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EU's wannabe presidents go head-to-head

Friday, May 16, 2014 - 02:46

May 16 - Economy and foreign policy are the hot topics at a landmark televised debate between candidates for the EU's top job: president of the European Commission. Ivor Bennett reports.

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It was supposedly a show of direct democracy. A live televised debate for the EU's top job. But the final decision on the European commission's next president won't be determined by voters. It'll be made by EU leaders, before a final confirmation by the European parliament. Suggestions this was a pointless contest though drew a fierce reaction from Martin Schulz. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CANDIDATE FOR THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT AND ACTING PRESIDENT OF EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, MARTIN SCHULZ, SAYING: "Heads of State or government are free to do what they want to do behind closed doors. But this is finished that the president of the European Commission is the result of a back-room deal. This is finished." Schulz's Socialist party is the second biggest, ahead of Guy Verhofstadt's Liberal bloc. The former Belgian prime minister was quizzed on the current crisis with Russia - as foreign policy became a key theme. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CANDIDATE FOR THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT, GUY VERHOFSTADT, SAYING: "We are too weak to Russia and mainly to Putin. What we need to do is to put together very serious, credible, personal sanctions against the people around Putin. That's the only language that he understands." Five candidates are vying for the job. Among them Greek left-wing radical Alexis Tsipras. His platform, anti-austerity. (SOUNDBITE) (Greek) GREEK LEADER OF THE COALITION OF THE RADICAL LEFT AND CANDIDATE FOR THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT, ALEXIS TSIPRAS, SAYING: "We have to begin with social cohesion and jobs and development, we have to stop with recession and stop with austerity. We must stop with this paranoia of debt." At the opposite end of the scale is former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker. His People's party currently leading the polls. The candidate for the centre-right, he's a staunch supporter of tighter fiscal control and thinks a new trade deal with the US is the best way to boost growth. (SOUNDBITE) (French) CANDIDATE FOR EU COMMISSION PRESIDENT, JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, SAYING: "If we conclude a free trade agreement with the United States, every European household is going to earn 545 euros extra. I am in favour of minimum social salary everywhere in Greece and everywhere in Europe. So I would like to see people live off the fruit of their labour." But not everyone agrees. The deal provoked violent clashes in Brussels ahead of the debate, with hundreds of protestors arrested. They believe the pact would pander to big business. Views shared by Green candidate Ska Keller. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CANDIDATE FOR THE GREENS, SKA KELLER, SAYING: "The Commission is negotiating secret trade deals behind closed doors. We have people, citizens who are peacefully demonstrating today in the streets of Brussels against this trade agreement and what happens? They all get arrested! This is not the European union that I want." It was Keller's comments that drew the loudest applause of the night. But without a public vote, it may not mean much.

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EU's wannabe presidents go head-to-head

Friday, May 16, 2014 - 02:46