Frans Timmermans won initial impressions gathering 43% of the public votes at the Maastricht Debate 2019, where five candidates for the presidency of the European Commission submitted their proposals and crossed swords.
The debate lasted 90 minutes and was shown live on the internet and by leading European news media, with Politico hosting the debate.
"I propose dialogue over confrontation. I propose equality over discrimination. I propose a sustainable future over a fossil fuel economy. I propose that we do this together and not give the nationalists any room," said Frans Timmermans, the candidate from the Party of European Socialists.
Focusing on young citizens of Europe who will vote for the first time, Guy Verhofstadt of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe stressed the need for the creation of a strong Europe.
"We need also a new force in the European Union and in this European debate, a centrist, pro-European force, a little bit away from the old-style parties, socialist and EPP. That is the crucial thing to do, a new Europe in a new world," said Guy Verhofstadt.
Jan Zahradil from the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe talked about a more flexible Europe and a balance between national and European.
"What I would like to see is a new balance between national and European so that we can find together good solutions for the future. This is what I call flexible Europe and this is in my feeling the only way forward from the current deadlock," said Jan Zahradil.
Bas Eickhout, the candidate from the Greens, focused on the issue of climate change.
"Action on climate change needs to go hand in hand with social justice. And that's exactly the new Europe that we are fighting for. A green and social Europe, so a different Europe. We believe in European cooperation, we believe in strengthening European democracy, but we want to see a socially just and green Europe," said Bas Eickhout.
Violeta Tomić, the European Left candidate, focused on the consequences of the economic crisis on European citizens.
"The politicians in Brussels have time and time again put the interests of banks and corporations in front of interests of the people and I'm not a Brussels insider like all these gentlemen here are," said Violeta Tomić.
The big absentee from the debate was Manfred Weber, the candidate from the European People's Party, who had another longstanding commitment in Germany, having previously agreed to attend a celebratory event of his political mentor Theo Waigel in Bavaria.
Also absent was Oriol Junqueras, the Catalan separatist leader and candidate for the European Free Alliance, who is in pre-trial detention in Spain.
The debate was organised by the Working in Europe programme - in which Maastricht University, the city and the region of Limburg, are participating in - of the European Youth Forum and the European Journalism Centre.