Candidates are in top gear throughout the EU, stumping for election to the European Parliament (EP). Even though the central issues are European, the campaigns -- in Germany and elsewhere -- aren't really about Europe.
Are EP candidates wearing sheeps' clothing?
Admittedly, it's not easy to come up with a campaign for parliamentarians who the overwhelming majority of the voters have hardly heard of -- let alone realize they effect change.
Sure, politicians who like to give interviews like Christian Democrat Elmar Brok or Social Democrat Klaus Hänsch every now and then show up in the German media. Others end up unexpectedly as celebrities, like Martin Schulz, who Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last year said would be perfect for the role of a concentration camp guard in a Nazi film.
Now Schulz is the German Social Democratic party's top candidate for European Parliament. That's not because he proved his political mettle in the battle of words with Berlusconi, but only because voters might still remember the episode. For, who knows what members of the European Parliament (MEPs) do besides giving interviews or grinning and bearing Berlusconi's attacks.
These days, the fact that the EP has little influence on European Union policies is being kept quiet. After all, the political parties all want as many voters as possible to go to the polls. They're making the best of it by bringing issues to the fore that sound so European that no one even notices how little influence the MEPs elected will have on them.
In sheep's clothing
Take the issue of Turkey joining the EU. In their EP campaign platform, the opposition Christian Democratic party (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party CSU say they oppose full membership for Turkey. But not a word is wasted over the fact that they are fighting against a Turkey-friendly majority in their own European parliamentary group, the EPP-ED. Without a miracle the nay-sayers will remain a minority even after this election.
Besides, the European Commission and the EU Council of Ministers will decide whether to start negotiating Turkish accession -- not the EP. In other words, the CDU and CSU can only veto Turkey joining the EU if they gain control of the German government.
A referendum on the EU Constitution is another case in point. The German parties CDU, CSU, FDP and PDS have called for a popular vote. The Green party rank and file says "yes," the leadership "no." No one publicly acknowledges that whether Germany holds a referendum is an issue for the government and, as the case may be, the Bundestag. The European Parliament has no influence on the matter whatsoever.
The one issue on which MEPs year after year bring their weight to bear and can heavily influence EU policies is the budget. Parliament could press Brussels to curb its spending. But the issue has taken a backseat -- where it even appears on the parties' agendas.
Instead, the EP elections campaigns -- as in the past -- clearly bear the traits of domestic German politics. Some politicians, such as CDU Secretary General Laurenz Meyer, say it openly. He called the EP election a settling of accounts with the Social Democratic-Green party government in Berlin.
The complaint that EP elections are nothing more than a test of mood for national governments is warranted this time, too. And that's not going to change any time soon.