Dimitris Rapidis

The first debate of the candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission was held in Maastricht on April 28, less than one month before the elections for the European Parliament. No matter what, this debate is considered to be a cornerstone in the effort to externalize candidates’ views over major policy issues to the European public, and from this perspective it can be perceived as a successful one. But what where the impressions from this televised initiative?

The absence of Alexis Tsipras

The first thing that strikes the attention is the absence of the candidate of the European Left and President of SYRIZA in Greece, Mr. Alexis Tsipras. His absence, aside many symbolisms that is entailed with, is regarded as a major and unprecedent mistake in terms of communication strategy. It goes without saying that in such imminent conditions and given the importance of his candidacy and the position for which he is candidate, his communication team in Greece and Europe had wrongly perceived what his absence could mean for the European electorate. Notwithstanding, for a great part of the audience in Maastricht his absence was not even pinpointed, leaving signs of his campaign’s wrongdoings.

On the other side, and especially for the Greeks and the European South, the candidacy of Mr. Tsipras is entrenched with hopes for alternative recipes in economic and social policy away from austerity deadlocks, and it is hence regarded as of paramount importance. I strongly believe that for the European Left and its electorate, the absence of Mr. Tsipras has a double meaning (at least to what I am aware of): (a) we concede defeat and restrain our hopes to what we have already achieved and fought for in the current European Parliament; (b) we are not well-prepared to address the issues discussed nor ready to propose specific policies for the issues concerned.

Ska Keller’s dynamic presence

Being a “green” activist for years, Ms. Keller caught the eye of the audience with her passionate speech. Well-prepared to address all issues concerned, and with an outward confidence streamed in the hall, Ms. Keller achieved to gather the attention of the students. She was also bidding on the absence of Mr. Tsipras to engulf all issues concerned and for which her party has sort of similarities when economy and energy are addressed. His communication team also made a vital contribution: considering her age, passion, thirst, and eloquency in English, she was preferred to represent the Greens in the place of Mr. José Bové, her alter ego in the party’s dual candidacy. Why? Because she represents the youth, for which so much has been written, but so few has been done.

Mr. Schultz’s #KnockTheVote

Mr. Schultz was what we were expecting. Solid, with the “flair” of the leader of the polls, and with the best social media mobilization strategy ahead. His team is considered to be the most efficient one in social media, gathering the attention with its well-animated infographics, blatant red colours (i.e. the colour of S&D), and “selfies”, placing him everywhere these couple of months; from Helsinki to Athens, and from Guimaraes to Kiev. Nonetheless, Mr. Schultz, while being strongly sympathetic, he did not achieve to render the ambitions over his candidacy: general ideas and proposals, garnished with storms of puzzling interruptions during the debate, and always aligned with Mr. Verhofstadt’s animated speeches and remarks.

Mr. Verhofstadt’s unparallel rhetoric

ALDE’s candidate Mr. Guy Verhosftadt was probably the most prepared one to efficiently address the competences of the debate, as well as to catch first impressions. Well-known for his temperament, Mr. Verhofstadt was acting as Mediterranean that suffers from a dismantling and biased European Union against the South. He was concrete when talking about energy efficiency and political integration, shaping a perfect duo with Ms. Ska, in a generally dull debating process. Squeezing both Schultz and Junker whenever the chance was there, I strongly believe that he gained much of attention and solidified further his party’s quest for better results in May.

Mr. Junker’s exhausting stance

The candidate of EPP ahd former President of Eurogroup Mr. Jean-Claude Junker seemed really unprepared to address the debate. But the problem here is not Junker himself. It is mainly his party’s guidelines, strongly associated with Mr. Merkel’s austerity in Eurozone. Under this suffocated burden, and with a generally successful term in office in Eurogroup, Mr. Junker was looking exhausted, bored, and with no will to capitalize his candidacy on his deeds in the past. Yet, I do believe that he has great chances to support EPP’s campaign efficiently, gathering the votes of middle-aged and conservative seniors of the EU, especially in a period of great turbulences for the entire European establishment. Mr. Junker is sympathetic, and he will always be, mainly when comparison with his successor in Eurogroup, Mr. Dijsselbloem, comes into surface.

Still a long way to go

During the debate, 47,000 tweets were sent to the relevant hashtag #EUdebate2014, a number that goes beyond expectations of participation. Yet, it is still unclear how many people will vote in the forthcoming elections, and especially what would be the motivation of the youth. For the moment, all parties have failed to address youth unemployment and engage young people in politics. And here comes the question: how far is reality from the digital world?

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