Parliament calls for Spitzenkandidat to be respected, liberals oppose it

Margrethe Vestager, Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans, candidates for ALDE, EPP and PES to lead the next European Commission, during the Eurovision debate. [European Parliament]

The process of naming the next Commission president should respect the Spitzenkandidaten system, the leaders of the political groups in the European Parliament said in a joint statement on Tuesday (28 May), despite opposition from the liberal ALDE group.

The Parliament’s group leaders reconfirmed their “resolve for the lead candidate process so that the next Commission president has made her/his program and personality known prior to the elections, and engaged in a European-wide campaign,” the statement said.

However, ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt responded in a written statement that “a Spitzenkandidat that you cannot vote for in the whole of Europe is simply not serious”. The Liberals did not attend the press points following the first meeting of the group leaders after the EU elections.

Verhofstadt argued that the European People’s Party is pushing for a system they helped to delegitimise by voting against transnational lists. The Liberals did take part in the race and their candidate, competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, is among the favourites. 

“For us, it is important that the next president of the Commission is representing a broad pro-European majority with a clear programme to renew Europe,” Verhofstadt said. 

The Liberals picked up on the narrative of French President Emmanuel Macron, whose movement ‘Renaissance’ joined ALDE after Sunday’s elections, helping it to become the third-largest political group in the Parliament.

The leaders of the EU member states are meeting in Brussels to have a first exchange on how to distribute the top EU jobs – presidents of the Commission, Council, Parliament and the European Central Bank. 

Whether or not they will try to kill the Spitzenkandidaten system, introduced in the previous election in 2014, is one of the outstanding questions and Macron is the most vocal advocate in favour of doing so. 

“We will need to see a movement from the Council to respect not only the results of the election but also the role of the European Parliament,” the lead candidate of the Greens, Ska Keller, told the press after the Conference of Presidents. 

The current Parliament chief, Antonio Tajani, said he was “positive” that there will be no clashes between the representatives of the chamber and the Council on the matter.  “We need to respect the process, we need to respect the treaties,” he stressed. 

Asked if she could accept Michel Barnier, who has been mentioned as a potential lead candidate, Keller argued that only those who ran in the elections, and not “whoever goes around delivering speeches”, should be considered for the job.

A European Parliament agenda for the future 

The group leaders also staked their claim for having a say in the working agenda of the next Commission. The political families “will hold a strategic, transparent and democratic debate to prepare a mandate” for the next EU executive.

The document resulting from the talks should be the basis for the negotiation with the European Council in the appointment of the next Commission president. However, the question of how it will be is still wide open.

The European People’s Party won the most seats overall, but several dozen fewer than in 2014, which impacted their capacity to influence the decision. Its candidate, Manfred Weber, said he was “open for compromises”.

Parliament President Tajani, who shares the political family with Weber, said that although the EPP had won the election, “as president, I support the candidate with the majority of the Parliament.”

Udo Bullmann, leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, said his group would support its own candidate, Frans Timmermans, arguing that the Dutchman looks more likely secure the Parliament’s support.

Bullmann confirmed the socialists were willing to negotiate with “all pro-democratic, pro-European forces” and did not exclude the EPP. 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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