As the European Greens have just chosen their Spitzenkandidaten, perhaps we should take some time and really get to know this word that explains the “how and why” of the process that will probably determine who will be the next President of the European Commission.
First and foremost is the word itself: Spitzenkandidat, or, in plural form, Spitzenkandidaten. A portmanteau of the German for ‘top’, Spitze, and ‘candidate’, Kandidat, the word can, in political terms, be defined as ‘the first candidate on an electoral party list’, like a party leader. The term first entered usage during 2013, when the Party of European Socialists were making a pre-election decision on the candidate that they would be supporting for European Commission (EC) president.
Though the position of EC president has been around since just after the Treaty of Rome (1958), what makes our word so important is how it is being used in the process.
For most of the EC’s existence, the selection and election of the president was solely the choice of the European Council, which served to sideline the democratic will of the elected European Parliament (EP) and also led to accusations of secretive deal-making. Changing this, the Treaty of Lisbon restructures the process in order to make it more democratic and transparent: instead of a tremendous amount of pAside from procedural changes, when the electorate cast their votes for a party to support, considering the presidency as opposed to the local candidate, there was always a certain degree of ambiguity as to who you were voting for and what their political leaning was (such as a moderate vs. a hard-liner). Essentially, the main voting importance of our word with regard to direct voting is that it gives a name, face, and voice to the person the party is supporting for EC president, which adds another layer of transparency to the process.
Unfortunately, though the use of Spitzenkandidaten does help to clarify a party’s message and increase transparency and amplify the people’s voting voice, there are still flaws, unrest, and some fractures are beginning to appear as certain players feel their authority is being eroded. Beyond the vaunted principles, one of the main reasons for Spitzenkandidaten and the Spitzenkandidaten process was to increase voter turnout in EP elections, which has fallen from 62% in 1979 to 43% in 2009; though, it made no difference in the 2014 election, whose turnout was same 43% as 2009. In addition to this, the president of a European Council – whose authority is being diminished by the ad hoc process of Spitzenkandidaten – Donald Tusk has been quoted as saying that the Council: “cannot guarantee in advance that it can propose one of the lead candidates for president of the commission.”, and that: “There is no automaticity in this process.”
Whether or not Spitzenkandidaten is the democratic way of the future or a loose interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty that needs to be reworked, at least one thing is assured: in 6 months’ time, we can be certain that at least one electoral aspect will repeat itself- the slogan: “this time it’s different.”