Spitzenkandidat is only as strong as the europarties make it

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Alexander Stubb, former Prime Minister of Finland and contender for the European People’s Party’s Spitzenkandidat position, during the interview. [Evan Lamos/EURACTIV]

If the Spitzenkandidat process is to succeed it must be the result of a transparent primary, not a back-room deal, argue Henrik Vuornos and Juho Mäki-Lohiluoma.

Henrik Vuornos is the President and Juho Mäki-Lohiluoma the International Secretary of the Youth Union of the National Coalition Party of Finland, Kokomo’s, which is hosting the congress of the European People’s Party (EPP).

The European People’s Party will elect its candidate to lead the European Commission in Helsinki on Thursday (8 November). The decision is made by approximately 700 delegates. Of these delegates, around 200 are MEP’s of the EPP Group, and the rest represents its national member parties.

When the Spitzenkandidat process was first introduced, it was celebrated as a victory for European democracy. This time around, the enthusiasm has shrunk, and not least within the europarty poised to earn a head start to claim the presidency of Commission after the next elections. Rooted in a political agreement, not Treaties, the Spitzenkandidat system is only as strong as the europarties make it. Regrettably, the EPP is not setting a great example.

The first problem of the EPP Spitzenkandidat race stems from its lack of transparency. The idea of selecting lead candidates certainly can’t be that instead of the Council, the selection of the Commission president is handed to a small group of europarty insiders. Instead, the delegates casting votes in the party congress should represent the members and voters of the EPP.

If you were to ask ten voters of EPP member parties, who were the two candidates running for a spot on the top of the its list, you would have to ask a hundred more to find one who could give you an answer. And how could they: so far, the EPP has not organised a single debate between the candidates and the only one scheduled is to take place inside the walls of the party congress. The front-runner Manfred Weber has not even published a programme for his candidacy.

In order for the Spitzenkandidat selection process to gain democratic legitimacy, respective lead candidates should truly have the backing of their europarty, not just its elite of a few hundred delegates. At the very least, members of EPP parties at the national level should know who’s casting a vote on their behalf in the selection process and why. The race itself should be a chance for the europarty to engage in open discussions and for candidates to provide visions on where Europe should headed in the next five years and beyond.

As of now, the EPP Spitzenkandidat race is won or lost behind closed doors, in the offices of Brussels. It’s a race of professional career politicians, and not only in terms of candidates, but also in terms of voters. As a result, it’s a race of deals and power-plays, which doesn’t do justice to the European democracy it’s meant to embody. As young, centre-right pro-Europeans and committed members of the European People’s Party, we regret this and demand better.

If there will be a next time for the Spitzenkandidat race, candidates should do a tour of all the EU capitals, with open public debates, with transparent programmes and with spelled-out visions. They should bring the EU and the EPP to the people, not the other way around. And the people backing EPP should know who is voting and what for.

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