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Will the next EU Commission President be Slovak?

Brussels, Belgium – Maroš Šefčovič, currently in charge of the bloc’s energy policy, announced on Monday his bid to become the next EU Commission President.

Bridging the East-West divide, Europe should “lead by example”

During a press conference, the 52-year-old Slovak diplomat vowed to tackle the “barbed-wire” mentality dividing the continent, and criticized “simplistic solutions  built on populist, anti-European or xenophobic views” to problems like migration.

“They thrive on divisions and they often play with fire, eager to destroy our European cooperation, our European dream”, he added, drawing a sharp reply from Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who wrote on Twitter: “Now they are interested in us, but for years they have ignored Italy’s requests for help to stop the landings of migrants“.

One of the main challenges of the EU in the coming years is to bridge the gap and reduce the differences in living standards between EU countries, at the root of many of the bloc’s current problems, according to M. Sefcovic. He also called Europe to “lead by example”, including in its trade and competition policy and focusing on upskilling and on creating high-quality jobs – a vital issue for Central and Eastern European countries.

M. Šefčovič is seeking the nomination of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, currently the second biggest political group in the European Parliament. He is the first Social democrat to have made his bid public, after receiving the support from socialist parties in nine EU countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Cyprus, Romania, Poland and Slovakia). Slovakia’s Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, also a member of social democratic party Smer, expressed his support for his candidacy.

An experienced diplomat with a strong background in EU affairs

Maros Sefcovic, 52, was born in Bratislava, studied at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations in the late 1980’s and holds a PhD from Comenius University in Bratislava. A career diplomat, he held numerous positions in Slovakia’s Foreign Ministry and was posted in many different countries abroad, including Zimbabwe, Canada and Israel.

Since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004, he spent most of his career in Brussels, first as permanent representative to the EU, then as EU Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth. Since 2014, he has been vice-president of the EU Commission, in charge of the energy policy.

His extensive background in European affairs and intimate knowledge of the inner workings of EU institutions undoubtingly give him a strong edge over other candidates, including Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP in the European Parliament, who received the support of German chancellor Angela Merkel but whose lack of experience in high public office might be somewhat of a problem in taking up the bloc’s top executive job – if M. Weber is confirmed as the EPP’s lead-candidate, it might even add grist to the mills of critics of the Spitzenkandidat system.

Next EU Commission President: the Spitzenkandidat process in question

However, less than a year before the European Parliament elections, it’s still very unclear how, exactly, will the next EU Commission president be chosen and elected.

According to European treaties, the European Council (which comprises the heads of state and government of the EU member states) agrees, by a qualified majority, on a candidate for the post by “taking into account” the results of the European Parliament elections. The Parliament then votes, by the majority of its members, on this proposal and thus elects – or not – a new Commission.

Needless to say that there are many different ways to “take into account” the European Parliament elections results. According to the Spitzenkandidat process, used for Jean-Claude Juncker’s election in 2014 and backed by MEP’s, European political parties choose their lead-candidate ahead of the elections, and the EU Council is bound to choose, for the post of Commission President, the lead-candidate of the party that won the most seats in Parliament.

But this “automaticity” isn’t written anywhere in the treaties, and many EU countries and leaders are calling to drop this “undemocratic” process. Others, however, argue that this system brings some legitimacy to the EU. Jean-Claude Juncker himself declared that his “dream” was that the EU Commission President be elected directly by European citizens in a “foreseeable future”, and combined with the position of EU Council chief.

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