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3rd annual Jean Monnet lecture: In defence of the 'Spitzenkandidaten' system and the EU's politicisation


Birkbeck’s Jean Monnet Chair in Parliamentary Democracy & European Integration is delighted to welcome former Prime Minister of Italy Enrico Letta who will give the third annual Jean Monnet lecture on 24 April 2023. 


When: 24 April 2023, 18:30 — 20:00
Venue: TBC

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Until 2009 the EU’s top executive (i.e. the President of the European Commission) was chosen by national leaders behind closed doors.  The Treaty of Lisbon (in force since December 2009) was meant to change this since it stipulates (Art. 17 para. 7 TEU) that those making this decision must take account of the results of elections for the European Parliament, the objective being to further ‘parliamentarise’, i.e. democratise, the European Union’s political system.

The idea is that EU citizens will feel they have a say not only in the choice of the dominant policy platform that will guide the EU for the following five years, the corresponding majority in the European Parliament but also the head of the EU’s main executive institution, i.e. the European Commission, that has a central role in turning it into reality.

In 2014, i.e. the first time this system was put into effect, the main European political families a) chose their own preferred ‘lead candidate’ (Spitzenkandidat) for this post well ahead of that year’s European elections, b) organised several televised debates between them across Europe and c) publicly committed that only one of these named ‘lead candidates’ (Jean-Claude Juncker; Martin Schulz, Guy Verhoftsadt; Ska Keller and José Bové; Alexis Tsipras) would be acceptable to the European Parliament – a commitment which they kept after the elections.

However, in 2019 national governments sought to re-assert control over this process in a way that was reminiscent of the pre-2014 backroom deals. In other words, the ‘Spitzenkandidaten system’ is at risk, as is the effort to democratise the EU political system. 



  • Enrico Letta -

    Professor Enrico Letta was Prime Minister of Italy from 28 April 2013 till 22 February 2014, after having served in various positions in the Ciampi, Prodi, D’Alema and Amato governments.  He was elected MP in 2001 and member of the European Parliament in June 2004. He is the Secretary (Leader) of Italy’s Partito Democratico since March 2021.  Between 2015 and 2021 he was Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po (PSIA).  He is President of the Jacques Delors Institute – NOTRE EUROPE, the think tank founded by the French former President of the European Commission Jacques Delors.


24 Apr 2023