Monday, 14 September 2009

News from nowhere - Stop Barroso?

Who will be the next President of the European Commission? While this question may not occupy the collective mind of a continent more pressed with unemployment and the credit crunch, it's certainly set the tongues wagging in the corridors of European power. What should have been a cakewalk for the ex-Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso (already President for these past five years) - he was unanimously reappointed by the 27 Member State Governments in the Council - has suddenly turned into a rather anxious ratification process in the European Parliament, due to the obstinate resistance of several of the European Parliament political groups.

They have already scored one success: they postponed the vote which was supposed to take place in July until the autumn. Now, this week in Strasbourg, the critical vote will take place: Barroso must win a majority to secure his position for the next five years, and to become the first President to be re-elected since the great Jacques Delores.

Why the brouhaha? Those opposing Barroso (the Socialists, the Greens, the Left and most of the Liberals) have a solid argument: "Top politicians should not be reappointed without taking stock of their performance." Too often the selection of (technically speaking) the most powerful person in the EU is reduced to a game of Buggins's Turn: the key is to rotate between a conservative from a small country and a socialist from a large country, a la the process I described last time. So Jacques Delores (France, Socialist) was followed by Jacques Santer (Luxembourg, Christian Democrat), Romano Prodi (Italy, Democrat) and Barroso (Portugal, Christian Democrat - he referred to himself as not a conservative but a "centre right democrat").

This, to put it mildly, does not always produce optimal results: the Santer Commission was sacked in 1999 for financial corruption. Furthermore, this is the election of the person driving the European policy agenda for the next half decade: surely there should be a serious democratic debate before the person is chosen? Barroso's "election manifesto" is dull, unimaginative, and tries to be all things to all men. For many MEPs, Barroso simply does not measure up to their expectations.

The drive against Barroso has been led mainly by two major parliamentary characters: Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-President of the Greens and formerly of 1968 Paris barricade fame, and Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group, and ex-Belgian Prime Minister. They have two main arguments. The first, mainly pushed by Cohn-Bendit, is that Barroso has been too right wing: he has pushed the single market, economic liberalisation agenda ahead of any action on the environment and social justice.

According to the "Stop Barroso" website, "Barroso has misappropriate the "Better Regulation" agenda to promote deregulation is the name of competitiveness...Overstepping the Commission's remit, Barroso is trying to force through authorisation of GM crop varieties in the EU...a refocusing of the Lisbon Strategy orientated exclusively at a short sighted growth and job approach, putting the environment in the waiting room..." Barroso has promoted nuclear power, refused for years to regulate financial markets, and tried to force through privatisation of public services through the Services Directive. With the financial and climate crises in full swing, Barroso's response has been tepid at best and outright negligent at worst.

The second argument accuses Barroso, not for what he has done, but for what he has not done. For politicians like Verhofstadt, the European Union simply has not done enough under Barroso's stewardship to tackle the problems of our time and to assert its power in the world: instead, Barroso has been the lackey of the Member States, and has thus allowed Europe to fragment and lose focus. As ALDE declare:

"The European Union faces a choice. Either it takes a step backwards, becomes a bureaucratic and loose confederation of diverging countries and gives up being an international heavyweight, or we decide to move forward, to become a stronger union speaking with one voice in the world, convinced of our European values and standards."

For Cohn-Bendit and Verhofstadt, this means more common European policies: a common European recovery plan, common defence policies, even a common foreign policy. Barroso is simply not up to this task: Europe needs a strong leader independent of the Member States. The implications for the balance of power in Europe are obvious and a little ominous.

Will they succeed? Probably not. The "Stop Barroso" brigade always faced an uphill battle, against the unanimous assent of the Member States, and the support for Barroso by the right wing political groups. They have also made a number of errors. First, they did not put forward an alternative candidate. It is a little difficult to emphasise Barroso's negative qualities when there is no one to compare him to, and the possibility exists that a replacement for Barroso may be worse.

Second, lay the focus, not on the merits of the argument per se, but on procedure: specifically whether to vote on Barroso under the Treaty of Nice or (if it passes) Lisbon. This may have been a useful delaying tactic, but it smothers the debate in fiendish complexity and makes it completely inaccessible to the average European. It has also resulted in splits within the "Stop Barroso" camp on the correct line to take on procedure, which has actually thrown many Liberals back into Barroso's big tent.

Finally, it is incorrect to pin all the ills in today's EU on one man. The structure of the EU makes it inevitable that the President of the Commission will to a certain extent be the errand boy of the Member States, who do after all have to approve all legislation. There is no point in the President pushing an agenda which will be rejected by the nations and regions, which are the components of the EU. If the agenda of the EU leans right, that is probably because most of the current governments in Europe are right wing, not because of Barroso. We have a Europe of the nations, not a European super state (whatever the Daily Mail may say): most people want it this way, and replacing one man will not change it.

The case against Barroso can be seen here.

Barroso's platform can be seen here.

Daniel Wylie

News from nowhere - Stop Barroso?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Why Elected Mayors Matter - A View from North America

This blog kickstarts our discusion on elected mayors so please feel free to post your comments on the efficacy of elected mayors for Scottish cities. Further info can be accessed here.


While not always a positive measure of success, an interesting observation on the importance of Mayors can be seen in children’s cartoons on television. A number of cartoons features “The Mayor” – from “the Powder-Puff Girls,” to “Sponge Bob Square Pants” and “The Simpsons” cartoons, mayors are an accepted, expected and understood symbol of the life of a city.

And not just for children

In multiple polls and interviews, children and adults overwhelmingly can’t remember who their elected representatives are. U.S. Senators, U.S. Members of Congress, state legislative representatives all draw empty stares and occasional shocking wild guesses. However, an overwhelming number of respondents in America consistently seem to know at least two of their elected officials – they know who the President is, and they know who the mayor is.

Why is this true for mayors?

The services local government provides – the basic nuts and bolts services of what matters in daily life – from parks, public safety, water, sewer, streets, electricity, local transit and many others are provided by cities. Mayors are the heads of the organization that matters most to the majority of residents.

When it comes to the things most people need, depend on and see daily, those services are provided by local government. Local government is the form of government seen and touched by the majority of Americans and because it is so accessible, it is also perceived to be the most accountable.

Unlike the President, most mayors are seen locally throughout their communities frequently and people have almost unlimited access to their mayors. From the smallest city to the largest city I have worked with (Sacramento has a population of 465,000), all the mayors I work with all shop in grocery stores and farmer’s markets; ate in local restaurants and stood in line at retail stores. All were easily recognized and almost everyone felt comfortable approaching and talking with their mayor.

Allow me a moment to digress and explain that there are several governance differences in how cities operate in the US. Without getting bogged down in too much detail, there is a strong mayor system; a strong mayor - strong city manager model; and a model where the office of mayor rotates annually between elected councilmembers and the City Manager has the lead role in the administration of the city. Regardless of the city structure, the mayor is seen as the voice, face and leader of the city and the larger community outside of the geographic borders or the incorporated city.

There are layers of local government in the US – counties, cities and elected special districts (water districts, school districts, transit districts). With all the layers of local government, people look to one person to be the voice of their community, and regardless of the size of a city, that person is the mayor.

In times of celebration, tragedy and in moments of community challenges – the spokesperson for the city and often for an entire region in the case of a large city is the mayor. It is expected and the presence and direction of the mayor can calm residents, provide information and consistently, regardless of whether that city is strong mayor modeled city or any of the other models of how cities operate.

An example of this is what happened in Sacramento when I was Chief of Staff to Mayor Heather Fargo on the terrible tragic day of September 11, 2001. After news of the attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon occurred, Sacramento’s Mayor, City Manager, Police and Fire Chiefs; our team rapidly had a press conference to have the Mayor go live on television with several other public officials and appropriate public safety staff to reassure the city and the entire Greater Sacramento region.

The mayor, as the most identifiable spokesperson, established calm by first recognizing the unprecedented tragedy that had occurred and asked residents to be calm by providing information. At the live press conference Mayor Fargo stated known facts at that moment (10:00 a.m. PDT) and reiterated several times that the city was fully in contact with all appropriate state and federal agencies. Other officials including the police and fire chiefs also spoke, but they reiterated the mayor’s message. The mayor promised and provided frequent updates as frequently as possible or necessary as news or information became available.

Not only was the mayor able to establish the key message that the city was connected and evaluating what it needed to do but also played a crucial role in preventing violence. During the subsequent press conferences, the mayor talked directly about the safety of Sacramento’s Muslim community and other racially and culturally diverse at risk to be potentially targeted for retaliation due to the shock of huge tragedy.

Mayor Fargo reminded all residents that Sacramento is a racially, culturally and religiously diverse city and any threats of violence would not be tolerated and aggressively responded to by the Sacramento Police Department. As the recognized leader of the city, the message was repeated many times and there were no reported instances of racial or cultural violence in the days following September 11, 2001.

An elected mayor is a voice for the community and when voters believe city government is accessible and accountable, it is largely because of the accessibility of the mayor, city council and the immediacy of services provided by cities. The accountability and trust comes from the fact that an elected mayor has to go before the voters for re-election. The belief in direct accountability comes from the direct availability of voters to vote for another mayor and in some cities to also recall an elected mayor under specific instances.

I now work with the League of California Cities and in the cities I work with – the smallest, Point Arena, has a population of 495 and the largest, Santa Rosa, a population of 156,268 – mayor’s are known, accessible and the best symbol of all that is positive about direct elections and a connection voters understand. Elected mayors are sometimes celebrities, sometimes have to deliver bad news, and are frequently seen in the aisles of grocery stores with melting ice cream as they are way-laid by residents complaining or unhappy about a city service or activity. But it is that melted ice-cream moment that captures the importance elected mayors provide to their residents and why local government polls so high in national and state polls for trust and accountability.

Yes, the cartoon version of mayor in “The Simpsons,” Mayor Quimby, is a stereotype of a corrupt, big city mayor. But even in this popular television city, everyone knows the mayor and it is the mayor who is at every important event occurring in the fictional American City.

Chuck Dalldorf
Regional Public Affairs Manager, League of California Cities