Fight brewing over European Parliament’s Spitzenkandidaten system

The European Parliament has sent a warning to EU leaders over the Spitzenkandidaten (lead candidate) system ahead of an informal summit on the matter later in the month. The Parliament reiterated that it would follow the process once again in 2019 and would reject any candidate for European Commission President who was not designated as a ‘leading candidate’ beforehand.

European Parliament to follow Spitzenkandidaten process again in 2019

Today, the European Parliament voted on a resolution by 457 to 200 votes stating that they would reject any candidate not designated as a “lead candidate” before the elections, warning that even if the European Council rejects the system, they will continue to abide by it.

The ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system was introduced for the 2014 European Parliament elections, linking the results of the European elections to the next President of the Commission. The European People’s Party (EPP) won a plurality of the seats in the 2014 elections, so Jean-Claude Juncker, the EPP’s candidate, became the President of the European Commission.

The rapporteur on the file, Esteban González Pons, highlighted that the EU has to be more democratic or transparent, or it will no longer exist. “The fact that citizens know the candidates for President of the European Commission before the elections is an important step in the right direction.”

In an earlier debate, President Juncker said that he felt that there was “almost a majority” against the system in the European Council, adding that it could lead to a conflict between the Parliament and Council. The European Council will hold a special summit on the matter on the 23rd February.

Parliament’s rejection of transnational lists

Though leaders such as the Prime Minister of Ireland came out in favour of transnational lists, the European Parliament today rejected the proposal, mainly due to opposition from the EPP.

The EPP stated that there was no legal basis for transnational lists, and called them “neither European nor democratic but rather a centralist and elitist artificial construct”, with EPP Spokesman in the Constitutional Affairs Committee saying that “what we’re looking at is yet another elite-driven project in Europe that will only end up making the EU even more remote from the voters than they already are.”

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of ALDE, criticised the EPP for voting against transnational lists, accusing them of doing it for power. “We’ve lost the battle today, but not the war! We’ll keep fighting for a real European democracy,” he said.

Reallocation of European Parliament seats after Brexit

The European Parliament also voted on a proposal for its future composition after the UK leaves the European Union. There would be a drop from 750 MEPs to 705, and 27 of the UK’s former seats would be reallocated to underrepresented EU countries. The remaining 46 will be held in reverse for potential EU accessions.

The European Council now has to take a unanimous vote on the proposals, after which it will be returned to the European Parliament for a final yes/no vote.

Image source, EP / Fred Marvaux 

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