joi, 4 mai 2023

Primary elections vs. Spitzenkandidaten

Next year's European elections are dynamizing the public space. However, even now new particularities are appearing compared to the previous electoral campaigns.


It is interesting how now, taking advantage of the complexity of the European project, political tools are used by some politicians to manipulate society in the name of democracy.


Spitzenkandidaten, a word that is more famous in Brussels than in Germany (where the word originates from), is the key to understanding the current situation. There is open talk about the need for the winner of the Spitzenkandidaten to be the future President of the European Commission. The main idea is not bad, but the details fundamentally change the issue.


After the European elections of 2009, at the level of the defeated European Left, a signal was raised to have political manifestos and possible names of European leaders. The inspiration of the American election was swiftly appropriated, and we quickly talked about the primaries. We had discussed then, as early as 2010, about a possible calendar for the European primary elections that would precede the great European confrontation in 2014. At that time, no one was talking about Spitzenkandidaten as a solution to better connect the European citizen to the elections.


The premiere took place, and in 2014 there was something new, which led to the election of the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. Actually, the mechanism was done in two parts, little understood even now by the public. There were European primary elections at the level of five European political parties, and then those elected faced each other openly in several televised debates. If the confrontations – recognized as the core of the Spitzenkandidaten – were successful, the primary elections were modest in impact and representativeness. But it was an appreciable start.


Aware of these performances, the European political parties analysed the potential of this mechanism and decided to repeat it for the 2019 elections. However, the first signs of weakness came in 2016, when in a public conference that EURACTIV organized, the problems of insufficient funding foreshadowed what was to come.


The year 2019 confirmed the complete lack of primary elections at the level of European parties. Much weaker even than in 2014, although there were now practical patents for success. For those who still claim the opposite, I want to remind them that congressional elections are not classified as primary elections. It should be noted that the Spitzenkandidaten events took place in 2019 were similar to those in 2014.


Even though I have supported the European primary election procedure since 2009 and the connection with the election of the President of the European executive, I want to point out that due to the lack of primary elections, the Spitzenkandidaten procedure of 2019 had no value. One can see it like a tree without a root. Ursula von der Leyen was a surprise only to some, but it is a logical and democratic consequence.


Considering many variables and analysing the political sketches in the European capitals, I announced since last year that there is no chance for the Spitzenkandidaten of the next twelve months to influence the election of the future President of the European Commission in 2024.


I reinforce this statement with a new confirmation. It is too late now to have European primaries at the level of the European political parties. According to an analysis, the only chance there was, meant starting the preparations in 2021 already.


The European continent has the capacity to host primary elections at the level of political parties. Great democracies such as France and Italy have demonstrated it, even in a few cases. Is it difficult to do this at pan-European level? Of course! But it must be tried.


From all of this we can conclude that, nevertheless, next year's elections are awaited with great interest. I suggest, however, to those interested in the future of the European Union, to still perceive the difference between primary elections and Spitzenkandidaten. These terms already flood the public sphere, and confusions can cause unwanted frustration.


Dan LUCA / Brussels






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