Together with Doru Frantescu from VoteWatch Europe, I
article in EURACTIV.com today.
Political leaders may pay lip service to the
Spitzenkandidaten system, but it is unlikely to impact the 2024 European
election campaign, writes Doru Frantescu and Dan Luca.
Since the European elections in 2014, the concept of
European primary elections has been launched in the European Union, followed by
the Spitzenkandidaten system.
The results of the two editions are difficult to assess
from the point of view of European democracy, but certainly, European
communication has taken a step forward. In 2014, the mechanism strengthened the
election of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. In 2019,
however, the candidate who claimed victory, Manfred Weber, did not obtain the
top job in the EU executive.
The blow came from his own EPP party, and the candidate
approved by the Council and voted by the European Parliament was of the same
nationality as him.
The question now is, what kind of Spitzenkandidaten
system will we have for the 2024 elections and – perhaps even more pertinently
– how will this influence the election of European leaders? Let’s not forget
that the summer of 2024 will also bring a new President of the European
We have had three difficult years, and crises of all
kinds continue to hit the European system. The pandemic has strengthened the
need for realism in Europe, and the war in Ukraine has brought countries closer
to the EU.
Although the European Commission only mentions
Spitzenkandidaten, it is difficult to imagine this system without primary
The problem in 2019 was that seven European political
parties put forward one or several lead candidates for the Presidency of the
European Commission. Proposals and nominations without elections created an
image of unelected leaders in the EU.
If we want a credible Spitzenkandidaten system, we need
to have primary elections at the level of European political parties. The American
model could inspire a realistic and impactful mechanism.
The approach of the European parties in choosing their
candidates in 2019 led to a fiasco. It is no coincidence that this mockery of
democracy led to the discrediting of the candidate proposed by the
Spitzenkandidaten system and his subsequent rejection.
VoteWatch estimates*** that the EPP will have only
160 seats after the 2024 elections, losing 16; S&D will lose 5, reaching
140; Renew will drop from 103 to just 94. An increase for the ECR of 15 seats
is expected, but also a dramatic decrease for the Greens/EFA of 23 seats.
The political centre (EPP, Renew and S&D) will shrink
further. While the EPP would remain the largest group, the gap between the
centre-right group and the Social Democrats will continue to narrow.
The nationalist camp is projected to gain significantly.
Although ID is not expected to grow in size due to the weaker performance of
its Italian and German members, ECR could gain substantial ground due to the
growth of Fratelli d’Italia, Vox and the Romanian AUR (assuming it joins ECR).
Let us consider the composition of the Council at the
time of the vote for the next European Commission President after the European
Our projections show that the balance of power in the
Council will be relatively close to the current picture, as many countries do
not have legislative elections scheduled before 2024, and incumbents are
finding it easier to get re-elected compared to the post-economic crisis
period. Incumbents have won 4 out of 5 elections in 2022 so far (Portugal,
Malta, Hungary and France) and with large parliamentary majorities.
Only Slovenia’s Janez Janša has been voted out of office
in 2022 so far.
While we expect other incumbents to win re-elections up
to 2024, there will still be very close races whose outcome could significantly
impact the future balance of power in the Council. In Italy and Spain,
right-wing forces are projected to win, but the differences between blocs in
Spain are minimal, so we would not expect any significant majority either way.
Greece’s elections are also likely to be hotly contested.
Finally, the Polish elections could be the most
impactful, as the ruling Law and Justice party is currently projected to lose
its legislative majority. However, the opposition will need to form a highly
diverse coalition to unseat the PiS government, which will require considerable
efforts by the different political families in the Polish opposition camp. A
potential defeat of the Polish Conservatives could compensate for the likely
gains of conservative and nationalist forces elsewhere (especially in Southern
Some topics can influence the institutional dynamics, but
EU political reforms such as the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of
Europe, the transnational list, the discussions on European treaty change and
President Macron’s Political European Community project will not affect voting
Based on these premises, the position of president of the
future European Commission is still on the table. Of course, the EPP will look
to force the re-election of Ursula von der Leyen for another five years. That
is why the EPP will not propose a very aggressive European primary election
The approach taken by the Party of European Socialists
will be worth following to be followed. There is a need for European leadership
at the level of the Left, and the European elections are a good opportunity if
a democratic, inclusive system is launched in advance.
At the level of the big European countries, we have
different thoughts. For example, Germany has no interest in changing the
president of the European Commission, even though von der Leyen comes from a
party now in opposition.
The Liberal family will probably see an energetic battle
in the primary election segment, but a charismatic leader needs to emerge from
such an approach, though one who will not overshadow France’s President Macron.
Spain may be the key to the primary election, especially
as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has the potential to become the main leader of
the European Left if he wins the Spanish elections in 2023. The problem is that
these elections are held late, only towards the end of the year. This timetable
might be too tight for a structured impact at the European level.
In this context, the position of President of the Council
enters the algorithm of appointments to top European positions in 2024. Ursula
von der Leyen will probably win a new term as President of the European
Commission, but with the EPP leaving the position of president of the Council
to either the Liberals or the Socialists.
All this leads to the conclusion that the primary
elections and the Spitzenkandidaten system will fail to find real support in
2024 and will again be appreciated more by European experts with little impact
at the domestic level.
*** VoteWatch, May 2022 - At European Parliament
level we have the following result, visualised in the following table.
Projected Seats 2024
Dan LUCA / Brussels