Reading Time: 2 minutes

Candidates in the race to replace Jean-Claude Juncker clashed over jobs, climate change and how to fix the European Union at a special debate in Brussels on Wednesday night. It was part of the spitzenkandidat – or “lead candidate” – process, where contenders for the role are put forward by the pan-European groups of like-minded political parties in the European Parliament.

Euronews reports that Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party and among the highest-profile figures vying to become the next European Commission president, praised Juncker and set out a plan to bring economic “responsibility” and stability across the bloc.

Reuters reported how “corporate taxes and wages, cutting carbon emissions, handling African migrants and standing up to Russia, China and the United States all got an airing in Europe’s “presidential debate” on Wednesday. 

But though lead candidates from six pan-EU party groups running in next week’s elections to the European Parliament gave polished and concise answers, their debate lacked the rising voices of nationalists who want to tear today’s European Union down — and, by all appearances, much of an actual audience.”

Frans Timmermans, leader of the Party of European Socialists, said that nothing less than a Europe-wide minimum wage would create economic growth.

Nico Cue, head of the European Left grouping, said the EPP and partners had failed to fix youth unemployment despite years in power. “We have to put an end to precarious work, get back to proper labour contracts and not just zero hours … and we need a minimum wage worth getting up for in the morning,” he said.

Jan Zahradil, chief of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, said the EU should step back and allow businesses to create jobs.

He said outgoing Juncker’s “old and outdated scheme of (an) ever-closer union” was over and proposed an EU that was “scaled-back, flexible, decentralised and which respects all its members, big or small.”

Brussels should be “doing less, but better,” he said.

Ska Keller of European Green Party said austerity was “a big mistake” and “a blow to that European promise that we would be jointly creating prosperity.”

Margrethe Vestager, of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, said Europe’s priority should be forcing companies such as Amazon to pay their fair share of tax. “For me, a tax haven is a place where everyone pays their taxes,” she said.

Vestager also called for the EU to be “more hard-nosed” in its trade deals to reflect Europe’s status as the world’s largest economic bloc.

Newsbook also presents the highlights and salient points mentioned in the debate.

EuroObserver reports that as the lead candidates for the European political alliances prepare for their final debate on Wednesday night (15 May) ahead of the European elections next week, Brussels is ripe with speculation over the new leadership of the EU institutions.

CD via Euronews / BBC / EuroObserver / Reuters / Newsbook