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Slovakia: “Team player” Maros Sefcovic drops out of EU Commission presidency race

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commissioner in charge of the bloc’s energy policy, announced he was dropping out of the race to become the Party of European Socialists’ (PES) lead candidate for the post of EU Commission President next year. The Slovak career diplomat instead endorsed Frans Timmermans for the top job to replace Jean-Claude Juncker.

“As diplomat by profession and sportsman by heart, I understand the power of TEAM SPIRIT. To boost the PES’ unity and focus all energy on a powerful programme, I support Frans Timmermans. I’ll play an active role in the campaign”, he wrote on Twitter.

In his letter to PES President Sergei Stanishev, he explained that “as a devoted European, I felt a personal obligation to visibly contribute and therefore, responded to a clear call in Central Europe to become one of the PES candidates for the European Commission Presidency”.

Praising his team spirit, M. Stanishev described Maros Sefcovic as “a positive example of the work that the PES is doing – to stand up for the good of European citizens at the top tables in Brussels and to deliver progressive change for Europe, particularly in the area of sustainable economic modernisation”. This decision “brings the full force of the PES behind one lead candidate, and allows us to kick-start our campaign”, the second biggest European party announced in a communique.

A seasoned European diplomat and politician, Maros Sefcovic is a member of the ruling Smer party in Slovakia who received the backing from socialist parties in most of the bloc’s Central and Eastern European countries. He had launched his campaign and announced his bid for the EU’s top executive job last September.

Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the EU Commission and member of the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA), was already widely slated to become the PES Spitzenkandidat after he won the backing of the German socialists a few months ago. “Rumors that Timmermans would run as the Socialists’ lead candidate have been circulating for weeks in the corridors of the EU institutions”, Politico wrote, “but some view Timmermans as a weak candidate because he comes from a party that is not in power and lost significant votes in the last national election”.

Talking to the Financial Times, M. Timmermans, currently in charge of the thorny rule of law portfolio, said he decided to run for the EU’s top executive job to be able to tell his children “he tried his best” for Europe. The lead candidate will be officially named at the party’s congress in December in Lisbon.

Under the Spitzenkandidat process, each party represented in Parliament puts forward a nominee. The contender of the party getting the most votes in the European Parliament elections is recommended by the EU’s national leaders to Parliament for confirmation as Commission President. This process has however come under strain, as a number of EU leaders announced they would not be bound by this practice. The Spitzenkandidat process isn’t specifically mentioned in EU treaties and is criticized by many as an undemocratic, closed-door agreement between the two main European parties, the PPE and PES, to secure the top positions of the European Union’s executive body.

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