EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The Party of the European Socialists has pledged to put forward a candidate for European Commission president ahead of the 2014 European elections in a bid to shift the political momentum after their electoral routing in June of this year.
In a soul-searching speech delivered last week at the party's congress, the party leader Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said that part of the reforms he wanted to see through over the coming years was equipping the left with a "vision, a programme and a candidate to win the European elections and take the Presidency of the European Commission."
The Danish politician was subsequently re-voted in as leader of the pan-European party during the two-day meeting.
The pledge comes after a summer of discontent for the Socialists which saw the centre-left lose heavily at the ballot box in the European elections, even after it tried to present the global economic crisis as the result of right wing ideology. Instead the centre-right maintained its dominance in the EU legislature in a vote which saw the Liberals and the Greens also rewarded.
Its relative failure at the ballot box - it remains the second largest grouping in the EU assembly - was compounded by the fact that, despite vociferous criticism of him, it could not agree on a leftist candidate to challenge Jose Manuel Barroso, the centre-right Portuguese politician, who was nominated by EU leaders for a second term as European Commission president.
The weeks after the June election were filled with internal recriminations in the party, particularly as it emerged that centre-left governments in Madrid, Portugal and London backed Mr Barroso's re-nomination, further undermining attempts by the Socialist party to get behind the matter in any cohesive way.
In his unusually candid speech Mr Rasmussen admitted that people "are not convinced that the financial crisis is a failure of right-wing ideology. And they are not convinced that we have a credible alternative."
He admitted that the party, which just 10 years ago had leaders in its ranks who thought social democracy had become "universally accepted," has often failed to deliver on promises. He offered up a more pragmatic vision of a guarantee of life-long education and employment rather than jobs for life, and said the party must shape globalisation and find a way to balance the financial markets and society.
"Globalisation has taken sovereignty away from the nation, leaving people vulnerable to forces outside their control," he said. According to Mr Rasmussen, the answer lies with Europe and inaction will mean "the withdrawal of democratic consent from the European project."
The question of the European Union's democratic legitimacy has become ever more pertinent as turnout for the European elections has fallen at every vote, while the EU parliament's legislative powers have increased, most dramatically under the new Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December.
Several analysts have argued that putting actual names into the political space ahead of the EU ballot may entice more people to vote and to vote on European rather than national issues - this last seen as the ever present curse of the five-yearly votes.
The EU's new rules say that member states must choose the commission president nominee in light of the results of the European election. However, a pre-selection of candidates by the pan-European parties reflects their growing influence on the European political scene, illustrated most recently by a carve-up of the top EU jobs between the left and right political families.