The Constitutional Affairs Committee took stock of lessons from the 2019 European elections and the inter-institutional nominations’ cycle in a hearing with internal and external experts.
The 24 September hearing comprised presentations and a discussion with subject matter experts János Martonyi, Professor of International Trade Law and European Law, University of Public Service, Budapest; Christine Verger, Vice-President of Institut Jacques Delors, Paris, France; Andreas Maurer, Professor at the University of Innsbruck - School of Social and Political Sciences, Austria; and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Former Member of the European Parliament, 1994-2014, Greens/EFA.
Electoral reform: a contested topic
The discussion focused primarily on the scope of changes that would be required to improve the democratic legitimacy of the European institutions and their proximity to citizens. Particular attention was given to examining if treaty change would be required for the continuation or reform of the lead candidate (“Spitzenkandidaten”) process, the creation of transnational lists, or both.
Despite the overwhelming majority of speakers declaring their support for the Spitzenkandidaten process, some MEPs disagreed on whether it should lead to the automatic selection of the European Commission President, from a political as well as from a legal standpoint. Regardless, almost all speakers argued for its retention and improvement, while several proposed its redefinition (floating the idea of an interinstitutional agreement) and many suggested that the issue can only be effectively addressed in tandem with the transnational list question.
Transnational lists, on the other hand, proved to be more divisive. Some speakers expressed doubts on whether the intention behind the proposals made by many MEPs (i.e. to support the establishment of a European debate and demos and to improve citizen representation) can be achieved through the election of representatives who would be distanced from their constituents geographically, linguistically and culturally. The balance of power between member states was also brought up, with speakers arguing that smaller ones would be underrepresented, while others pointed out that populist forces could be strengthened due to their visibility and that new, small parties could be automatically precluded from putting forward candidates in this manner.
MEPs also referred to the ongoing work on the report on stocktaking of European elections by Pascal Durand (Renew Europe, FR), as well as to the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe, which was highlighted as an opportune forum for this debate to be had.
Gabriele Bischoff (S&D, DE), vice-chair of the Committee, said during her closing remarks after presiding over the hearing: “We already knew that there is broad support for the lead candidate principle in Parliament, but we have differing opinions on how to implement it. There are different positions on transnational lists, some scepticism but also broad support. What was evident here today is that there is an agreement in the house that the status quo is not sufficient”.
The Spitzenkandidaten process is a procedure whereby European political parties, ahead of European elections, appoint lead candidates for the role of Commission President.
The concept of “transnational lists” has seen numerous interpretations, all of them revolving around the idea of establishing a common electoral constituency across EU member states.