Saturday

16th Dec 2017

Opinion

Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive

  • 2014 Spitzenkandidaten, from left to right: Alexis Tsipras, Ska Keller, Martin Schulz, Jean-Claude Juncker, Guy Verhofstadt. The process brings more transparency to the way the president of the European Commission is selected. (Photo: European Parliament)

The media these days seem as fond of debating the fate of the Spitzenkandidat - the parties' lead candidates for the EU parliamentary elections - as the fate of the characters in the new season of Game of Thrones, coining the eurosceptic catchphrase “Winter is here”.

Everybody is curious about who will live, who will be killed and who will marry whom, among a sudden rush of articles exploring the pros and cons of the idea. There was even one title saying that it is time for the Spitzenkandidat to die.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

True fans of both sagas are well aware that there will be intrigue, battles and casualties, but secretly everyone hopes that the good guys will survive – and in this case, the Spitzenkandidat is the good guy.

In a world where citizens want to be better informed and more involved in decision-making, it’s a way of providing more democracy and more transparency: just open your Twitter app and search for #Spitzenkandidat.

European socialists and democrats were the first to push for the idea in 2009, and it was the Party of European Socialists (PES) president at the time, Paul Nyrup Rasmussen, who opened negotiations with the other European political families in order to reach an agreement. Now it seems we must ride into battle one more time.

Our political family already expressed its intention to keep the Spitzenkandidat procedure for future elections. We even went further by starting a discussion among our member parties on a type of preliminary procedure.

Involving European citizens

As we discussed during the PES Council in Prague last December, socialists and democrats will either go with primaries or for some other kind of preliminary vote to choose their common candidate. The PES has already created a special working group to decide which kind of internal process should be used.

It’s true that voter turnout in the European elections is declining. But so is the turnout in national elections across Europe and, indeed, much of the world.

In 1999, 49.51 percent of citizens voted in the EU election; in 2004 it was down to 45.47 percent and in 2009 it dropped to 42.97 percent.

Interestingly, in 2014, the public duel between former European Parliament president Martin Schulz and current European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker seem to have helped arrest this decline, as the turnout then only dropped a few decimal points less – 42.61 percent.

The upcoming season of the Spitzenkandidat saga promises to be very interesting, and should hopefully be well received by voters.

It may come as a surprise to many, but in 2014 it was really a difficult task to find challengers for the common candidate race. The process was new, there was some confusion about how it would actually work – and even scepticism about whether the agreement would be kept.

But it’s a whole different story for 2019. The media is already speculating about possible candidates from the different political families: I’ve already read in the media some prominent names, from both PES and the centre-right EPP, as possible competitors.

I hope the other European political families will name their champions and all carry out strong campaigns in every member state. And it’s a good thing because, this way, more European citizens will be involved in the way the top figure of the EU is selected.

Not a game

The process of the Spitzenkandidat brings more transparency to the way the president of the EU commission is selected. The names of all common candidates are announced far in advance – citizens no longer have to wait to see the white smoke emerge from the chimney of the commission's Berlaymont building.

There have recently been some accusations that the Spitzenkandidat process is just a show of democracy. But it is democracy when the campaign for the European election becomes a public battle of ideas.

Candidates from all political families should be presenting their vision on how the Union should operate and where it should be going. We live in an age of populism, empty promises and an overseas president who changes his mind every other morning – so, especially now, democracy needs strong political platforms and responsibility.

The current attempts to diminish the Spitzenkandidat process are nothing new.

After the EU election in 2014, conservatives like former British PM David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel tried to pretend that the whole common candidate campaign was just a voting exercise – it fell to the heads of state and prime ministers from the PES family, who took a clear stand on keeping the agreement.

And we intend to keep the agreement this time as well. For us, this is not a game.

Sergei Stanishev is president of the Party of European Socialists.

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.

MEPs seek to harmonize EU election law

MEPs have endorsed a proposal on electoral reform that would make citizens vote for the EU Commission president and bring in Europe-wide party lists by 2019.

Focus

EU leaders to review 'Spitzenkandidat' process

EU leaders have said they plan to review the process for choosing EU commission presidents in the future after having found themselves left with little room for manoeuvre following a parliament-pushed process.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives