Thursday

20th Jun 2019

EU top candidates to slug it out in TV debate

  • The plenary chamber in Brussels will be turned into a studio on 15 May for the debate (Photo: European Parliament)

This year will see the first-ever televised debate between candidates running to be the next head of the European Commission but the details of the format - not least how to make it interesting TV - are proving to be a challenge.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) - more usually associated with an annual European song competition - will hold a live debate between the official candidates in the plenary chamber of the European Parliament in Brussels on 15 May at 9pm local time.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The date is one week before the EU elections.

Taking part are Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, a former PM, for the centre-right EPP; German EU parliament President Martin Schulz for the centre-left; Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt for the liberals, and Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece's Syriza party, for the far-left. The Greens have yet to decide which of their two leading candidates (French MEP Jose Bove or German MEP Ska Keller) will represent them in the debate.

"This is unprecedented," says Ben Steward, in charge of communications at EBU. "The nearest thing to it is - dare I say it - the Eurovision Song Contest."

But the programme set-up is more complicated and thoroughly more political than its warbling cousin.

The debate will be 90 minutes long. The five politicians will be "encouraged" to speak in English.

A lot will be drawn on what order the candidates should speak in. But it is not yet clear how much time they will be allocated and whether there will be specific topics for discussion - such as the economy or immigration.

"It's a challenge," admits Steward.

The sheer number of discussants is also an issue. Herding two politicians into a coherent and interesting debate on TV requires skill. Doing the same for five requires yet more skill and a certain ruthlessness with the stopclock.

This task has been given to Monica Maggioni, an Italian former war correspondent and current director of RAI 24 news.

That the moderator - as the politicians - is not a native English speaker was deliberate. She will probably be joined by a second moderator who will present infogaphics (such as the latest polls) and what is happening on social media.

Steward is hoping for "some serious difference of opinion" between the candidates.

It will be a live audience but there will be no questions from the floor - this was deemed too "unwieldy". EBU is hoping for a "decent-sized" audience representing a cross-section of European society. In the event most of them are set to be people living in Belgium.

Getting the programme broadcast live at what is a prime TV time on a Thursday evening is set to be difficult. Around 20 broadcasters have expressed interest in showing the debate in some form - such as highlights. The BBC is set to run it live on its parliament channel.

The potential number of viewers is also difficult to predict. Steward shoots high: "If we can get similar viewing figures (to the European Song Contest) - around 100 million - that would be quite exciting."

Tension in the format

There is also tension at the heart of the format: the candidates might not become commission president even if their party proves to be the most popular after the EU elections on 22-25 May.

This is something that will have to be "tackled" by the moderator.

In any case, there will be just the one debate. A previously mooted second one - just between the two top canidates, Juncker and Schulz - was dropped after Schulz was accused by other MEPs of abusing his post.

The EBU, for its part, is both promoting the uniqueness of the event while playing down its effect on voters in the 28 member states.

"We're not pretending this debate will somehow influence the outcome of the elections," says Steward phlegmatically.

The article was amended at 19h40 Monday (17 March) to reflect the fact that it has since been decided that a lot will be drawn on what order the candidates will speak in.

German TV duel gives flavour of EU grand coalition

The 'Spitzenkandidaten' of the two largest political groups in Europe traded a few barbs in their first German-speaking tv debate, but agreed on most issues – a foretaste of a likely grand coalition after EU elections.

EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit

Political bosses of the European Parliament's groups, hoping to assemble a majority coalition, are eyeing putting forward an political agenda - and possibly a name for the commission top job - before EU leaders gather in Brussels.

Macron's EU liberal candidate insults allies, resigns

Nathalie Loiseau, the French president's top choice to lead the new European Parliament liberal group known as Renew Europe, has returned to Paris after reportedly insulting the group's leading MEPs.

News in Brief

  1. Johnson vs. Hunt to replace May as UK leader
  2. EU leaders take aim at Russia's role in Ukraine
  3. EUobserver appoints new interim editor-in-chief
  4. Ombudsman: Tusk's staff should record lobby meetings
  5. Tusk now 'more cautious' on top jobs decision at summit
  6. Mogherini: my replacement 'needs security experience'
  7. Irish PM: 'enormous hostility' to new Brexit extension
  8. Merkel hopes to name commission chief by early July

Spanish socialist leader strengthened by EU vote

The Spanish social democrats becomes the biggest national group among the European socialists, after winning the Spanish European election - which also sees a Catalan separatist in jail elected as MEP.

EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit

Political bosses of the European Parliament's groups, hoping to assemble a majority coalition, are eyeing putting forward an political agenda - and possibly a name for the commission top job - before EU leaders gather in Brussels.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. Additional summit over top EU jobs looms
  2. EU advisor roasted over Russian media interview
  3. EU must counter Kushner's so-called 'peace' plan
  4. Tusk wants quick deal on EU top jobs at Thursday summit
  5. EU keeps North Macedonia and Albania at arm's length
  6. What's going on in Moldova - and what next?
  7. EU officials prepare for US extravaganza on Palestine
  8. EU urges Swiss to move on talks or face sanction

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us