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Right-wing protest at EBU debate

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A row has flared over a high profile debate between the lead candidates for the European Commission presidency.

The showpiece debate took place on Thursday (23 May) in the European Parliament’s plenary chamber in Brussels.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) organised the debate which involved current Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Germany, European People’s Party) along with lead candidates from other mainstream political parties - Walter Baier (Austria, European Left), Sandro Gozi (Italy, Renew Europe Now), Terry Reintke (Germany, European Greens) and Nicolas Schmit (Luxembourg, Party of European Socialists).

But the EBU decision not invite any “conservative” parties to the debate has angered some, including the Alliance for the Union of Romanians,which has launched a protest “memorandum of understanding” being sent to “all conservative parties” across the European Union.

A 30-strong group of Romanians living in Belgium also gathered outside the parliament before the debate to protest.

The AUR is populist and nationalist political party in Romania, founded four years ago ahead of the 2020 Romanian local and legislative elections. It is the third largest party in Romania.

Earlier this month, two political parties which are represented in the parliament, the Identity and Democracy (ID) party and the European Free Alliance (EFA), accused the EBU, which also broadcast the recent Eurovision song contest, of being “inconsistent”in its handling of the candidates’ debate.

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But the EBU points out that both ID and ECR were invited to the debate and adds that as both parties declined to select a lead candidate “they thus made themselves ineligible.”

A senior Romanian MP, Adrian Axinia, vice president of AUR, was in Brussels on Thursday and voiced concern at the EBU decision and also his party’s opposition to another von der Leyen-led commission.

Axinia, an MP for four years, said it was “disappointing” no conservative parties had been able to take part in the debate. 

He said a similar debate in Masstricht last month had featured a representative from a such a grouping (the European Christian Political Movement) and said it was “contradictory” not to do the same for the showpiece Brussels discussion.

The 46-year-old, one of 47 AUR parliamentarians, said, “The rules appear to have been changed during the game which is not very democratic at all.”

“If this was ok for the Maastricht debate why not Brussels?Surely it would have been more democratic to have a conservative party represented in this debate? The fact that Romanians living here have come out to protest shows the strength of feeling on this.”

The EBU sent invitations to parties from the seven political groups in the Parliament and has strongly defended its position,saying only parliamentary groups fielding a lead candidate, known as the Spitzenkandidatprocess, in the upcoming Euro election could be represented in the debate.

An EBU spokesman told this site, “As it was in both 2014 and 2019, the Eurovision Debate is a forum for lead candidates for the position of European Commission President under the European Parliament’s ‘Spitzenkandidat’ system.  The EBU’s agreement with the European Parliament is to produce a debate based on these principles. 

“In coordination with the European Parliament, the EBU invited political parties in the European Parliament to nominate one Lead Candidate from each of the 7 official political groups, namely: 

• Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) 

• Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament 

• Renew Europe Group 

• Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance 

• European Conservatives and Reformists Group 

• Identity and Democracy Group 

• The Left group in the European Parliament - GUE/NGL 

The spokesman went on, “Invitations were sent to representative parties from the above listed political groups in the European Parliament. Five parties responded and have nominated a lead candidate. Two parties, the ECR and ID, declined to nominate a lead candidate and have therefore made themselves ineligible for this particular debate.”

A parliamentary press service spokesman also robustly defended the move, telling this website: “The allegation that no right-wing parties were invited to the debate is not correct.

“The EBU sent an invitation to all European political parties represented in Parliament and invited them to submit the name of their candidate for the job of Commission President (Spitzenkandidat). 

“This is a process that parliament initiated in 2014 and still supports.  Neither ECR nor ID parties confirmed the name of their candidate for the Commission top job - and thus to the debate.”

The Spitzenkandidat process, which has also applied in previous elections, requires all major European parties to select a lead candidate for the presidency.

The debate in Brussels this week is one of three due to be held before the EU wide poll.

AUR sent a delegation to Brussels to register its “protest” at both the EBU decision and also the expected return of von der Leyen for a second term.

On this, Axinia says the party opposes her return on three main grounds.

First, it claims the Commission’s much vaunted Green Deal has “decimated” Romania’s coal industry, leading to the closure of coal mines, and adversely hit the country’s economy. “We are all for a better environment but there must be limits,” he said.

Secondly, he says the failure to “fully admit” Romania to the Schengen travel zone is unfair and has cost the country an estimated €2-3billion.

Romania and Bulgaria partially joined Europe’s ID-check-free travel zone on Sunday, March 31. After years of negotiations to join the Schengen area, there is now free access for travelelrs arriving by air or sea from both countries. However, land border checks will remain in place due to opposition primarily from Austria which has long blocked their bid over illegal migration concerns.

He also says there is also widespread concern at the EU vaccination programme. 

He said, “Ours is a young political party, just four years old, but we have already made a real impact in a short space of time and feel the time has come for a ‘different face’ to be represented at EU level.”

He says opinion polls in Romania suggest that of the 33 MEPs who will be elected from the country in June’s elections, between eight and ten will be from the AUR.

“We will have a strong team here after the elections and what we say should be taken into account,” he said.

He said the main idea emphasized by the memo is the “firm and strong” opposition to the re-election of von der Leyen.

The memo published by AUR states that “regardless of any political preferences and/or differences, we express our commitment to firmly oppose, by all democratic means, the re-election of Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission.”

The text, signed by AUR president, George Simion, goes on, ”We will support a candidate for the presidency of the European Commission that respects and defends the true fundamental values of our civilization.”

The memo being distributed to other poltiical parties reads, “We, conservative, forward-looking parties that promote human freedom and dignity, tradition, organic development, national identity, unity and sovereignty, Christianity, natural family, hierarchy and authority, rule of law, social continuity, genuine democracy, market economy and property rights. We, who oppose globalism and uncontrolled migration as expressions of neo-Marxism, as well as the objective of transforming Europe into a federal superstate run by a bureaucratic pseudo-elite imposed from Brussels.

“We firmly oppose the current political leadership of the European Union – especially under Ursula von der Leyen’sterm as president of the European Commission – which has become globalist and federalist, repeatedly breaching the principles of Subsidiarity and Proportionality enshrined in Article 5, Protocol No. 2 of the Treaty of Lisbon, undermining Member States sovereignty and promoting inequity and double standard.”

It adds, “Under its current political leadership, the European Union has distanced itself from the courageous project originally conceived by its founders. 2024 is a crucial year, when the Union can be either put back on its natural tracks, or sunk deeper into a federal superstate that no longer values nations, their constitutions and their citizens.As patriots and conservatives, we need to stand firm and make Europe great again. United we stand, divided we fall.”

 The Brussels debate comes ahead of an EU-wide parliamentary elections in June. von der Leyen has the backing of the EU's leading political group, the centre-right European People's Party, to head the EU executive for another five year spell. The former German defence minister steered the EU through the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine and an energy crisis.

However, she still has to win the necessary majority in the new European Parliament, where eurosceptics are widely expect to win more seats than in the 2019 elections.

The candidates’ debate was broadcast to audiences in all 27 Member States and moderated by Martin Řezníček (Czech TV) and Annelies Beck (VRT, Belgium).The five candidates debated a range of issues, ranging from the economy and jobs to defence and security, climate and environment to democracy and leadership, migration and borders and innovation and technology.

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