Wieland: ‘Spitzenkandidat genie is well and truly out of the bottle’

Rainer Wieland [European Parliament]

In November 2015, the European Parliament supported a reform to the EU electoral law that is intended to make the European elections more attractive. EURACTIV Germany spoke to one of the legislature’s vice-presidents about it.

The reform proposes that the Spitzenkandidat process, which was used in 2014, be included in the new electoral law.

The next step is for the bloc’s national governments to decide whether to support the Parliament’s recommendations. However, a non-paper issued by the Dutch Presidency of the Council in recent weeks revealed fundamental doubts at a national level about some of the issues proposed.

Manuel Müller spoke to Rainer Wieland (CDU), Vice-President of the European Parliament, member of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and an MEP with the EPP.

Apparently, more and more national governments see no reason for there to be a European electoral law. In the presidency’s non-paper, the need to respect different electoral traditions was highlighted. Would a unified electoral procedure actually bring no added democratic value?

I do believe that there is European and democratic value to this. For example, European democracy would benefit in the long-term from MPs having a certain amount of minimum-independence. When you look at the situation as it is currently, in some countries the electoral list is drawn up solely by the party chairman. I think we have to limit that as much as possible.

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So that needs to be regulated at a European level, it can’t be left up to the member states?

Yes. For example, there should be a minimum period of twelve weeks before the election, when the electoral lists should be drawn up. We can’t have a situation in which some countries are doing this just ten days before. If there’s going to be a campaign, then the electorate needs to know who they are going to be voting for.

And again: to have a free mandate in the European Parliament, then we have to make dependency factors as negligible as possible. A few years ago, a rumour was doing the rounds here that in a certain country, a prerequisite for candidacy was the deposit of a blank resignation letter in the safe of the party chairman. We’ve got to make it clear that these kinds of goings-on aren’t acceptable.

There is particular opposition at a national level to the idea that the Spitzenkandidat process be included in the electoral act. Will the TV debates, which we saw in 2014 between Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, remain just a memory then?

Personally, I was no fan of including that in the reform. I believe that it would be neither possible nor right to abandon the Spitzenkandidat process though. But that doesn’t mean it should be included in the legal text. Ms. Merkel and Mr. Gabriel don’t find themselves inscribed in the law, but we still have the chancellor candidates process in Germany.

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So you believe that even without being included in the final act, parties such as yours, the European People’s Party, will still put up a Spitzenkandidat in 2019?

I know people in the CDU that are sceptical. But in my opinion, the majority of national party representatives would continue to support it. If smaller parties embrace it, then they are going to be able to exert additional political pressure on the larger players. Anyone who still feels uneasy with the process is going to have to accept that the Spitzenkandidat genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

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