The death of the “Spitzenkandidaten”

The death of the “Spitzenkandidaten”

Blogger: Bill Wirtz
The death of the “Spitzenkandidaten”

The European Council killed the "Spitzenkandidaten" process. It was never great, but a return to the old appointment system will have consequences of its own.


A useless circus


The treaties of the European Union, as they stand at the moment, indicate that the results of the European elections need to be taken into account for the nomination of the president of the European Commission. In 2014, the different political party families nominated a candidate to represent them in this process, participating in roundtables an TV debates, their faces printed on magazine covers, and YouTube ads playing with their political message. Back then the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) did not nominate a candidate, because they opposed the system in itself. The far-left group GUE-NGL nominated the current Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who indicated during TV debates that it was not his intention to become Commission president.

The European People's Party (EPP) came out on top of this process, and Jean-Claude Juncker was the evident choice for president. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron tried to lead a coalition in the European Council to oppose Juncker's nomination, but lost the battle. Despite having mixed feelings about the Luxembourger, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ended up approving the nomination.

This time around, French president Emmanuel Macron and Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini opposed the process prior to the European elections. Regardless, the process went on, with Manfred Weber (EPP), Frans Timmermans (PES), Jan Zahradil (ACRE), Ska Keller and Bas Eickhout (EGP), Violeta Tomič and Nico Cue (EL), Oriol Junqueras (EFA), and ALDE, which presented a list of candidates including former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and Danish Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The EPP received once again the most seats in the European Parliament, making Manfred Weber the favourite for the post of Commission president. However, the European Council disregarded the Spitzenkandidaten process this time around and nominated German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen. This rendered the entire Spitzenkandidaten run-up during the European election completely ridiculous.


What now?


All the citizens who had been sold on the Spitzenkandidaten system can rightfully feel misled. The entire process was a circus that was supposed to give the illusion of democratic choice when it comes to the European election. With the nomination of Von der Leyen, we're back to the reality of José Manuel Barroso: backroom deals and invisible trade-offs that not even the Brussels bubble journalists can understand. This is particularly problematic because the president of the European Commission isn't just any job: the European Commission is the only EU institution which can initiate legislation, and is therefore quintessential in the creation of EU legislation. It is far more influential than the European Parliament.

The Spitzenkandidaten system was attempting to imitate the nomination of the German Chancellor, but failed to rally any type of interest. It tried give a bit more legitimacy to the one person in the Union who wields a lot of legislative and executive power. It failed. However, the doesn't speak in favour of the current system either.

As long as the power relationship between the institutions stays at it is, the current nomination process will stir up more frustration against the workings of the European Union.

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0),  European Parliament

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