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“The EU needs a strong leader who counters the apathy among youngsters”

“The EU needs a strong leader who counters the apathy among youngsters”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Politico

EU Spitzenkandidaten in debate with 750 students

MAASTRICHT. Who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission? In Maastricht, on April 29, five Spitzenkandidaten will go into a debate in front of 750 students. The media, including BBC World News and the Dutch NOS, will be omnipresent. At the Vrijthof, people can follow the debate on screens.

How could the EU counter climate change, how to tackle unemployment? How to balance free speech and hate speech on the Internet? What should be the future values of Europe?

Hundreds of questions from students came in, addressed to the Spitzenkandidaten of the European political parties that will debate in the Theatre of the Vrijthof. The event, especially for young people, is organised by the UM, the City of Maastricht and the Province of Limburg – as well as the European Youth Forum and the European Journalism Centre. The moderators are UM rector Rianne Letschert and Ryan Heath, political editor of Politico.

The Maastricht Debate is one of some fourteen debates in the run up to the EU parliamentary elections on 23 May. “It is the most important, you could say, apart from the official one at the European Parliament”, says Thomas Christiansen, UM professor of European institutional politics and one of the organisers. “At least, that is what we hear from the parties themselves. It’s partly due to our reputation, to our first debate in 2014 wherein Juncker participated.”

The candidates are: Bas Eickhout (European Green Party), Frans Timmermans (Party of European Socialists), Guy Verhofstadt (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), Jan Zahradil (Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe), and Violeta Tomic (European Left), who is added to the list a few days ago.

Quite disappointingly, the candidate of the Christian Democrats, Manfred Weber, has declined. He is attending a birthday party, says Christiansen. “The former German minister of finance Theo Waigel is turning 80. Earlier, Weber had already rejected an internal debate for the nomination of his party. Maybe you could see a pattern, but on the other hand: a few days after Maastricht, he will be present at the debate in Florence.”

What kind of a President does Europe need in 2019? Christiansen: “A strong leader willing to stand up to the member states, as in the Rule of Law crisis with Poland and Hungary, and at the same time, able to bring them together. Someone who can communicate with people, and can be present on the global stage. Above that, Europe needs a president who is aware of the problems of young people, and who can address the apathy and antipathy of the youngsters.”

The Spitzenkandidaten are proposed by the parties in the Parliament, but eventually Parliament and European Council (the heads of government) need to agree on the president. In 2014, we witnessed a battle between the institutions.

“Parliament won that time: it insisted on Juncker, who became President, in spite of the misgivings of the Council. Some say that Parliament over-exercised its powers, and others that the heads of government underestimated the dynamics. Also, in 2014 the Parliament was very united in its support of the Spitzenkandidaten process, whereas now it is more divided. The European Council could come up with a ‘new’ name such as Michael Barnier, the Brexit negotiator from France, or favour Margrethe Vestager, the Danish commissioner for competition, who would be the first female president.”

The debate will be live-streamed by Politico Europe

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