The European Socialists are committing themselves heavily to the cause of European government. As the second most numerous parliamentary group in the European Parliament, they have already designated their lead candidate, the German Martin Schulz. This is a relevant decision; particularly now when, for the first time in history, the head of the electoral slate for each party group at the Europe-wide level has the chance of becoming president of the European Commission.
The Spanish Socialists are following suit, stepping ahead of other parties and proposing the party's "number two," deputy secretary general Elena Valenciano, to head the slate. These are moves consistent with the European Parliament's growing political importance within the Union.
Valenciano, like Schulz, is familiar with the world of EU politics — she was an active member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2008 — and her designation, like that of the German, also serves to put pressure on the largest European parliamentary group, the center-right People's Party, which has yet to decide on a candidate both at the continental and the national level in Spain's ruling Popular Party.
The rise of Europhobic and xenophobic parties, and a debt crisis which has drastically reduced public support for Union institutions, are serious causes for concern as the May elections approach. In France, the extreme-right party of Marine Le Pen seems likely to gain considerable ground, and its alliance with the anti-Muslim populist Geert Wilders in the Netherlands — with the aim of forming a parliamentary group numerous enough to torpedo some of the Union's landmark policies — constitutes a real threat. In the face of this prospect, the Socialists' firm commitment to a pro-Union stance is a good sign, especially when the opinion polls are giving them a slight advantage over the People's Party.
As for Valenciano, those who might interpret her EU candidacy as a flight from hardcore politics into an irrelevant role would be blind to an emerging reality. The economic crisis has shown that European Union policies affect our daily lives; that it is in the Union where the application of ideas has a real impact on national governance.
It is important for the example to catch on and spread — and for the Popular Party to take note — because only heavyweight candidates will make this ballot a meaningful one. And also because the presence of leading figures in the European Parliament is the only way to improve the governance of the European Union and its institutions, and to culminate the process of banking union, among other pending tasks, while defending the values, in terms of democracy and human rights, that the European Union stands for.
If the European Parliament is filled with lightweight politicians, or ones who have been kicked upstairs into comfortable retirement, its representational role in such processes will shrink to a mere show of going through the motions.