BRUSSELS (AP) — Four would-be presidents of the European Union's executive arm clashed Monday evening in the first debate of its kind, each making a direct pitch on live TV for the support of European voters.
Ska Keller of Germany from Europe's Green parties directly asked viewers: "Do you want to have more of the old politics for the European Union, or do you want fresh ideas?" The debate, held in the Dutch city of Maastricht before an auditorium of mostly students and young people, brought together four of the five candidates vying to become European Commission president following May's 22-25 European Parliament election. For the first time, the parliamentary election results are to be taken into account when the EU's 28 member states nominate a person to fill the position. That nominee must also be ratified by the new parliament.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker are also candidates for the Commission presidency, which is now held by Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal.
Schulz, a German who represents Europe's socialist parties, said he wants a "Europe of citizens," instead of one of banks and speculators. Juncker, flagbearer for conservative EU parties, said he wants to "unite and reunite Europe."
Verhofstadt, the liberals' candidate, said he favors greater European integration. Keller said she wants a European Union that cares about people, and not just about the single market. Debate moderator Chris Burns told viewers that a fifth candidate, Alexis Tsipras of Greece, the choice of the EU's leftist parties, had declined to participate.
Opinion polls suggest a lower turnout in May's European Parliament elections than in 2009, the last time they were held, but organizers of Monday's 90-minute debate, shown throughout the EU on the Euronews channel, said interest in the broadcast was so great they were counting 10,000 related posts a minute on Twitter.