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16th Dec 2018

Sefcovic launches bid to be EU Commission president

  • Maros Sefcovic wants to be the centre-left S&D 'Spitzenkandidat' to take on Manfred Weber of the EPP for Jean-Claude Juncker's job (Photo: European Commission)

Europe must have a robust foreign policy and nurture high-tech industries, Slovak EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic has said in his bid to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president.

"We need a strong Europe, a more assertive trade policy and more independence in our foreign policy actions, with a much faster decision-making process," he told press in the European Parliament on Monday (17 September).

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  • Maros Sefcovic threw his hat into the ring after touring EU states in town-hall type meetings (Photo: Vladimir Benko)

The EU also needed a "strong industrial policy" so that "modern businesses and high-tech jobs" were being created in Europe instead of overseas, he added.

The EU was competing with "great powers such as the US and China" on the world stage, he said.

Sefcovic unveiled his ideas in an attempt to secure the backing of the S&D, the centre-left bloc in Europe, to be its 'top candidate' or 'Spitzenkadidate' in next May's European Parliament election.

A German conservative MEP, Manfred Weber, has also thrown his hat into the ring to run on behalf of the centre-right EPP bloc.

The Spitzenkadidate concept says whichever parties win the most votes should be able to install their man or woman in the EU commission top job.

It was first used four years ago to put the incumbent, Jean-Claude Juncker, in office, but EU capitals still have the last say on the appointment under EU law.

Sefcovic, a 52-year old former diplomat who, in his time, helped steer Slovakia's EU entry talks, has taken care of energy security under Juncker.

He joined the commission back in 2009 and also became one of Juncker's six vice-presidents.

Sefcovic said on Monday his work touring EU states in town-hall type meetings in recent years as part of a commission project to get closer to the general public had "inspired" him to seek Juncker's post.

"In the last 10 years I criss-crossed Europe and listened to hundreds of Europeans in every member state - that was the source of my vision to serve [the EU]," he said.

"We need to prove to people that we really care ... I was inspired by their idealism and hope," he said.

His speech on Monday was short on details, but his mention of "faster decision-making" on foreign policy endorsed Juncker's State of the Union proposal to move from unanimity to majority voting in some areas.

The EU should start buying and selling energy and industrial goods in euros instead of in dollars in order to become more independent of the US, he also said.

"The fact all our energy imports are in dollars ... limits our foreign policy," Sefcovic said, amid US plans to sanction EU firms that do business in Iran in one of Europe's many clashes with US leader Donald Trump.

The EU should also maintain "consensus" on Russia sanctions and on aid to Ukraine amid Russia's war on its pro-Western neighbour, Sefcovic added.

Europe's industrial policy ought to be tailored to "protect the planet for our children", the would-be spitzenkadidate said.

Far-right and anti-immigrant forces in Hungary, Italy, and further afield have said they would fight together for power against pro-EU parties in the May vote.

Sefcovic did not mention them directly, but he said he was "proud to represent a progressive Europe" and warned against "silently sowing the seeds of animosity" in European society.

He said he was a "strong advocate of democratic values".

He also said his EU would be "confident and proud, green, showing solidarity, and fairness", in a nod to Italy's call for greater EU solidarity on sharing the burden of asylum seekers.

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