Weber vs Timmermans. It’s more of a light bantamweight than a full-blooded heavyweight contest but voters now have 6 months to get used to the faces of the 2019 election campaign as the EPP and S&D unite behind their lead candidates.

The Spitzenkandidat process was supposed to breathe some democratic life into the Euro elections but once again seems to have demonstrated that the party ultimately decides. Manfred Weber played the EPP party machinery to perfection, winning early endorsements and ending up with 80% of the vote. Alex Stubb’s slicker campaign might well have won a popular vote but this was never going to be a primary campaign. Stubb’s appeal to younger voters could still prove useful to the EPP campaign and there must surely be a higher profile job waiting for him next summer than his current role as VP of the EIB.

The Socialists promised us a contest only to see Christian Kern and then Maros Sefcovic step forward and then pull out. It was all too reminiscent of 2014 when no one thought it worth challenging Martin Schulz. Frans Timmermans will now take on Manfred Weber in the televised debates next spring and you can already see rule of law and defence of values being key battleground issues. Timmermans has already said that the elections will be a battle “for the very soul of Europe”. The spectre of Viktor Orban will no doubt hover over the debate. Both men have tried to distance themselves from being seen as Brussels insiders, with Timmermans launching his campaign from his local pub and Weber portraying himself as the small-town boy from the Bavarian countryside.

The chances of either of them actually becoming the next Commission President remain slim. All the polls indicate the Socialists will take a beating next May and the best Timmermans can hope for is the consolation prize of EU Foreign Minister – a post he would be well suited for. Weber’s inexperience of high office could count against him getting the top prize, even if, as expected, the EPP return as the largest group. Rumours abound that he is just holding the position for another EPP grandee to step in at the last minute.

The Liberals, or whatever name they choose to draw Emmanuel Macron into their camp, cannot be ignored and a pro-European majority to elect the Commission President will require their votes. They will be the first party to adopt their manifesto at their Congress in Madrid this weekend and hopefully their position on the Spitzenkandidat process will become clearer. While they are right to see it as a procedure which plays into the EPP’s hands as the largest group, the key to the choice of Commission President will be someone who can muster a majority from the EPP, S&D and ALDE. Many would like to see Margrethe Vestager assume this role, which would then leave the EPP to take the presidencies of the European Council and Parliament.

The Spitzenkandidat election that remains totally under the radar is in the ECR group who are set to choose the Czech MEP, Jan Zahradil, next week.  In 2014 the ECR decided against putting up a candidate in a process they refused to recognise. Their opinion hasn’t changed but Zahradil wants to counter the so-called “Euro-federalists” with his vision of Euro-realism. He’s unlikely to get much air time in the candidate debates but at least an alternative vision of Europe’s future will be put out to voters.