© Dimitris Vetsikas
The Spitzenkandidaten procedure is intended to revitalise EU democracy and give European voters a say in picking the next Commission President. An introduction to the European parties’ lead candidates running for the EU’s top job.
European People’s Party – Manfred Weber
In his economic agenda, the party family of European conservatives and Christian Democrats’ nominee Manfred Weber counts on trade agreements and further removal of barriers inside the single market to converge living standards across Europe. Security is another priority of his programme. He aims to enhance it by strengthening border protection and more resolute return of migrants. Besides, the German is particularly concerned with the monitoring of the rule of law, which he intends to free from political pressure by creating an independent committee. Correspondingly, Weber also supported the suspension of the Hungarian Fidesz party from the EPP, even though this change of mind came tardily by the CSU politician, whose party is traditionally well disposed towards Orbán. While the largest European party’s lead candidate is supposed to have good chances to win the race for the Commission presidency, some obstacles might still cause him trouble. Thus, current office holder and party colleague Juncker has so far refused to publicly endorse Weber’s candidature, and some fear that the Council will ignore the non-binding Spitzenkandidat procedure and nominate a different conservative for the job.
Party of European Socialists – Frans Timmermans
The centre-left and social-democratic Party of European Socialists’ pick Frans Timmermans, current Commission’s First Vice-President, proposes a traditional leftist agenda, including fairer taxation, affordable housing, minimum wages across Europe and a European unemployment insurance. Beyond that, the Dutchman lays emphasis on sustainability, e.g. by implementing the UN sustainable development goals and through a European CO2 tax, as well as on closing the gender pay gap. Moreover, Timmermans calls for a fair and common policy on migration and asylum, based on an effective control of European borders on the one hand, and the opening of safe and legal channels for migration on the other. Finally, the second largest European party’s candidate promotes closer cooperation not only in the Economic and Monetary Union, but also in the EU’s foreign and defence policy.
European Conservatives and Reformists – Jan Zahradil
This vision is not shared by the nominee of the currently third largest party in the European Parliament, right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists, home for parties such as the Polish PiS party and the Belgian separatist N-VA. The Czech Jan Zahradil, a well-known climate sceptic, puts forward a programme based on a decentralised and multi-speed Europe where member states remain strongly in charge of migration, currency and taxation policies. In his eyes, the EU’s main mission is that of a front rank guardian of free trade, focusing on the single market and commercial policies. While parties beyond the EPP and the S&D, which used to dominate European politics so far, will most likely play a bigger role in the future, the Eurosceptic group might nevertheless be headed for troubled times in prospect of Brexit costing them their largest member party, the British Conservatives.
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – “Team Europe”
The EU’s liberal party, covering a large political spectrum from market-liberals and centrists over social-liberals to progressive parties, decided to oppose the Spitzenkandidat process altogether and went for nominating a selection of seven candidates for the several EU top positions to be filled this year. The most prominent candidates on the list are former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, Italian Emma Bonino, who is currently senator of Rome, and the European Commissioner for Competition, Danish Margrethe Vestager, who made her mark by going against the U.S. tech giants Google and Apple. The liberals have good chances of becoming the third largest group in the next European Parliament, even though this may hinge on Emmanuel Macron & La République en Marche’s hesitation to join the group. Besides, major challenges lie ahead in agreeing on a common single agenda in face of diverging visions on EU policies and controversies between supporters and opponents of a federal Europe.
European Green Party – Ska Keller / Bas Eickhout
In best German Greens tradition, the European Green Party puts forward a gender-balanced Doppelspitze for the European elections, a co-candidacy by Dutchman Bas Eickhout and Ska Keller from Germany. Of course, their common programme is mostly based on ecological policies, pushing for a greener economy in the fight against climate change. This is however linked to a strong social agenda with demands for minimum wages, access to healthcare and a unified taxation system as well as plans for a more consistent European foreign policy, repealing the Council’s unanimity rule. While the European Greens are currently riding on a wave of success and might even emerge as kingmaker in the selection of the next Commission president, they will most likely face difficult choices in looking for possible allies.
Party of the European Left – Violeta Tomič / Nico Cué
The European radical left followed the example of the Greens and nominated Slovenian Violeta Tomič and Belgian Nico Cué as co-candidates in the race for the EU’s top job. Their programme offers a classic left-wing agenda of redistribution of wealth, especially by ending austerity policies across Europe. Moreover, their pacifistic agenda rejects the EU’s military policies, the export of war weapons as well as participation in the NATO. Regarding ecological sustainability, they urge to create a European fund for fighting climate change. In order to implement this vision of Europe, the candidates propose to change the European treaties accordingly. Beyond this common platform, LGBTQI activist Tomič will be responsible for the more societal issues during the campaign, while trade unionist Cué is to take on social and industrial matters.
The aspirants, underdogs and newcomers of this year’s election
The remaining smaller parties’ Spitzenkandidaten are unlikely to play a big role in the choice of the next Commission President, let alone to have a chance to take up the post, but they include noteworthy candidates. Thus, Italian Vice-Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has high ambitions for the right wing and Eurosceptic Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedoms, also home of French Rassemblement National, Austrian FPÖ and Dutch PVV. His success may also depend on his endeavour to fuse Europe’s divided right-wing populists and nationalists into a single, continent-wide movement. The regionalist European Free Alliance, on the other hand, has nominated the Catalan Oriol Junqueras as lead candidate, who is currently being held in custody charged with rebellion and misuse of public funds by the Spanish prosecution. In addition, in these elections voters will have the choice of several new pan-European and federalist movements, such as European Spring, led by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, and Volt Europa.
Presented with a variety of party platforms of all political colours, ranging from traditional agendas to innovative newcomers, and a rank of Spitzenkandidaten including some of the most dazzling figures of European politics, European voters are certainly spoilt for choice when going to the polls this year.
Laura Schmeer is a master’s student at the ULB’s Institute for European Studies.