Towards the end of this year we will know the personnel making up the next European Commission, with a new president due to be crowned as Jean-Claude Juncker steps down. According to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s national leaders will meet following the election in May to propose a candidate to Parliament, “taking into account” the results of the poll. Under the so-called Spitzenkandidaten process each party in the European Parliament puts forward a nominee, who campaigns alongside its candidates in the election.
The contender belonging to the party that gets the most votes is recommended to Parliament for confirmation as commission president – although EU leaders have made clear they will not necessarily be bound by the process. The EPP has put forward its own Spitzenkandidaten: German MEP Manfred Weber who currently leads the EPP grouping in parliament, easily the biggest in the assembly. Weber is leading the race to replace Juncker.
He launched a high profile campaign which has taken him on a European “tour” and he is increasingly seen as a serious contender to replace Juncker. What he called his “listening tour” involved Weber travelling to the North, South, East and West of Europe in advance of the elections “to hear the hopes, concerns and priorities of citizens.”
Weber has reaffirmed its commitment to the Spitzenkandidaten process while adding, “But let us be clear: these elections should not be about who gets which job after the elections, it is about the best ideas for the future and getting a mandate from the voters and a majority in the European Parliament to change Europe and make it better”.
“Europe should not be an elite project. It must become more of a project for the people again. This is why we need more democracy and transparency in the European Union. The 2014 lead candidate process was an important step towards that end. And at the 2019 elections as well, there should be lead candidates (Spitzenkandidaten). People should know before the election who can become the President of the European Commission. Everything else would throw Europe far back to the days of backroom diplomacy.
Dutchman Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the commission, is the Party of European Socialists’ Spitzenkandidat.
Timmerman’s CV is impressive: Prior to joining the Commission, he was a member of the Dutch parliament and served as the Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2012 to 2014 and State Secretary for European Affairs from 2007 to 2010.
Party of European Socialists (PES) chief Sergei Stanishev welcomed his nomination, praising Timmermans as the “leading defender of democracy and the rule of law in the European Union, known as a dedicated champion of equality, fairness and women’s rights.”
“I am sure Frans is the person to lead the fightback against the harm that has been done to the EU and that he will spare no effort in bringing together the progressive forces in Europe in the name of a social, fair, just and democratic European Union,” he added. The ECR group,meanwhile, endorsed Czech MEP Jan Zahradil, who is also the President of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE), as their preferred ‘spitzenkandidat’ for the commission presidency.
Zahradil said: “We didn’t invent the ‘spitzenkandidat’ process but once it´s here, we want to take the opportunity to communicate our program, principles and plans to the public.However, unlike other political families such as the EPP, S&D and ALDE I believe we should also stick with the rules of the Treaties. First and foremost, EU Treaties clearly say that it is the European Council who is responsible for nominating the next Commission President. They may wish to nominate someone who has run as a spitzenkandidat. Or they may not. Even if we were to win the next European elections, I would respect the Council decision.”
On his campaign, he says, “The EU has completely stopped examining where it has gone wrong and overreached. We urgently need the biggest self-assessment since the EU was founded. That is why I believe the entire force of the next European Commission must focus on assessing regulation that already exists, removing what is no longer necessary or inefficient, and improving what can be made to work better. The EU needs a ‘Great Review’.”
“We also have to seize the unique opportunities in front of us to become the world leader in trade, particularly in the current times of rising protectionism. A lot has been so far and we are signing and finalising free trade deals with Asian countries. So we have a solid base to build on.”
“We need a modernised EU budget focused on protecting the external border. Not by employing more EU officials and inflating EU agencies, but by helping those member states under the most pressure as they try to manage the crisis.”
Elsewhere, the European Green Party elected Ska Keller of the German Greens Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and Bas Eickhout of the Dutch Greens GroenLinks as the leading candidates. Eickhout is an MEP and Keller is the current co-president of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament.
Keller, also an MEP, says, “I’m very grateful and honoured to be elected as lead candidate of the EGP. As Greens, we have a big responsibility in the upcoming elections. Europe is under attack from far-right parties, some in government, who want to go back to nationalism and curb civil liberties and democracy.”
“As Greens, we stand to defend Europe and its values. We want to make Europe more ecological, social and democratic so that it can fulfil its promises. There is much at stake at the coming elections. As Greens we will show that we can lead with a positive vision of Europe. These times need courage and we stand ready.”
Eickhout agrees, saying, “It’s time for change. I stand for a strong Europe, that has to be for the people who live and work here. A Europe that takes action against climate change. That’s the Europe I want to work for.”
“For too long, Europe has been in the grip of multinationals that seek profit, growth and competition above all else. This has been at the expense of a social Europe, one that invests in people and welcomes values everyone’s participation. It’s time for change, time for a Europe where everyone counts. A Europe that cares for people, not multinationals.”
ALDE’s Team Europe candidates:
• Nicola Beerfro from Germany:
Secretary General and Lead candidate of FDP for the European Elections
• Emma Bonino from Italy:
Senator of Rome and founding leader of Più Europa
• Violeta Bulc from Slovenia:
European Commissioner for Mobility and Transport
• Katalin Cseh from Hungary:
Doctor in obstetrics and gynecology and Lead candidate of Momentum for the European Elections
• Luis Garicano from Spain:
Professor of Economics and Strategy, Lead candidate of Ciudadanos for the European Elections
• Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium:
ALDE Group Leader in the European Parliament and Lead candidate of Open Vld for the European Elections
• Margrethe Vestager from Denmark:
European Commissioner for Competition