European Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans believes, as the candidate for the Party of European Socialists (PES), the main European party of the centre-left, that he is the best candidate to represent a Europe that protects minorities and individuals if he is successful in taking over for Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the Commission following next year’s European elections.
Timmermans is now the sole lead candidate, or Spitzenkandidat, for the PES after Maroš Šefčovič dropped out of the race on November 5 and endorsed Timmermans, who had already received the backing of PES President Sergei Stanishev and the head of the parliamentary group in Brussels, Udo Bullmann.
Timmermans will take over as the Commission’s president if his party obtains enough seats in the European Parliament and following approval of the European Council.
“We will have a social democrat for the first time in fifteen years as the leader of the European Commission,” said the current first vice-president at the kick-off of his campaign ahead of a Socialists & Democrats parliamentary group meeting in Brussels.
Several commentators believe the socialists are already poised to lose in the 2019 elections as a wave of nationalist movements has gained significant support across Europe over the last 24 months. Looking ahead, however, Timmermans believes he can muster enough support from countries like Spain, Portugal and Sweden, where both socialist and democratic parties continue to poll well.
“The message of a united Europe is more important than ever,” said Timmermans, who pointed out that support for nationalist and anti-EU parties originate with voters who feel they’ve been let down by the EU’s institutions since the start of the global financial crisis a decade ago. He warned, however, that these mainly illiberal, anti-establishment parties offer little in the way of solutions for citizens who find themselves having fallen on hard times in recent years.
“We need a turnaround. The most urgent thing is for Europeans to once again believe in shared European solutions and not to see other Europeans as competitors or threats, but as allies who need to join together,” added Timmermans, who also said he wants to “ensure that Europe maintains its values in a world where the opposing forces are quite strong”, a thinly-veiled reference to US President Donald J. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, while referring to next year’s elections as an existential battle “for the soul of Europe”.
Timmermans is a political polyglot with a long career both as a diplomat and a politician. He started his career in the Dutch parliament after serving in the military. Described three years ago as a “rising star” of European politics, Timmermans has served as Juncker’s number two at the Commission since 2014, charged with overseeing regulations, the rule of law, and the EU’s charter of fundamental rights.
Juncker has also entrusted Timmermans with the difficult tasks of negotiating a controversial agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.