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How much does it cost to run a Spitzenkandidaten campaign?

Last year, we saw the very first European elections with Spitzenkandidaten (‘lead candidates’) put forward by five major European Political Parties as future president of the European Commission. But how can it be that the Juncker’s EPP reports ~€ 1.75 million in “Election campaigns” expenditure while Schulz’ PES reports only ~€ 0.2 million?

Jean-Claude Juncker, is now in office for one year. While Brussels is getting used to him – well, at least getting used to the long-time Luxembourgish prime minister now being Commission President – academic publications pop up studying the impact and significance of the Spitzenkandidaten process.

In my previous job at the EU office of Transparency International (TI-EU), I was monitoring with colleagues the transnational campaign. When I gave a presentation to Bavarian teachers at APB Tutzing about European politics yesterday (see program of their seminar), I was reminded that I hadn’t looked into this matter for a while and was curious to see whether there were new information out there.

While I was at TI-EU, we produced a Google doc and this map visualisation covering 250 selected stops tracking the campaign trail of the European candidates. A final Monitoring Report summarised the range of campaign activities for which European Political Parties most likely had to spend their own (European) money or money coming from national member parties.

Now, more than one year later, the financial reports of the European Political Parties for 2014 are public. They are not very detailed, but each of them contains an overview table at the end on income and expenditures in 2014, including an expenditure line called “Election campaigns”.

Here’s what each European party reports for 2014 for this expenditure line:

  • European People’s Party (Juncker): € 1,748,836.02 € [report]
  • Party of European Socialists (Schulz): € 196,971.34 [report]
  • Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Verhofstadt):  € 196,594.57 [report]
  • European Green Party (Keller, Bové): € 537,416.61 [report]
  • Party of the European Left (Tsipras): € 60,171.38 [report]
  • Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (none): € 97,955.55 € [report]

What do these figures tell us? A naïve interpretation would be that it cost about € 1.75 million to make Jean-Claude Juncker European Commission President. Compare that to the ongoing US primaries and the multi-million campaign accounts in place at this point in time…

More realistically, the figures tell us that each party seems to differ in what it thinks it needs to report as expenditure under “Election campaigns” in the financial reports. It’s hard to believe, for example, that the campaign of EPP/Juncker was 10x more expensive than the one by PES/Schulz and that the Greens/Keller, Bové, even with their primaries, spent more than double the amount of  PES/Schulz.

The question is whether this difference is a matter of reporting European-level expenditures in different ways, i.e. that actual campaign expenditures are covered in other categories of the party reports. The alternative would be that the difference is the result of parts of the campaign costs being covered from other sources, such as national campaign accounts.

In any case, we don’t know from the European parties’ reports how much money was spent on the Spitzenkandidaten campaign at national level through other sources, so the figures above are just a glimpse into a complex web of campaign finances few will actually know as a whole.

What this means is that political scientists (or anyone else for that matter) who want to really understand the European and transnational campaign including the financing* will have to do quite some digging and interviewing to get some realistic comparative figures. I think it would be worth the effort, because this will be valuable insights to understand changes for the future campaigns, the next one coming up in little more than three years.

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