Timmermans becomes the socialist top candidate as Šefčovič backs out of Spitzenkandidaten race

, by Louise Olander

Timmermans becomes the socialist top candidate as Šefčovič backs out of Spitzenkandidaten race
Frans Timmermans will be leading the social democrat campaign at the 2019 European elections. Photo: PES Media Centre

Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič announced on Monday that he is withdrawing his bid to become the Party of European Socialists’ (PES) top candidate for Commission president after the 2019 European Parliament election. This leaves current First Vice President Frans Timmermans as the social democratic Spitzenkandidat. What can we expect from Timmermans and the socialist campaign?

Šefčovič’s decision to withdraw and instead endorse his Dutch colleague came after it was made clear that Timmermans, with the backing of at least twelve social democratic national parties (including the large German SPD), enjoyed stronger pan-European support than Šefčovič. The Slovak Commissioner was reportedly championed by nine parties, primarily from Central and Eastern Europe.

The choice of the PES Spitzenkandidat comes early, just ahead of the EPP congress in Helsinki, at which the conservative candidate will be decided, and a full month before the upcoming PES congress in Lisbon.

At a meeting of the European Parliament’s S&D Group, PES and the two candidates on Tuesday, S&D Group President Udo Bullmann endorsed Timmermans as the socialist favourite, noting that “Frans Timmermans has been at the forefront of the fight for the protection of Europe’s core values and he will continue to be as our Common Candidate.” Similarly, PES President Sergei Stanishev stated that “Frans Timmermans is an established champion of democracy, fairness and equality in Europe. He is a committed fighter for a just and social Europe. Having him as the designated PES Common Candidate is a step forward in our ambition to change Europe for the better.”

Regarding the social democrats’ priorities for the 2019 election, the S&D president mentioned the importance of European values and “fighting the dark forces that are trying to undermine rule of law, democracy and solidarity in Europe”, which he believes the conservative EPP is ill-equipped to do. Timmermans himself did not mince his words when stating that in addition to assuring European unity against nationalism, “This battle will be about the very soul of Europe. We will campaign on the issues people are concerned about; the urgent threat of climate change, the cuts to social protection which impact our whole society, the unfairness and injustices in our communities.”

The details of the social democratic election priorities will be developed in the upcoming months. In this process, Šefčovič will remain a key player, having been appointed chief coordinator for the PES resolutions to be adopted at the party congress in December. In an interview with POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook, Šefčovič highlighted several key issues to focus on, such as industrial policy, state aid and a more assertive trade agenda with regards to China and the United States, as well as the gender and geographical pay gap and the need to address the perception of globalisation as a threat to jobs.

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