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04/12/2016

Slovakia bets on Sef?ovi? to retain key Commission VP post

EU Elections 2014

Slovakia bets on Sef?ovi? to retain key Commission VP post

Maroš Šef?ovi? [European Commission]

By re-appointing Maroš Šef?ovi? for a second term at the European Commission, the Slovak government has chosen to play it safe, placing its bet on an official who has been in charge of almost every EU policy dossier during the last mandate.

The nomination of Šef?ovi?, the current vice-president of the European Commission responsible for Administration and Inter-Institutional Affairs, was no secret since last February.

>> Read: Slovakia first to put forward commissioner candidate

The government of Prime Minister Robert Fico made his nomination official on 11 June, shortly after the European elections.

Šef?ovi?, a career diplomat who graduated from the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, accepted to lead the candidate list of the Slovak ruling social democratic party SMER-SD in the European election, even though he had no intention to take up his MEP seat. He did so with the promised of becoming the Slovak nominee for the next Commission at the same time.

A government led by SMER-SD nominated Sef?ovi? for commissioner already in September 2009, when the Slovak commissioner at that time Ján Figel, resigned.

Šef?ovi?, a career diplomat and a non-partisan Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the EU until the nomination, took his job at the Commission together with his new social-democratic affiliation.

>> Read: Slovak commissioner: ‘My affiliation is social democratic’

By running in the May European election leading the SMER list, he said he aimed to “increase the democratic legitimacy of the EU executive”.

SMER emerged victorious from the vote, however against the backdrop of an all-time turnout low of 13%. Also, SMER lost one MEP, compared to the 2009-2014 legislature, down from 5 to 4 seats. Šef?ovi?, who temporarily resigned from the Commission post to lead an intense, but relatively short campaign, managed to gain the highest number of preferential votes in Slovakia. 

In the outgoing Commission, Šef?ovi? was made responsible for the administration – having to fight tough battles with the unions of EU employees while pushing the internal reform – and for inter-institutional relations, being in charge of dossiers like the Transparency register, and European Citizens’ Initiative.

As the Vice President of the European Commission, he kept track of almost every policy dossier and stepped in on numerous occasions to replace José Manuel Barroso when he was absent.

What next?

Since Šef?ovi?’s re-appointment became clear, speculation began about the portfolio that will be given to him. Fico made it clear that Slovakia was aiming for “another” portfolio than the current one, while “at least” keeping the title of Vice President.

This time around however, neither Fico nor Šef?ovi? are asking for the energy portfolio, as was the case five years ago. The Prime Minister speaks more generally about his wish to obtain a “strong economic portfolio” for Slovakia, betting on the good reputation Šef?ovi? enjoys in Brussels.

Fico has also claimed he would coordinate the choice of portfolios with the so-called ‘Visegrad four’ group of countries – Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

“I have sent letters to various Prime Ministers. […] The Germans make deals with the French and British and apart from that it looks like there is no other Europe. I think it is our responsibility to show ourselves,” Fico said on the margins of last week’s EU summit in Brussels. 

Even though the nomination of Šef?ovi? appears like a done deal, some Slovak media continue to speculate about other names. Rumour has it that the current Foreign Minister and EU Special envoy to Bosnia, Miroslav Laj?ák, could be considered as the successor for Catherine Ashton as the EU’s High representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Background

The vice-president of the European Commission, Maroš Šef?ovi?, spearheaded the European Parliament election campaign of the ruling Social Democratic Party in Slovakia.

Prime Minister Robert Fico said on 22 February he will put forward Šef?ovi? as the country’s commissioner-candidate in Brussels.

Šef?ovic held 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.

Šef?ovic is now seeking one of the more important portfolios.

“I would be interested in a strong political-economic portfolio,” he told EurActiv.sk.

Timeline

  • Summer: National leaders designate their commissioners to Brussels. New Commission president distributes portfolios within his team of 27 commissioners
  • September: Each commissioner is scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament committees
  • October: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new Commission College as a whole
  • 1 November: Target date for new Commission to take office

Further Reading