From the lead candidate system to renewed European democracy

Resolution submitted by JEF Political Commission 1: Institutions and Governance.
Adopted by the European Congress in Paris on 26 October 2019. Re-adopted by the Federal Committee in Luxembourg on 10 April 2022.

The 2019 European elections have shown some positive signals such as an overall higher turnout and the fact that most political parties have applied the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’, also known as the lead candidate system. Even though the outcome of these last European elections could be considered somewhat positive, once again the European Council has been the one calling the shots on the EU’s top jobs. Furthermore, the way the heads of state and governments of the EU have tried to manage their national interests during the negotiations caused a real political deadlock which only damages the fragile trust from the citizens that the European Institutions have gained over the last few years. It is unacceptable that the trust of millions of European citizens gets betrayed by their national governments. For this reason, we call for a renewal of the entire process in order to create a real supranational democracy.

JEF Europe,

  • Regretting the post-European election process that led to the “EU top jobs” package in which EU Heads of State and Government in the European Council agreed on a number of European nominees based essentially on national interests and criteria;
  • Concerned that the steps made so far in restoring the trust of European citizens, partially thanks to the implementation of the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system, could be undermined by the opaque manner in which the European Commission President-elect was nominated;
  • Recognising the role that the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system has played in moving forward the path to a real European democracy, by strengthening the supranational element in the European elections;
  • Concerned, nonetheless, that the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system, in the state that it is in now, can still be made to serve the interests of national parties and governments, as it essentially depends on the will of the Member States;
  • Reaffirming the need for a renewal of European democracy that would also include a radical reform of the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system;
  • Viewing with appreciation the increase in voter turnout at the last European elections and the incredible pan-European effort made by pro-European and federalist NGOs, as well as other civil society organisations despite the attempts of some national parties to redirect the campaign towards national issues;
  • Believing that one of the roles of the EU institutions should be that of empowering European citizens and making them feel seen and heard, by fostering their participation in political processes;
  • Recalling how JEF Europe has defended and promoted the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ process in the European elections as the best chance to have a more transparent, visible and accountable process to decide on the “EU top jobs”;
  • Noting that most European political parties have nominated a ‘Spitzenkandidat’ for the President of the Commission under the so-called “Spitzenkandidaten system”, both in the 2014 and 2019 European elections;
  • Noting that for a ‘Spitzenkandidat’ to be elected as President of the Commission requires them to find a majority in both the European Council (in the nomination phase) and in the European Parliament (in the election phase);
  • Believes that the current system has allowed European political parties, Heads of State and Government, and the wider EU public sphere to interpret it as both a presidential and parliamentary election system, and for some to use their interpretation to push forward national or party interests;
  • Regretting, furthermore, that some of its constitutive and procedural elements have left it prey to the European Council, and thus tightly linked to the intergovernmental framework;
  • Aware that the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system alone cannot function as the helm of a supranational European democracy, as it was created as a tool within the current intergovernmental system and it reflects all the limitations and contradictions of such a system;
  • Convinced that, in order to concretely open and complete the path towards a real European democracy, the renewal of all EU institutions (in a federal sense) and the European election process is needed.

JEF Europe, therefore,

1. Criticises the lack of transparency in the post-election process that led to the “EU top jobs” package, and reiterates the urgent need to democratise the entire process as soon as possible, so as to not erode further the trust of European citizens in the EU institutions;
2. Believes that the European Parliament and its MEPs should lead the way for the renewal of European democracy, as they are accountable to European voters;
3. Calls for the European party families to become genuine European parties. This process should be aiming to foster a European political conscience among European voters and a Europe-wide constituency. In particular, European party families should, before the next European elections:

  • Go beyond the simple grouping or affiliation of national parties by ensuring consistency in both ideology and values (in line with the values of the European Union), have European political programmes on transnational issues, commit to more transparency on the EU level;
  • Encourage a transnational public debate on European issues as opposed to national ones and, therefore, have a clear vision, agenda and programme in time for the electoral campaign;
  • Continue to improve the ‘Spitzenkandidaten” system within the necessary time frame of the electoral campaign, thus enabling the ‘Spitzenkandidat’ to participate in an EU-wide campaign throughout all member states in order to gain sufficient public outreach and be democratically legitimate;
  • Promote themselves by working with national parties and their MEPs (not just in their respective member states) in order to make them more known to the European citizens, especially in their function of serving beyond their nationalities;
  • Organise visible, inclusive party primaries to elect their ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ well in advance of the European elections

4. Calls for the harmonisation of national legislation on European elections, and ensuring that citizens can still participate in the European elections if they live outside the EU;
5. Believes that a reformed ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ system should aim at establishing a supranational democratic system in which a negotiated majority in the European Parliament based on a political agreement has the prerogative to propose to the Council the Parliament a nominee for President of the European Commission;
6. Believes that a reformed ‘Spitzenkandidaten” system should be complemented by transnational lists and JEF Europe, therefore, calls for the introduction of transnational lists for the next European elections in 2024;
7. Calls on European political parties to ensure that the European Parliament and the Member States’ Governments reach a clear, common agreement on how the process of electing the European Commission President is intended to work, ideally through a legislative act in advance of the 2024 European elections;
8. Believes that the European Commission, and the future federal European Government, must – as it is entrusted with executive power – be fully democratically accountable to the European Parliament;
9. Considers that constituencies for European elections should not be limited by national borders, and that regional, cross-border constituencies could help create a parliamentary system less bound by national interests;
10. Calls for treaty reform to shift from the current intergovernmental method in order to provide the European Union with the capacity and sovereignty to act in response to current challenges (especially in cases of disagreement between national governments); considers that the Treaty revision process should be accompanied by the strong involvement of European citizens;
11. Urges the European Parliament to launch the process for the establishment of a European Constituent Assembly during this mandate.