European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič announced on January 18 that he will take unpaid leave to run to become the next president of his native Slovakia in the March election.
Backed by the ruling Smer-SD, the social democratic party of Slovakia, Šefčovič has entered into a new highly contested electoral race after he withdrew his candidacy to be the lead candidate, or Spitzenkandidat, for the Party of European Socialists.
After ending his bid to lead the party, he endorsed his colleague, First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans.
“I have achieved big milestones with this (Smer) party. We’ve been collaborating for a long time,” Šefčovič said while adding that, he wants to guarantee Slovakia’s position in the EU.
Slovakia’s head of state is a non-partisan position and Šefčovič has insisted that he will be able to fulfil that role given his experience as a diplomat and two-time European Commissioner.
“Today, the question is not whether we need a coalition or opposition president. We do not need a never-ending political conflict,” Šefčovič said during his candidacy’s launch. “Slovakia needs a president who will contribute to the national unity.”
According to an announcement by the Commission’s chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas, Šefčovič will officially be on leave from his duties as a Commissioner from February 1-March 17. If the Slovak politician makes it to the second round of the elections, his leave will be extended until the end of March.
Schinas also confirmed that Jean-Claude Juncker had accepted Šefčovič’s request, adding that the EU executive is “pleased that a member of the Juncker team is…running for the highest office in their country”.
Šefčovič’s portfolio will be temporarily be transferred to the Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete.
Aveteran of EU diplomacy, Šefčovič had served as the European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture & Youth from 2009 to 2010.