The appointment of the President of the European Commission in 2014 occurred in the context of a novel environment: in constitutional terms, the Lisbon Treaty had introduced a small but significant change, namely the requirement for the candidate proposed by the European Council to be elected by the European Parliament. Politically, the 2014 European elections took place against the background of the eurozone crisis which had polarised opinions about the direction of European integration across the member states. This article develops a framework to assess the impact of this changed environment along two crucial dimensions of EU politics – interinstitutional relations and party politics. Based on this analysis, the article argues that while there has been gradual change in certain respects, the impact of the Spitzenkandidaten system did not lead to a transformation of the EU’s political system. Indeed, rather than creating new opportunities for party political competition, the cooperation between centre-right and centre-left in the election of the Commission President and subsequent decision-making further strengthened the long-standing ‘grand coalition’ in the European Parliament.