EC President Bidders Meet in Last TV Debate
The five EU Commission President candidates clashed Thursday evening in a televised debate in the European Parliament chamber in Brussels.
It was their last meeting ahead of the upcoming European elections next week and also the first in which Greek leftist coalition SYRIZA's leader Alexis Tsipras, the European Left Party nominee, took part.
The five discussed heatedly contested issues of economy, EU internal agenda and foreign policy. Ukraine's standoff with Russia, as well as Greece's situation after six years of recession and exhaustive reforms triggered by bailout problems, also topped the agenda.
Tsipras, who gained huge popularity in Greece by calling for a rejection of Athens' loan agreement with international lenders (one that imposed austerity measures), claimed that European People's Party candidate Jean-Claude Junker had been behind the Greek crisis, as he presided over the Eurogroup at the time of the bailout deal.
SYRIZA's leader also insisted that Europe should put an end to its "debt paranoia" and change the bloc by shifting focus away from austerity.
Greens candidate Ska Keller argued it was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTI) that had also caused lack of trust in European institutions.
Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats (S&D) based some of his arguments on the importance of fighting against tax evasion and assistance to member states with highest unemployment.
Guy Verhofstadt, Liberals' (ALDE) choice, who is known as a vehement federalist, said Europe should take a step toward further integration in a push to defend itself against "the US, China and India".
EC President nominees were divided over the prospect of imposing new sanctions on Russia, with Juncker, Verhofstadt and Keller strongly in favour and Schulz approving them only as "last-resort" measure, while Tsipras was firm they would yield no results.
All participants called for policies that would drive Europe toward growth, new jobs, more citizen rights and a strong and unified voice on the global scene.
Viewers from over 30 states could watch the debate as it was transmitted live by 49 TV channels.
After a question, each candidate had a minute to set out his views regarding Europe's challenges.
While Juncker called for and end to Europe's division of "new" and "old" member states, Schulz called for more open and transparent institutions where activity could be visible to citizens.
Both Verhofstadt and Keller placed emphasis on the importance of generating employment, and Tsipras vowed to enhance the right of Europeans to have their say in referendums.
Candidates were clear that a proposal by the European Council for a candidate different from those having participated in the debate would be a violation to democratic principles.
A total of 63 000 Twitter messages were received in the debate's channel during the event, even though not a single one was read out loud. This was up from the 47 000 sent on the last debate two weeks ago.
European citizens will not directly elect the next EU Commission President. However, the European Council is to take the results of the forthcoming elections into consideration when pointing in September the candidate to assume the position.
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