Monday

10th Dec 2018

Commission tells Macron to pick political side

  • Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (l) on a visit to French Guiana with French president Emmanuel Macron (r). He wants Macron's party to reveal which group it will join. (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has called on political parties to declare which European groups in the European Parliament they will join after the elections of May 2019.

"National and regional political parties should position themselves clearly and distinctively on the main issues at stake in the European debate," the Brussels-based EU institution said in a paper published on Wednesday (14 February).

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 EU commission said in its paper on Wednesday that the lead candidate system halted the drop in voter turnout - without much evidence to support (Photo: European Parliament)

While many political parties already affiliate themselves with a pan-European group in the EU parliament, there are some newcomers since the 2014 elections that have not yet declared their allegiances.

Most notably, French president Emmanuel Macron's party, La Republique en Marche, has not yet affiliated itself with any of the existing groups - nor declared if it would aim at starting a whole new group.

"The links between national parties and European parties should be more visible and encourage more openness in the European political landscape," the commission said.

The paper also argued that national and regional political parties should announce before the elections which candidate they would support for the commission.

Lead candidates

"It is important to nominate a lead candidate as quickly as possible," commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told political parties on Wednesday at a press conference, presenting the report.

The document included several recommendations aimed at improving the European public debate, with the unspoken reason being the lacklustre voter turnout at EU parliament elections in most member states.

It embraced the 2014 "experiment" with lead candidates (or so-called 'Spitzenkandidaten') for the main political groups.

Five of the groups had selected a figurehead as the parliament's proposed president of the commission.

The European People's Party (EPP) became the largest political group, and EPP candidate Juncker managed to rally a majority of MEPs behind him.

This left the EU's national government leaders - who, until then, had been able to handpick the commission president - with little room for manoeuvre. In the end, they had to accept Juncker as the commission's new head.

Now Juncker wants to consolidate the process.

The commission paper said that the lead candidate process should be kept in place, and proposed some improvements.

European primaries

It argued that political groups should nominate their lead candidate before the end of 2018, and preferably in "an open, inclusive and transparent way".

"In 2014, European political parties selected their candidates relatively late in the process, leaving only a few weeks for them to campaign and create a profile across the continent," the commission said in the paper.

"If European political parties, which bring together like-minded national and regional political parties and their leaders, were to hold, for instance 'primary' elections to select their candidates, the process of familiarisation and profile-building could start earlier," it added.

The commission argued that primary elections would mobilise voters and increase awareness of the upcoming EU parliament elections.

Voter turnout has never been as high as the first time European Parliament elections were held in 1979, when 62 percent of eligible voters showed up.

In the seven subsequent elections, voter turnout has been lower than the previous elections every single time.

While voter turnout dropped from 45.47 percent in 2004 to 42.97 percent in 2009 (2.5 percentage points), it dropped only slightly further to 42.61 percent in 2014 (0.36 percentage points).

Unfounded claim

In Wednesday's paper, the commission claimed that the slower decrease was due in part to the lead candidate system.

"While not reversing the downward path of voter turnout witnessed in previous elections to the European Parliament, the lead candidate system helped in stemming its fall as it injected a greater element of information and choice," the paper said.

However, that claim is hardly backed up by any evidence.

A footnote attached to the second part of the citation referred to a 2015 commission report on the 2014 elections.

That 2015 paper does not prove a clear correlation between voter turnout and the existence of the lead candidate system.

The only quantitative piece of evidence is a survey requested by the EU parliament, in which 5 percent said they voted in 2014 to influence the choice of commission president.

However, respondents to that survey were allowed to give up to three answers.

Some 41 percent of respondents said that they always vote, and it is unclear to what extent there is an overlap with the respondents who said they showed up to choose the commission president.

Centre-right torpedoes pan-EU electoral lists plan

Parliament's largest group, the EPP, nixes idea of MEPs elected by citizens from multiple member states - but backs plans to keep the 'Spitzenkandidat' system for 2019, which hands power to parliament (and thus voters) to select Commission president.

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.

Analysis

Macron relaunches his bid for EU leadership

In a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday and then at a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, the French president will try to get support for his EU reform proposals.

EUobserved

Juncker too tight in his EU suit

The European Commission president floated ideas on what his institution could look like. But faced with the member state powers, he failed to lay out a structured vision.

News in Brief

  1. Report: May cancels Tuesday's Brexit vote in parliament
  2. Belgium left with minority government after UN migration pact row
  3. EU court: UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50
  4. UK remains largest arms producer in western Europe
  5. Macron to address French nation in bid to calm tension
  6. Socialists confirm Timmermans as Spitzenkandidat
  7. France to investigate Kremlin influence on 'Yellow Vest' riots
  8. Air passenger transport in EU reaches record high

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. France and Germany back Dutch on human rights sanctions
  2. COP24: vital to keep big polluters away from climate policy
  3. EU foot-dragging puts rule of law at risk in Hungary, Poland
  4. Merkel loyalist AKK wins CDU leadership battle
  5. Brexit vote and Merkel's successor top This Week
  6. Brexit, migration, cities - and the UN pact
  7. EU Commission spins half-truth on 'unsafe' refugee boats
  8. COP24 Nordic Pavilion: sharing climate solutions with the world

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us