Verhofstadt denies 'flip-flopping' over Spitzenkandidaten

Parliament’s ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt has moved to defend himself against accusations that he has “flip-flopped” over the election of the next European Commission President.

Guy Verhofstadt | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

14 Sep 2018

Speaking to this website, the Belgian deputy implied that he still supported the so-called Spitzenkandidaten system for electing the next president after May’s European elections.

Under the Spitzenkandidaten process, the person who heads the list of the party that comes first then becomes President of the European Commission.

Verhofstadt’s comments come after some MEPs, including German Greens member Sven Giegold, accused him of “breaking his word” that voters would decide the next president.


Verhofstadt, a former Belgian Prime Minister, said, “We will have to see what is going to happen with the Spitzenkandidaten system.”

He added, “The EPP severely weakened the support for it the moment they killed the proposals for transnational lists that were supposed to be part of the system. The result is that citizens will not be able to directly vote for a Spitzenkandidat.”

Verhofstadt said, “That is a big omission in my opinion.”

On Sunday, Verhofstadt said he was seeking an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron’s political party for the European elections in May in a bid to counter populists. 

In an interview published by French newspaper Ouest France, the former Belgian Prime Minister said he was keen for ALDE and La Republique en Marche, the party created by Macron, to build an alternative to populism. 

“The goal is to create a decisive group in the future parliament, that would be a tool to stop the nationalist tide,” he was quoted as saying.

But Christophe Castaner, the head of La Republique en Marche, has since dismissed Verhofstadt’s comments, saying, “We are not ready for an alliance.” 

The fourth largest group in the European Parliament, with 68 MEPs out of 751, ALDE is said to be courting a partner to join its ranks and gain clout after the May elections. 

In the interview with Ouest-France, Verhofstadt was asked if he had changed his mind about the Spitzenkandidaten procedure, which is strongly supported by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and many MEPs.

Verhofstadt said, “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 Angela Merkel is the one who decides who is the next Commission President. What concerns me most is that EPP’s real candidate is Viktor Orbán.”

In February, the European Parliament confirmed its position to only to elect a Spitzenkandidat as Commission President.

At the time MEPs warned that Parliament will be ready to reject any candidate who was not appointed as a ‘Spitzenkandidat’ in the run-up to the European elections.



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