On 10 May, the TOC chief-editor decided it was time to pay some attention to the upcoming EU elections, which will be held from 23 to 26 May. This plan was met with great enthusiasm by all editors:

An enthusiasm shared by millions of EU citizens: according to a European Parliament fact sheetvoter turnout has been on a consistently downward path [since 1979].” Turnout ranged from 74.8% in Malta (which was the highest turnout without compulsory voting) to a dismal low of 13% in Slovenia for the 2014 elections. In most member states, turnout was less than half, including in Germany (48.1%), France (42.4%) and the United Kingdom (35.4%), leading to an EU average of 42.6%.

Partly in reply to slipping voter turnout, 2014 saw the introduction of the Spitzenkandidat. The “brainchild” of the EP, this ‘lead candidate method’ is supposed to make the choice of the European Commission president “more democratic and transparent.” So in good EU-fashion, it is actually not a very democratic, not a very transparent and instead a rather convoluted process:

Basically, what happens is that a select group of political parties represented in the EP at this time can select their ‘lead candidate’, someone they would like to see as president of the European Commission. Only the larger, established and mostly EU-wide coalition parties in the EP have the right to have their choice recognised as a Spitzenkandidat. As becomes clear from the rules for invitation to the Spitzenkandidat-debate on 15 May:

“To be invited to participate in the debate, candidates had to fulfil the following cumulative criteria set out EBU:

– The lead candidate to the presidency of the European Commission must be nominated by one of the European political parties which are represented in the European Parliament and recognized by the Authority for European Political Parties and European Political Foundations and;

– The political party making the nomination must be represented in one of the officially recognized political groups in the outgoing European Parliament and;

– Only one candidate can be nominated in each political group.”

Rules of the debate

That last rule (only one candidate) may seem a bit odd at first. There is only one candidate per group, because there is only one position to fill, right? But no. This is Sparta Brussels: both the European Green Party (EGP) and the Party of the European Left (GUE/NGL) have both nominated two lead candidates. But wait, there’s more! The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) have selected seven. That’s not a typo, there are seven (7) ALDE ‘lead candidates’. Are they taking the piss, you wonder? Well, one of them is Guy Verhofstadt.

Now, the reason we mention Verhofstadt and linked to his rant about Catalonia, is because of another Spitzenkandidat who will sadly not be joining the debate on 15 May. The candidate selected by the European Free Alliance (EFA), Oriol Junqueras, ironically is not free on that date, on account of being in custody while on trial.

Also ironic: despite having seven candidates, there are still 21 member states in which nobody can vote for an ALDE lead candidate. You cannot vote for a lead candidate in all countries of the EU. You can only vote for a candidate if you are a citizen of the same member state as the Spitzenkandidat. Neither can you actually vote for the group that chose him, but only for the national party that is part of the assembly in the EP. All according to national rules, that vary from member state to member state. So much for ‘European’ Parliament.

So suppose you watch the debate on 15 May and think ‘mmmmh, that candidate X, we’re really seeing eye to eye on these important topics. He’s the man I want as my president.‘ So you decide you want to vote for this candidate. First, you only have a fairly small chance you can actually vote for him directly. So you have to figure out what national party is part of his EP-group and vote for them. It is immediately clear that this is not ideal. Even though the Spitzenkandidat-method might give the impression you can vote for this candidate, that’s not actually true.

Even if his group, through everyone who wanted this candidate to win voting on the proper national parties becomes the largest in the EP, that’s still no guarantee. Present Spitzenkandidat-president Claude Juncker wasn’t the lead candidate of the largest party either. In fact, there is a whole process yet to be gone through in order for the new president of the European Commission to be appointed. Yes, appointed.

Remember: all of this is to make the process “more democratic and transparent“!