Meet your ‘Spitzenkandidaten’

The Eurovision debate between the lead candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission will take place on Thursday afternoon.

With the European elections only two and a half weeks away, the European political parties’ lead candidates for the Presidency of the European Commission are gearing up for the highly anticipated ‘Eurovision debate’.

Organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and hosted by the European Parliament in its Brussels hemicycle, the debate will be held tomorrow, Thursday, at 3pm Malta time.

What is the lead candidate mechanism?

The lead candidate process gives European voters the opportunity to influence who will run the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. Before the European elections, European parties nominate candidates for the post and European citizens can then support their bid by voting for MEP candidates belonging to the corresponding party.

The lead candidates are frequently informally referred to using the German word ‘Spitzenkandidaten’.

How does the lead candidate process work?

European political parties have been putting forward their lead candidates for the European elections since 2014.

The EU treaties stipulate that, after the European elections, EU countries nominate a candidate for the post of President of the European Commission, but must factor in the results of the European elections. The candidate of the European political party that gets the most seats in the elections is considered as the candidate to head the European Commission.

In the latest resolution from December 2023, MEPs demanded a clear and credible link between the choice made by voters and the election of the Commission President. The process should depend on securing a majority in Parliament and backroom deals at the European Council should stop, MEPs said. In the 2014 elections, in fact, the Spitzenkandidaten process had resulted in the election of Jean-Claude Juncker (EPP) to head the Commission. Following the May 2019 European elections, however, the European Council opted not to approve the EPP’s lead candidate, Manfred Weber, and proposed Ursula von der Leyen instead, even though she had not been a lead candidate.

The European Parliament elects the new Commission President by an absolute majority (half of the serving MEPs plus one). If a candidate does not get enough votes, EU countries have to put forward another candidate.

Who are the lead candidates for the 2024 European elections?

European political parties are not obliged to put forward a lead candidate, and some have in fact chosen not to do so. Some have also decided to nominate more than one candidate.

These are the lead candidates as announced by European political parties:

▪️ Ursula von der Leyen (European People’s Party)
Photo: European Commission

▪️ Nicolas Schmit (Party of European Socialists)
Photo: EU

▪️ Sandro Gozi, Valérie Hayer, and Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmerman (Renew Europe Now)
Photos: European Parliament & ALDE

▪️ Bas Eickhout and Terry Reintke (European Green Party)
Photo: European Greens

▪️ Raül Romeva and Maylis Roßberg (European Free Alliance)
Photo: European Free Alliance

▪️ Walter Baier (Party of the European Left)
Photo: European Left

▪️ Valeriu Ghilețchi (European Christian Political Movement)
Photo: ECPM

Anja Hirschel and Marcel Kolaja (European Pirate Party)
Photo: Emilie Gomez, European Parliament / Wikimedia Commons

The European Conservatives and Reformists Party has decided not to put forward a lead candidate. The Identity and Democracy Party has not put forward a candidate either.

Who is taking part in the debate?

The EBU invited the political parties represented in the European Parliament to nominate one candidate for the Commission President post to take part in the debate. The candidates who have confirmed their participation in Thursday’s debate are:

▪️ Walter Baier (European Left)

▪️ Sandro Gozi (Renew Europe Now)

▪️ Ursula von der Leyen (European People’s Party)

▪️ Terry Reintke (European Greens)

▪️ Nicholas Schmit (Party of European Socialists)

How will the debate unfold?

The five candidates will debate several key topics, with questions from the audience in the plenary chamber, from viewers watching from events organised by Parliament’s liaison offices in the 27 EU member states, others submitted via social media, and by the two moderators.

The moderators will be public service media journalists Annelies Beck, from VRT in Belgium, and Martin Řezníček, from Czech TV in Czechia.

The six debate topics are:

▪️ Economy and Jobs 

▪️ Defence and Security

▪️ Climate and Environment 

▪️ Democracy and Leadership 

▪️ Migration and Borders 

▪️ Innovation and Technology 

The candidates will speak in English, with simultaneous interpretation provided in all 24 official EU languages.

How to follow and take part in the debate

The debate can be followed live at 3pm Malta time on Thursday:

▪️ At Europe House in Valletta. Registration and welcome drinks kick off at 2.15pm, followed by a live broadcast of the debate in the conference hall. After the debate, refreshments will be served on the building’s beautiful rooftop terrace. Register here.

▪️ Via the European Parliament Multimedia Centre

▪️ Via the European Parliament Multimedia centre (with international sign language)

▪️ Via the European Parliament LinkedIn page

▪️ Via the European Parliament Facebook page

One can follow and discuss the debate on social media using the hashtag #EurovisionDebate. To discuss the European elections in general, one can use the hashtags #UseYourVote and #EUelections2024.

Main photo: Philippe Buissin/EU

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