Road to EU 2024

Road to European elections: two Debates in comparison

May 2024
By Editorial Staff

This week marked two confrontations between the Spitzenkandidaten, in the wake of the upcoming European elections: the Economic Choices for Europe: EU Leadership Debate 2024 and the much-anticipated Eurovision Debate 2024. The first one took place on May 21st, focusing on proposals and how to tackle the issues and priorities the EU has to address, mainly from an economic perspective. The Eurovision Debate, on the other hand, saw an American-style running, with the five lead candidates being questioned on six broad topics, on which they could have challenged each other.

During both debates, the eyes were all on the three protagonists of these elections: the departing president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (EPP); the current Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, and S&D’s Spitzenkandidat Nicolas Schmit; Renew Europe Now’s frontman Sandro Gozi.

In both debates, embracing Enrico Letta’s lessons on a true Single Market for All, Schmit advocated both private and public investments not only for financing competitivity and infrastructures but also to strengthen the Social Pillar, ensuring poverty reduction, worker reskilling, health, education, and housing. Ensuring stability and social cohesion must be the primary aim of the EU economy, especially in delicate sectors like trade (especially foreseeing a possible trade war with China), defense, and the green transition, to make it fairer and more sustainable for everybody, not only businesses. To ensure stability in the defense industry and technological advancements, he underlines the necessity to resort to common expenditure and investment, proving once again that he fully espoused Letta’s advocacies.

Despite defense being von der Leyen’s main leitmotif in her European Elections campaign, she displayed some inconsistencies in her proposals. On May 21st, von der Leyen called for a common defense project: However, during the Eurovision Debate, she suggested the Member States should contribute individually to the cause, but also advocating for the end of the EU fragmentation on the matter. She showed the same inconsistency on the Gaza topic: even if she called for a ceasefire to protect the civilians in the Strip, she also recognized the right of Israel to defend itself, ultimately remarking that the two-state solution is the only viable option to solve the conflict. Furthermore, she has been widely questioned about her openness to far-right politicians, like Giorgia Meloni.

On the contrary, Sandro Gozi maintained his stance about defense in both debates, advocating for public expenditure strategies (foreseeing a 100 billion euro fund for defense). His proposal on the topic ranges from the creation of defense bonds to the constitution of a sovereign fund, which could finance education and culture. He stresses a bolder approach to policymaking, to finally reform the Treaties and advance much-needed goals for the EU to be stronger, like the union of capital markets and the sovereignty fund for public expenditure.

The Eurovision Debate saw a major absentee: no lead candidate for the far-right was present, for the ID and ECR Group didn’t express a name for the European Commission. Walter Baier for the European Left and Terry Reintke for the European Greens were present, with many points in common: reconciliation between climate and economic goals, creating equal opportunities for everybody and with an eye on the respect of social norms; a favorable opinion on EU enlargement; no to compromises with far-right political forces; legal and safe migration paths, with a focus on dignity and human rights. Yet, their big disagreement was on defense: while Baier advocated for disarmament and the Ukraine debt cancellation, Reintke showed a more pragmatic approach, proposing a common fund and procurement mechanism, and research cooperation.

Anders Vistisen, the lead candidate for Identity and Democracy, was the only one thinking outside the box (and the only one who actually could debate on May 21st). Advocating for an EU based on cooperation between sovereign States, his watchword is “stop”: bureaucracy, taxation, regulations, harmful directives, Green Deal, enlargement and public expenditure must come to an end. “Less Europe”, to cut a long story short. Yet, he calls for tightening the preventive measures against Chinese influence in the EU economy, suggesting a wider trade deal with the US to cut the cord with Beijing. Which they both need a stronger and more united EU for their implementation.