The European Parliament on February 7 confirmed that the so-called “Spitzenkandidaten” (German for lead candidate) process, in which European political parties designate one candidate each for the post of EU Commission President, ahead of the European elections, cannot be overturned. This system was first used in 2014, to select current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
In the report adopted on February 7, MEPs warned that the European Parliament is ready to reject any candidate for Commission President who has not been nominated in this way.
According to a European Parliament press release, by establishing a link between the choice of Commission President and the outcome of the European elections, MEPs also consider that the 2014 Spitzenkandidaten process proved to be a success, and stress that the 2019 elections will be the occasion to cement the use of the same practice.
The proposed changes will allow serving EU Commissioners to run for election to the European Parliament, and to be designated by European political parties as “lead candidates” to become EU Commission President, without first having to take an unpaid leave of absence.
“The EU has to be more democratic, more transparent, or it simply will not be,” said Parliament’s rapporteur Esteban González Pons (EPP, ES). “The fact that citizens know the candidates for President of the European Commission before the elections is an important step in the right direction.”
The Spitzenkandidat procedure hands the Commission Presidency to the “lead candidate” from the European political party winning the most seats in the European Parliament. This was the case in 2014, when the European People’s Party’s lead candidate Jean-Claude Juncker was appointed Commission President.
According to the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, the Spitzenkandidaten method is a milestone for a more democratic and more political Europe.
“Our citizens want the Union to be guided by politics not by a bureaucracy. They favour an open and transparent competition between political parties and candidates rather than agreements behind closed doors,” he said.
In turn, Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, also supported Spitzenkandidaten.
“A candidate and a programme,” he said. “We need a president of the European Commission who is elected, not selected behind closed doors. Is this really too much to ask?”
In a similar vein, the S&D Group said it will only accept a new Commission president who is nominated as a candidate by one of the European political groupings at next year’s European election and who can command a majority in the European Parliament.
“The Spitzenkandidaten process helps make the EU more democratic,” said Udo Bullmann MEP, acting S&D Group leader. “It means that every five years European voters have a direct say in what political direction the EU takes and what it should prioritise.”
S&D Group spokesperson for constitutional affairs, Mercedes Bresso, said his group supports the idea of transnational lists. “We are disappointed that the EPP and right wing groups have voted this down. This would have given Parliament elections a clear European dimension, and help create a European public space to boost European citizenship. Despite the vote today, we will continue pushing for transnational lists, to create a truly European democracy.”
S&D Group MEP and co-author of the report, Pedro Silva Pereira, said: “This vote is an important step forward for European democracy… This will make the European parliament a fairer reflection of the citizens it represents.”