The "Spitzenkandidat-System“ and the EU election

Is the European Union able to overcome its democratic deficit?

Ahead of next year’s elections there is a disagreement in the European Union on how to appoint the next President of the European Commission. The “Spitzenkandidat-System”, which was used for the first time at the last European Parliament election, won the current President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, his position. The “Spitzenkandidat-System” is not embedded in one of the European treaties. The Treaty of Lisbon only defines, that the results of the European Parliament election have to be considered in the nomination of a potential candidate. This means that the European treaties do not automatically lead to an application of the “Spitzenkandidat-System”.

The European Parliament and the Commission are in favour of the “Spitzenkandidat-System”. An EU-wide election campaign would be an opportunity for the European electorate to get a better understanding of the EU and his/her options. The “Spitzenkandidat-System” would increase the EU’s democratic and political legitimacy, because of a resolved democratic deficit. Being elected by the European voter would legitimatize the president’s position, which would increase his/her power. At the same time the president would become more independent of the heads of state and government.

The European Council has a different position on the “Spitzenkandidat-System”. It is against, because it fears a loss of power and it strictly opposes a strengthening of the supranational level of the EU. In the European Council’s view, the “Spitzenkandidat-System" would not strengthen the European democracy in anyway. However, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, admitted, that a leading candidate of a European party as President of the Commission could be possible and would be very helpful. At the same time he emphasized, that the heads of state and government will remain responsible for nominating a potential candidate, who has to be approved by the European Parliament later on. Tusk is convinced, that the traditional process creates a double legitimation.

The answer to the question, if the “Spitzenkandidat-System” will be defined in one of the European treaties and get a mandatory character, remains unclear. Experts predict that it will remain an advisory instrument in the near future. However, a lot of people see the “Spitzenkandidat-System” as the right way to resolve the democratic deficit of the EU and to stop the rise of right-wing populism.