January 18, 2019 / 10:14 AM / 7 months ago

Top EU official Sefcovic announces bid for Slovak presidency

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Career diplomat and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said on Friday he would run for president of Slovakia in an election in March and hoped to cement the euro zone nation’s status as a core member of the EU.

FILE PHOTO - Vice President of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic speaks during the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Sefcovic has the backing of the ruling left-leaning Smer party, which leads in opinion polls despite losing some support after the murder of a journalist investigating official corruption horrified and angered Slovaks nearly a year ago.

In Slovakia, the president does not wield much day-to-day power but is a key player when new governments are formed and also appoints top judges. The president is elected in a popular vote, not by the parliament.

Announcing his bid in the capital Bratislava, Sefcovic said he wanted to fight back against a rising tide of euroscepticism sweeping the European Union. Eurosceptic and populist parties are expected to do well in May’s European Parliament elections.

“I am worried by voices questioning where we belong. We (Slovaks) want to be an active member in the core of the EU and I want to ensure that nobody questions that,” he told reporters.

Sefcovic, 52, a Moscow-educated diplomat who currently oversees EU energy policy, has served in the executive European Commission since 2009.

Last year he announced a bid for the presidency of the European Commission but later withdrew it and endorsed the EU’s deputy chief executive, Frans Timmermans from the Party of European Socialists, in that race, which takes place this year.

Sefcovic said he would take a leave of absence from the Commission from February to contest the Slovak election.

The main Slovak opposition party, the liberal, eurosceptic Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), has nominated a political newcomer, scientist Robert Mistrik, as its candidate, hoping to repeat the success of non-politician Andrej Kiska who beat then-prime minister Robert Fico five years ago.

Kiska has announced he will not seek re-election.

The killing of Jan Kuciak, a reporter who wrote about political corruption and fraud, and his fiancée in February 2018 prompted the largest protests in Slovakia since the end of Communist rule in 1989.

Fico quit as prime minister amid the protests. He remains the head of Smer but has decided against running for president this time.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Gareth Jones

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