The Spitzenkandidat Debates: what vision for a digital Europe?


Last week, the different Spitzenkandidaten and representatives of European political parties gathered at the occasion of two debates.  Frans Timmermans (PES), Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE), Bas Eickhout (Grees), Jan Zahradil (ECR) and Violeta Tomić (European Left) debated together on 29 April, and Timmermans and Verhofstadt appeared again on 2 May in Florence to debate with Ska Keller (Green) and Manfred Weber (EPP).

Both debates have largely been described as “uncontroversial”, as certain candidates struggled to differentiate themselves on key topics. Discussions mostly fell flat in the absence maybe of certain party representatives with more divisive views on topics such as distribution of power between Member States and the European institutions or immigration.

Digital was largely covered in the first debate on 29 April and did reveal certain differences in the candidates’ approach. Candidates were asked how the EU could remain competitive in the digital economy vis-à-vis the US and Asia. There was a consensus on the need for education, but also on the need to further regulate tech giants – as well as tax them (except from Conservative Jan Zahradil).

Verhofstadt argued that it was no longer possible to rely on 28 different regulators when it came to digital policy and called for the creation a European regulator to ensure harmonization and create an environment in which European champion can flourish and compete against big non-EU companies. Timmermans argued that the idea of “starting a European Facebook” was not the way to go and called for “leading by example” with innovation, regulation and investment.

Ecommerce Europe believes that the right questions were discussed during the debate and positively welcomes certain statements in favour of harmonization, innovation and investment. Have a look at our top 10 recommendations for the new mandate.