“Maroš Šefčovič will be number one on our election list for the European Parliament and at the same time, he is also our candidate for the new European Commission”, Fico was quoted as saying by Slovakian media.
The decision should confirm the current government's support for deeper EU integration and its aim of increasing the democratic legitimacy of the European Commission, the social democrat prime minister explained.
His party, the SMER-SD, which is a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES), governs Slovakia alone with a comfortable majority. It remains high in the polls with public support of around 40%, rather unusual for a country with a proportional system of representation. On the other hand the centre-right opposition remains very fragmented.
The country is heading towards presidential elections in March, with Fico as frontrunner.
The SMER-SD is expected to take the biggest portion of the 13 seats allocated to Slovakia in the European Parliament. Currently it holds 5.
Šefčovič, a career diplomat, accepted the offer of the SMER-SD, which also led the government when he was nominated for a role in the Commission in 2009, as it “fitted with the discussion currently taking place in Europe”.
“If the Commission has the power to comment on national budgets, if it has the right to propose very sensitive reforms, then it is obvious that the citizens request the commissioners have a democratic mandate,” Šefčovic told the TASR press agency.
He expects more commissioners to follow suit and run in the EU elections. He plans to campaign in Slovakia, with a view to inform people locally about “what are we doing in Brussels”. During his mandate Šefčovic has travelled to Slovakia frequently and remained visible in the local media.
Strong political-economic portfolio
Šefčovic hold the post of Commission vice-president responsible for inter-institutional relations and administration under the second term of the Commission president, José Manuel Barroso. In Barroso's first college of commissioners he briefly held the portfolio of education, training, culture and youth, which he inherited from Ján Figel, who became the leader of Christian Democratic Movement in Slovakia. Šefčovic is now seeking one of the more important portfolios.
“I would be interested in a strong political-economic portfolio,” he told EurActiv.sk.
The Commission president is responsible for allocating the portfolios based on the nominations of the member states, the competence of the individual politician, gender equality and the "balance between north-south", in light of the crisis.
A draft European Parliament report on the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon, the 2009 revision of the EU's legal basis, suggests that the Commission president should have greater autonomy in selecting his team. Šefčovič says his autonomy is big enough as it is.
“He gets acquainted with every candidate personally. He has the right to reject a candidate as has happened in the past. As it is a very sensitive personal question, [the commission president designate] always seeks the solution in a direct communication [with] the respective head of government”, he said.
Preparing the ground
A week before Šefčovič's nomination was made public, SMER-SD MEP Monika Flašíková-Beňová prepared the ground by telling reporters that she thought that candidates for a role in college of commissioners should also take part in the European Parliament elections.
“It would give the mandate of the Commission a new dimension, especially as it is often said that it is detached from the citizens”, she said.
Conservative MEP Anna Záborská disagreed. “Just as we do not elect the ministers in Slovakia I do not really see why we should vote for the commissioner. The government is responsible for sending a competent candidate,” she said.
Šefčovič is the first reported candidate for commissioner in any of the EU's 28 member states. Estonia’s president, Andrus Ansip, who recently said he would stand down from 4 March to clear the way for candidates for the 2015 parliamentary election, is also expected to be a candidate, but no official announcement has been made.
Ansip’s resignation is the first step in a leadership reshuffle in his Reform Party, affiliated to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe political family. The current Estonian commissioner and founder of the party, Siim Kallas, is expected to take his place and lead the party in the parliamentary elections. The party is due to hold a congress on 2 March.