The First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, a close ally of current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has become the latest in a growing list of candidates who hope to success Juncker in the top job following next year’s European elections.
Speaking from his favourite local pub in the Netherlands, the Dutchman tweeted on October 10: “Today in Heerlen, my hometown, I launched my campaign to lead the PvdA and the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the 2019 European elections.”
— Frans Timmermans (@TimmermansEU) October 10, 2018
Timmermans, who is currently in charge of Europe’s Rule of Law matters, has already triggered two Article 7 procedures against Poland and Hungary for cases involving rollbacks to the independence of the two countries’ judiciaries, is looking to campaign on ideas that would shape a new Europe for the bloc’s next generation.
“From the situation of my grandfather who saw Germany as the enemy to a generation…two generations later, when my daughter says ‘there is no border because it is so normal for me to cycle from Heerlen to Aachen.’ They just speak a little bit differently than we do. That is Europe for me,” said Timmermans. “I am from that Europe. I am not from the Berlaymont Europe – from Brussels or from Strasbourg. I am from this Europe. And one of the big challenges for the European Union, and for us as people who believe in that concept, is to make sure that this image comes back to people: ‘We are Europe’. I could almost say, paraphrasing Thé Lau, “Everyone is from Europe and Europe belongs to everyone.” That must come back again.”
Timmermans’ entry into the race posits the centre-left champion of EU ideals as quite possibly the highest-profile standard-bearer for European values on the international stage, one who could possibly continue Juncker’s track of confronting reckless bankers, Donald J. Trump‘s isolationist America, and Russia’s increasingly aggressive moves to break-up the EU.
In Timmermans’ vision, Europe has to find concrete solutions to the challenges that people face, including finding ways to combat Russia’s disinformation campaign aimed at destroying the EU, saying, “The actions that (Vladimir) Putin takes to weaken and divide us deserves a joint European response”.
Coming to the topic of Trump, who has frequently castigated European leaders as well as his allies in NATO, going so far as to parrot the position of Moscow by calling the EU “a foe” and claiming that the North Atlantic alliance is obsolete and “a rip-off”, Timmermans’ believes that only a common European response can guarantee the bloc’s common values.
“I also think that everyone understands that while Trump tries to divide Europe by dividing it into blocks so that he can negotiate with the individual blocks from a position of power, the answer to that is precisely to be unanimous so that we can negotiate with Trump from a position of strength. And you saw that recently when Juncker was in Washington. He had to make agreements about trade with Europe as a whole. Because no Member State has given in to Trump’s invitation to make individual deals. We do not do that. Because we have agreed otherwise in Europe. That is why I believe in Europe.”
Europe needs to be reformed
High on the list of Timmermans’ plans for the bloc is a comprehensive reform of certain structures within the bloc in order to allow for more evenly distributed sharing between the bloc’s 28 countries, as well as within the countries themselves. This would include a fair taxation system where companies pay taxes in the physical locations where they make a profit and do so in a way that is organised at the European level.
Timmermans, however, faces an uphill battle in next year’s elections, despite his name-recognition across the continent. Polls show the left struggling across Europe and the way in which national leaders will nominate Juncker’s successor is not yet agreed.
Despite the difficulties that lay ahead in terms of convincing voters to take a steady-as-she-goes approach in selecting Juncker’s successor, Timmermans remains confident in his vision for Europe.
“I am very confident that a vast majority of Dutch and Europeans do not want to quarrel with their neighbours, do not want to exclude people at all,” Timmermans said, adding that the EU has stood for the creation of a society “where we look out for each other, where we care for each other and find solutions together. But they are often now being shouted down. Shouted down by nationalists and extremists. Shouted down by people who want to chain other people to their fears, instead of helping to get rid of them.”