Monday

18th Jan 2021

Spitzenkandidat system here to stay, MEPs warn capitals

MEPs of the constitutional affairs committee on Tuesday (23 January) formally began the battle with the national governments over who will get to decide the next president of the European Commission.

In a text adopted by 17 MEPs in favour, and six against, the committee said that the so-called Spitzenkandidaten process "is a principle that cannot be overturned".

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MEPs also included a thinly-veiled threat, saying the parliament "will be ready to reject any candidate in the investiture procedure of the commission president who was not appointed as a Spitzenkandidat in the run-up to the European elections" of May 2019.

The process was first applied at the previous European Parliament elections in 2014, when the major political groups each selected a lead candidate – 'Spitzenkandidat' in German.

They said that whichever party wins the elections, its Spitzenkandidat should become the new president of the commission, which is the EU's executive body.

The centre-right European People's Party emerged from that election as the largest group, and its candidate, former Luxembourgish prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, became president of the commission.

The process was something of an institutional power grab.

Previously, the commission chief would be chosen by the leaders of Europe's governments, in particular those leading the biggest member states.

Lisbon treaty changes

The Lisbon treaty however said the member states should take the parliamentary election result "into account" when nominating a candidate.

The parliament formally cannot propose a candidate for commission president, but does have the power to approve or reject him or her.

In Tuesday's text, MEPs reminded EU leaders that the commission president candidate needs to be approved by a majority in the EU parliament.

The text, which is about a framework agreement on relations between the EU parliament and commission, would lay down some rules for when members of the current commission want to become the Spitzenkandidat.

The agreement would say that commission members can stand as Spitzenkandidat, but that they would not be allowed to use "the human or material resources of the commission for activities linked to the electoral campaign".

MEPs also said that "the political legitimacy of the commission would be strengthened further, if more elected members of the European Parliament were nominated as members of the commission".

The file will now move to the plenary in Strasbourg, and is scheduled for a vote on 7 February.

On 23 February, EU leaders will meet in Brussels to discuss the issue, as well as the composition of the EU parliament after the 2019 elections.

The commission will before that meeting present a "meaningful, substantial contribution" to the debate on the Spitzenkandidaten issue, said commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas on Monday.

"The view of the commission is that the Spitzenkandidat system was a success," said Schinas.

Magazine

The spitzenkandidaten coup

The year 2014 shall go down as the date the European Parliament snatched away the right to nominate a European Commission president from national governments.

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