By Metodi Gerassimov
In addition to selfie, this year the English language was enriched with the word Spitzenkandidaten, or The Leading Candidates. Those are the persons – usually the leaders – who a political party nominates in advance for the highest position for which it competes in elections. The fact, that the word is German, and until the Euro vote on 22-25th May it appears in the UK press only six times1 and more rarely in the media in the other 27 member countries, is significant for how each one of the 28 member countries is involved in #EuroElections2014.
The European Parliament has a key role, because it is the only EU institution, which is directly elected by over the 500 mln. EU citizens. Since 1979 the Europeans vote for Parliament every five years. But this year was the first, in which the European political families directly nominated candidates for the highest EU executive position – the President of the European Commission. The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) nominated Jean-Claude Juncker, and the Party of European Socialists (PES) nominated Martin Schulz. The Spitzenkandidat of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) is Guy Verhofstadt, Maria “Ska” Keller and José Bové – for the Greens, and Alexis Tsipras for the European Left Party.
The answer of that confrontation can be found partially in the way the media in the two EU flagships – Germany and United Kingdom – covered the campaigns of the individual Spitzenkandidaten. In the two countries’ media we can find a big difference in the coverage of the two leading candidates – Juncker and Schulz.
For the eight weeks before the Elections and immediately after that (31 March – 1 June) in the UK press there are 27 publications, in which both Juncker and Schulz are mentioned – the average of three publications per week. For the same period of time in the German press the two leading candidates are both mentioned in 1905 publications (over 70 times more), or an average of 238 publications per week. As for the rest of the candidates, for the period 12-25 May only, Tsipras, Verhofstadt and Keller/Bové are mentioned more often in the German press, respectively 3, 5 and 21 times.
* The data can be found here: http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/viewer.aspx
Moreover, the peak of mentioning any of the candidates in the UK press is in the week after the elections. For these seven days the name of Juncker is mentioned 61 times, mostly in the context of the efforts of David Cameron to stop the ex-Prime Minister of Luxembourg heading the EC.
The media cloak has clouded the TV also. An AMR’s research shows the direct connection between watching at least one of the seven debates between the candidates and the ability of a voter to name at least one Spitzenkandidat without assistance.
In the home country of Juncker, Luxembourg, where 36% claim to have watched at least one TV debate, more than 50% are able to name at least one candidate. In the UK only 7% of the voters have watched some of the debates. Only one of 100 voters is able to name some of the candidates. In Germany the respective percentages are 18 and 24.
In conclusion, we can say that the completely different media coverage in the two rival EU flagships shaped the voters’ idea about the existence of the Spitzenkandidaten and the idea of European Elections as well.
In a similar way, the presence or the absence of particular themes in the coverage of #EuroElections2014 (candidates, platforms, etc.) in the national media of the 28 EU member countries shows the authority and the orientation of the different media, and somewhat the importance of these themes for each particular country.
A British professional journalist organization distinguishes the exceptions in the European Medias, giving seven good examples of coverage of #EuroElections2014.
These are: Election supplement of the European edition of Wall Street Journal; the Appendix of the British newspaper “The Guardian”; the multimedia application of the German newspaper Die Zeit; the demographic analysis for whom the people in the different regions have voted, in the Italian newspaper La Stampa; the presentation of the Plenary Hall in Brussels/Strasbourg in the British Financial Times; detailed map of the Emerald Isle in the Irish RTE News; and the decision of the Portugal weekly newspaper Expresso to give to its readers a platform for discussions about the future of Europe.
To everything mentioned above we may add the super theme of the Bulgarian newspaper Dnevnik #EuroElections2014 with its various offers (e.g. the game “Guess the results from the Elections”).
Hate speech – a permanent component of the campaign
In a previous publication of the AEJ report series from the European Council and the European Commission, journalist Spas Spasov reminds of the new wave of “mutated” forms of racism and xenophobia in Europe. The hate speech is indicated as the clearest sign of their existence.
In March ILGA-Europe (European network of International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Associations) and ENAR (European Network against Racism) made an appeal for European elections campaign with no discrimination and intolerance. The two organizations appealed to the European parties to condemn discriminatory and intolerant comments during the campaign for #EuroElections2014. The appeal was signed by PES, ALDE, Greens and European Left Party. EPP gave support in principle.
The campaign of the two organizations, #NoHateEP2014, collected 17 examples of hate speech against the minorities, for the first six weeks. The examples mostly concern inciting hatred, prejudices or discrimination – both implicitly (in six of ten cases) and explicitly (in four of ten cases). The violations include attacks against the dignity of minority groups – mostly immigrants, asking for refugee status, and ethnic minorities. In four of ten cases these are insults.
Most of the violations (five) are in the British press. There are two examples from Italy. The Netherlands, Romania, Latvia, Hungary, Germany, France, Denmark, Czech Republic, Belgium and Austria each have one violation per country. The numbers, of course, basically show the engagement of the respective activists in the given countries, who reported the violations. Divided by parties, the 17 cases are as follows: 11 violations are made by parties, which do not belong to any European political family; European Alliance for Freedom and some nationalists’ organization has two violations; and EPP and PES each has one.
The most shocking example is the statement from March of the leader of the Party for Freedom of Austria (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs), Andreas Mölzer. He stated before Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that EU will become a “conglomerate of niggers, where everything is chaos”. Furthermore he tells that “it’s how it is – everyone, the Portuguese, Estonians, Swedes, Sicilians… are making fun of us, the Germans and Austrians. We are the only ones that start working at 9:00, and not only at 11:00”. After that he went on to compare the EU to the Third Reich. On 8th April, after strong public reaction, the leader of the far-right formation announced his withdrawal from the Elections. Then the party which supported the foundation of the party of Pavel Shopov years ago was fronted by Harald Vilimsky. FPÖ gained third place in the Elections in Austria and won 4 of 18 national seats in the European Parliament.
Geert Wilders is always in the “Black sheep” list. He is the founder and leader of the Dutch Party of Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid). In the evening after the local Elections (19 March) he delivered a speech in front of his supporters and asked them “Do you want, in Hague and in the Netherlands, more or less Moroccans?”. And after the crowd chanting “Less! Less!” his response was “Then we’ll fix it! “. Wilders was strongly criticized in his home country. Despite of that, his party gained third place in the Netherlands and won 4 of 26 national seats in the European Parliament.
There was a similar situation with other European politicians, known for their harsh language. The example with the UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage, is illustrative. Although he often speaks against Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants in the UK, he expelled Andre Lampitt, an EU Elections candidate, from the party. Lampitt’s mistake was a series of tweets in which he called the British to leave the Africans to kill each other and added that “More of the Nigerians, as a whole, are bad people”.
The absence from the reports of usual names like loud-voiced populists Silvio Berlusconi and Marine Le Pen doesn’t mean that the traditional nationalists have softened their expressions. In contrary, their agenda is unchanged, and with their increasing presence in local, national and European structures, they are institutionalizing. Thus they have the possibility to fulfill their views and policies, and to leave the cheap newspaper rhetoric to marginal anti-system movements.