After EU snubbed Manfred Weber, MEPs want leaders to take spitzenkandidat seriously

European elections 2024: MEPs will vote on agreement to have Council negotiate choice of next Commission president

Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Manfred Weber
Ursula von der Leyen (left) and Manfred Weber

A report by the European Parliament’s committee on consititutional affairs has called for democratic standards to be applied when lead candidates for President of the European Commission are nominated.

The lead candidate in the European elections – dubbed Spitzenkandidaten – is meant to nominate the person who theoretically, should be selected by member state governments as president of the European Commission.

The decision is entirely up to the European Council, the prime ministers of the EU, and has in the past ignored the winning outcome of EP elections to select other compromise candidates such as Ursula von der Leyen. The former German defence minister was chosen despite centre-right EPP president Manfred Weber being the choice of the winning party at the 2019 elections.

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Now MEPs in the constitutional committee said they want European political parties to announce their candidates for the top Commission job at least twelve weeks before election day.

The Spitzenkandidaten process was run for the first time in 2014, and a second time in 2019, with contrasting results but it is now one of the measures proposed by the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The MEPs complained that the lead candidate system to elect the European Commission President was not applied in 2019 and insist that a clear and credible link between voters’ choice and this position is needed. “Based on the Treaties, this election depends on securing a majority in Parliament and call on the European Council to stop the practice of striking deals behind closed doors,” the MEPs said.

They now want an agreement between Parliament and the European Council to ensure that the lead candidates, jointly with the presidents of the European political parties and of their respective parliamentary groups, engage in negotiations immediately after the European elections to put forward a common candidate, before the European Council can make a proposal.

“The lead candidate of the European political party with the most seats in Parliament should lead in the first round of negotiations, with Parliament’s President steering the process if needed. In the absence of a common candidate, the President of the European Council should engage in consultations with the political leadership mentioned above prior to putting forward a proposal,” the committee said.

“Voters need clarity about how their vote affects the choice of people and policies in the Union,” said German MEP Sven Simon (EPP). “Unlike in 2019, we must not make promises we cannot keep. The lead candidate process needs to become credible again. Whoever is elected President of the newly formed Commission needs clear backing by voters and a majority in Parliament.”

Spanish co-rapporteur Domènec Ruiz Devesa (S&D) said: “With the adoption of this report in our committee we are paving the way for recommendations to the European political parties to strengthen the European dimension of the next European elections. We would also like to see concrete post-electoral procedures to increase the visibility of the role played by the European political parties and citizens for the election of the President of the Commission.”

The draft report was endorsed with 19 votes for, two against, and two abstentions, and could be on the agenda at the 20-23 November plenary session in Strasbourg.

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