Spitzenkandidat literally means top candidate or party list leader. The German word entered the European Union lexicon in 2013 after the centre left Party of European Socialists committed itself to naming a Spitzenkandidat for the next EU parliamentary elections. The Spitzenkandidat would then become the party's choice for the EU's most high-profile job – European Commission president. The PES has argued that picking a Spitzenkandidat would democratise the process of selecting the commission president. But the concept only gained momentum in December 2013 when the centre right European People's Party decided to do the same, despite the objections of some of its high profile leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In December 2013, a report in The Economist discussed the many challenges posed by the EU electoral system and the fact that all the big jobs would be up for grabs in 2014. One of the challenges, it said, was the pressure to make the electoral process more political and to campaign around Spitzenkanditaten. However, there were concerns that such an idea would undermine the commission's neutrality.