On the 28th of April, four European Parliamentary faction leaders engaged in a debate over the European Parliamentary elections at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Jean-Claude Juncker (EPP), Martin Schulz (S&D), Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE) and Ska Keller (Greens) talked about the state of play of the European economy, Euroscepticism and foreign policy. Digital issues were also dealt with during the debate, with all candidates taking a general supportive stance towards the Digital Agenda.
Reacting to critics who argue that the EU lacks democracy, this debate had the aim to bring the elections closer to the electorate. It also reacts to the treaty changes that are laid down in the Lisbon Treaty, as this stipulates that the newly elected European Parliament will choose the new President of the European Commission. In the wake of the debate, it turned out that the debate was ammunition for a lot of critique, criticizing the level of the debate, the complexity of the topics and the language issues. Martin Schulz stated that the debate will not solve the democratic deficit at once, but it is a start.
Apart from live coverage on TV, the debate was also very much alive in the digital sphere. At certain moments, it reached about 10.000 tweets a minute (#EUdebate2014).
Clockwise, starting at top left : Juncker, Keller, Verhofstadt and Schulz
Juncker: “I am in favor of putting into place a real European unique digital market instead of having 28 in parallel system, which don’t interact. If we are doing so we add about and added value 250 billion to the European economy […] It’s also about growth and it’s about jobs.” Schulz also emphasized the importance of the digitalization, but it concentrated on social media mainly, stating that the Arab Spring had found its origins in social media. For Europe, the digital agenda should be extra invested in. “We need to add as fast as possible a digital market and a telecoms market” Guy Verhofstadt stated. It is the only market where there are still national borders. He also emphasized the lack of competitive European ICT companies. Also, he stated that the Europeans needed solid data protection, in reaction of the NSA scandal. He explicitly mentioned the need for a “right to be forgotten.” Keller stressed that the member states should continue to move on the data protection reform.