was the verdict of Le Monde's Philippe Ricard. Ostensibly representing Left (Schulz's S&D social democrats) and Right (Juncker's PPE center-right), what the two veteran European politicians really embodied were the limitations of real choice and the pervasive inertia that afflicts the EU in its long march toward a real democratic polity.

Speaking in French, both tried to walk a fine line between pro-business 'reforms' and the need to support intractable numbers of the poor and unemployed. "Solidity and solidarity" was M. Juncker's mantra; "discipline and growth," M. Schulz's. When called upon to say what distinguishes one candidate's program from the other's, both were at a loss, and merely complimented each other on their good taste in finding so much common ground. Perhaps the most interesting remark of the evening was Schulz's observation that the real difference might lie, not between the two candidates, but between Juncker and his actual party. The unflappable Juncker seemed slightly discomposed, but only for a moment.

That exchange notwithstanding, the real debate that Europe needs, and will have, will not happen between these two centrist front-runners. Later in the process--but not till mid-May, alas--the other 3 major candidates will be invited to join the discussion (though the Eurosceptics, lacking a unified candidacy, will remain offstage, if hardly silent). For now, is seems a little sad that the Presidency of the Commission will most likely fall to one or the other of these men, both competent, experienced, assured in their verities, but neither offering any spark of change, of vision, of boldness to a Europe mired in despair.


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