Who should be the next President of the European Commission? In the run-up to the 2019 European elections, we’ll be profiling the various Spitzenkandidaten (“lead candidates”) for the job. Next up are the candidate for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party. All seven of them…
Why are the Liberals putting forward seven candidates for one job? Well, ALDE are frustrated with the entire Spitzenkandidaten process (which is, on the face of it, a significant u-turn seeing as they were initially among the process’s most vociferous supporters). Basically, ALDE is worried that the Spitzenkandidaten process locks it out of power structurally. Despite having 8 seats in the European Council (the same number as the centre-right European People’s Party), ALDE draws most of its support from smaller EU countries, so it is very unlikely to achieve a majority in the European Parliament anytime soon.
ALDE had originally wanted to see pan-European, transnational candidate lists in place to help (in their view) balance the system, but this idea failed to gather enough support from other parties and was voted down. So, instead, ALDE has decided to accept it is unlikely to have its candidate elected Commission President, and has instead put forward a raft of candidates that could potentially take senior positions in a centre-right or centre-left Commission. It seems likely that any new Commission will need to draw support from many parties, so ALDE sees this as a winning strategy. But will it be confusing for voters (who had only just started getting their heads around the Spitzenkandidaten process)?
So, who are ALDE’s “Team Europe” anyway?
Bonino is a formidable Italian politician and social activist, first elected in 1976, she led the campaign to liberalise Italy’s abortion and divorce laws in the ’70s. She has served in several ministerial positions within the Italian government, including Minister of European Affairs and International Trade, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. In addition, she was European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection between 1995 and 1999. Following the 2018 Italian elections, she was even floated as a possible Prime Minister (an idea quickly shot down by the Matteo Salvini.)
Verhofstadt is also the Chief Brexit Coordinator in the European Parliament, known for his oratory prowess and not holding his tongue. This is his fourth run at the top spot in the European Commission. Fun fact: Verhofstadt was nicknamed ‘Baby Thatcher’ at a young age because of his economics views.
Cseh is a founding member of the Momentum Movement, a centrist Hungarian political party. She is also a practising doctor in obstetrics and gynecology, and has been active in liberal politics in Hungary since at least 2012. She is also the youngest candidate for Spitzenkandidat put forward by one of the European political parties.
Garicano has presented himself as a candidate against populism which, he warned, “tries to destroy Europe and return to nationalism and the divisions that the European Union buried”.
Described as one of the most powerful women in Brussels, Vestager held various ministerial posts in her native government before moving to the European Commission in 2014. She regards herself as a liberal but views liberalism as something that happens if markets are free of excessive influence and anti-competitive conduct.
Beer is a German politician and General Secretary of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). She is a candidate in the 2019 European Parliament elections. Before moving into European politics, she has served in various state government positions in her home state of Hesse.
Bulc is one of the more colourful Spitzenkandidaten, with more personality than a typical stage-managed politician. She only began her political career in 2014, and social media detectives at the time were quick to highlight her unconventional interests, including shamanism, fire-walking, and “positive energy forces”. However, she had a successful career as a telecoms entrepreneur before entering politics, and hasn’t ruffled too many feathers as European Commissioner for Mobility and Transport.