Sven Giegold
Mitglied der Grünen/EFA-Fraktion im Europaparlament

Sprecher Europagruppe Grüne

European Elections: Verhofstadt breaks his word that voters decide the next Commission president

For a long time, Guy Verhofstadt was one of the loudest voices in support of leading candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) of European political parties for European elections. Yesterday, he changed his position in an attempt to form an electoral alliances with Emmanuel Macron and his La Republique En Marche (LREM) for the upcoming European elections in Mai 2019. Macron always opposed the idea of leading candidates as his party did not join any European political party so far. Guy Verhofstadt, so far, is one of the Parliament’s most outspoken European Federalists.

MEP Sven Giegold, deputy member of the Constitutional Affairs committee and fellow Spinelli Board member, comments:

“Guy Verhofstadt’s rejection of the Spitzenkandidaten process is highly opportunistic. He gives up a major strengthening of European democracy only to be able to ally with Macron. This is a sad trade-off on the back of European voters. The Spitzenkandidaten process upgrades European elections by letting voters decide over the next Commission president. The Spitzenkandidaten process is strengthening the legitimacy of the European Commission which is deeply needed to counter citizens’ distrust and the allegations of populists. Verhofstadt’s excuse that leading candidates function only with transnational lists cannot convince. Five years ago, we had also had Spitzenkandidaten, but no transnational lists. At that time, being one of the Spitzenkandidaten, Verhofstadt was still in favour of the procedure. He should stop gambling with European democracy. Verhofstadt and Macron need a leading candidate for the European elections. The credibility of Liberals in defending the European Democracy depends on Verhofstadt to keep his word only to elect one of the Spitzenkandidaten as Commission president. Macron wants to keep his cards open for his ongoing negotiations with possible election campaign allies. Verhofstadt wants to save his Liberal group by joinings Macron’s momentum. Yet, the right of voters to scrutinise any new Commission president beforehand as leading candidate during European elections weights heavier than any party interests.

Yet, Spitzenkandidaten are not enough, we also need transnational lists. They would allow leading candidates to be on the ballot paper in every EU member state. Moreover, they would allow any EU citizen to run as Spitzenkandidat without the veto right of its head of government. The EPP’s vote against transnational lists denied this equality to voters. It also blocks Margrethe Vestager from running as common leading candidate of Liberals and Macron, because the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, indicated not to appoint her as national candidate for Commission. Yet, Verhofstadt and Macron should not take the voters’ rights hostage to break the dominance of Christian-Democrats in deciding on the EU top post. Verhofstadt and Macron need to find their own leading candidate and must uphold voters’ rights to scrutinise anyone who wants to run as Commission president. Voters deserve a real choice between candidates from different political parties.

For Voters to have a real choice for the EU top job, Christian-Democrats have to stand by their word that Parliament will elect the leading candidate with the broadest support in Parliament, not automatically the candidate of the single biggest party. Parliament confirmed this in February on the proposal of a Christian-Democrat rapporteur, MEP Esteban González Pons. Verhofstadt and the Liberals needs to present an own leading candidate to be more than a helping hand for the Christian-Democrat candidate.”


Ouest-France / EurActiv: Macron is against the rationale of the “Spitzenkandidaten”, (the person who heads the list of the party that comes first then becoming President of the European Commission), and yet you have always been in favour of this. Have you changed your mid?

Verhofstadt: We were very much in favour and then we became very critical of this. We like the Spitzenkandidaten for whom people can vote, but transnational lists would have been the democratic justification. And it was for purely political reasons that the EPP didn’t want them. However, by rejecting the transnational lists, they killed the Spitzenkandidaten. They were the ones who killed it. It remains a system where Mrs Merkel is the one who decides who is the next Commission president. What concerns me most is that EPP’s real candidate is Mr Orban.


Parliament confirmed 7 Feburary 2018 its position only to elect a Spitzenkandidat as Commission president:

  1.  Warns that the European Parliament will be ready to reject any candidate in the investiture procedure of the President of the Commission who was not appointed as a ‘Spitzenkandidat’ in the run-up to the European elections;


Spinelli Group Board:

Spinelli Manifesto:

“The introduction of transnational lists for the next elections in 2024 would consolidate the practice of the Spitzenkandidat whereby EU level political parties champion a candidate for election as Commission President. This experiment, first tried in 2014, adds interest and visibility to the campaign by giving faces to an electoral process that has often felt remote. After the election results are known, and following a navette between the heads of government and the newly-elected MEPs, the European Council then nominates the candidate for the Commission President.  Finally, the President-elect and his or her college of Commissioners are elected as a whole by the Parliament.”