The Party of European Socialists has launched yesterday (1 October) its nomination process to find a candidate for Commission President, ahead of the European elections next year, with the Parliament's head, Martin Schulz, the clear favourite.

The party started its nomination procedure today (1 October) and will canvass its national member parties and organisations in the coming months to designate a common candidate for the Commission's top job.

In a press statement, the president of the PES, Sergei Stanishev, called it a “process that is democratically open and politically credible.”

PES member parties will put forward their nominees for the position by 31 October. These nominees will have to rally the support of six national parties. On 6 November, PES drafts a final list of candidates.

In a congress on February 2014, member parties and organisations will cast their votes to designate the front-runner, as well as adopt a common manifesto for a cross-EU campaign.

Campaign communication coordinator Brian Synnott said: “It is a competitive process, on which we have been working since 2009. It is flexible and takes into account each member party’s political culture: every member will consult with their base in a democratic way, before we decide the common candidate.” 

Who else but Schulz?

Though national parties can push for their alternative candidate, the centre-left's obvious front-runner is Martin Schulz, a firebrand German social democrat (SPD) politician and president of the European Parliament.

In a press briefing at an earlier PES party council in June, Stanishev called Schulz “a person standing firm for our values, which express the real needs of the people”. “He is our strongest candidate now,” he added, in what was reported as an official nomination announcement.

“The president [Stanishev] was just reflecting on the indications of support from member parties to name Martin as Commission president candidate,” Synnott said, dismissing the reports. “The process of selecting a candidate opened today and it will be followed to the letter.”

In an earlier analysis, EurActiv reported that the SPD will likely have the political capital to select the next Commission president if it joins Chancellor Angela Merkel's party as junior coalition partner, perhaps putting Schulz in the EU hotseat.

“If we get a grand coalition, the SPD will want to have the next commissioner for Germany. That could be Martin Schulz if our political family finds a majority to select him as candidate for European Commission president,” German MEP Jo Leinen told EurActiv.

Campaign faces

Having European parties designate frontrunners for their campaigns is part of efforts to democratise the EU elections. May’s elections will be the first to be held under the Lisbon Treaty, which stipulates (Article 17.7) that the Commission president will be elected by Parliament after being proposed by the Council.

Many European parties, including the PES, pushed for an open election process. The move is hoped to boost transparency in the selection procedure, personalise campaigns and attract voter interest.

The PES is the second European political party in kicking off this procedure to find a candidate. On 4 September, the European green party started an "open online primary" ahead of an online vote opening in November.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats said it would discuss candidates at the group's meeting before the 19-20 December European Council. The European People’s Party has not yet disclosed how they will put forward a single candidate.