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EU politicians in first TV debate ahead of elections

The European Union is trying something new in the run-up to EU elections in May. The four main candidates to head the European Commission held a televised debate on Monday, the first of its kind, in Maastricht in The Netherlands.

Maastricht, The Netherlands: The European Union is trying something new in the run-up to EU elections in May.

The four main candidates to head the European Commission held a televised debate on Monday, the first of its kind, in Maastricht in The Netherlands.

The town has a significance in the structure of Europe. It's where the accord was signed to bring in the single currency - the euro.

The four candidates are: Jean-Claude Juncker, representing the European People's Party; Guy Verhofstadt, the Alliance of Liberal Democrats in Europe, Ska Keller, the Green Party; and Martin Schutz, the Socialist and Democrats Party.

Schulz is also the current president of the European Parliament.

"As the president of the Commission, I want to give back to the Europeans justice and fairness and to show that European institutions are there to care about their individual interests as ordinary citizens. I want a Europe of citizens and not a Europe of banks and speculates..." said Schulz.

The only people allowed in the room for the event were students from Maastricht university.

"We have many debates...whenever there is an election, there are debates, with the candidates, of course. But the problem with the European debate, I think, is that the knowledge of the voters is not exceptionally high as it would be with domestic elections," said a student.

"We all have our scepticisms about Europe but it's nice for us to be able to partake in something like this and really, really refreshing for the city as well," said another.

"I think it's a great thing that they're organising this debate because it comes to the minds of people that there is something like a presidential election going on and that it's important to talk about issues," said a third student.

The debate is seen more as a way of trying to engage voters - especially younger ones - rather than to push policy.

And they've been hoping for a broad audience by streaming it online.

The last EU elections in 2009 had a 43 per cent turnout - woefully low when compared to turnouts in member states.

According to the polls, there are already two frontrunners for the position of Commission president - Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz - but the real question is whether this debate is going to do anything to encourage voters to post their ballot in May.  

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