Defending the Spitzenkandidaten system


Sir, – In an otherwise very well-written and enjoyable article, I fear your correspondent (“Leaders holding door for UK”, Pat Leahy, June 22nd) gave the Spitzenkandidaten system a rather short shrift.

It is common practice for the largest party in a legislature (such as the European Parliament) to assert its right to choose over who will lead the executive (the European Commission), such as EPP’s attempt to secure the role for its chosen candidate Manfred Weber, indeed this is how the executive is chosen in most parliamentary democracies (including Ireland). It is an effort to ensure that the person who heads one of the EU’s most powerful institutions is a reflection of the will of European voters, rather than the result of horse trading between European national leaders.

While I agree with your writer that it is likely that few voters in west Kerry were familiar with Manfred Weber, I suspect even fewer will be familiar with the unelected candidate that eventually emerges from the compromise between various heads of states (unless of course the honour goes to Dr Angela Merkel, as your writer suggests).

If we want the EU to avoid accusations of being undemocratic, and engage EU citizens in European politics, we should support the European Parliament in its efforts to ensure that the people who lead the Commission are those who win the most support in parliamentary election (à  la Spitzenkandidaten). Alternatively the brand name of the new Commissioner could be promoted further by having separate, direct elections for the executive branch like in presidential systems.

Doubtless the current Spitzenkandidaten system has its flaws, with it being unofficial and limited for as long as EU party group leaders insufficiently promote themselves to all EU citizens, but an executive with a direct mandate from an election seems more democratic to me than one with a second-hand mandate from national governments. National governments are already adequately represented in the European Council, they don’t need to control both halves of the dual executive. – Yours, etc,


Clontarf, Dublin 3.