Official turned-to-be reformer

The defender of the rule of law Frans Timmermans joined race for Commission top job

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 hold the top job following next year's European election. The Dutchman secured the necessary support from German socialists and other left EU parties, members of the Party of European Socialists. Timmermans, 57, who has been serving as the EU commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-institutional Relations, the Rule of Law, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights since 2014, will battle Slovakian diplomat and EC Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, who is in charge of Energy Union. All nominations must be announced by 18 October and the group of socialists is expected to choose its lead candidate in December.

In the opposing camp, that of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which currently has the largest representation in the European Parliament, the competition is between MEP Manfred Weber and former Finnish PM Alexander Stubb. Many anticipate anti-EU political parties receiving serious support at the European election next May at a time when the bloc is struggling to overcome internal division, ramifications from the impending Brexit and disagreements regarding unpopular measures on migration. To take over the position, Timmermans will need to be nominated by the European Council and approved by the European Parliament following the 2019 election.

“There is a lot at stake. This is the first European election that's not about a bit more to the left or a bit more to the right, but about, 'Are we going to have a European Union in the future?'” he told the Financial Times.

In Timmermans' vision, Europe has to find concrete solutions to the challenges that people face. High on the list of his plans is a comprehensive reform of main structures within the EU in order to allow for more evenly distributed sharing between the bloc's 27 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. According to Timmermans, the viability of the EU is dependent on the active collaboration of sovereign nations to remain in unity, and any EU member's overt attempt to reject EU policies threatens the existence of the EU. “EU is a community of destiny,” Timmermans told students at the Columbia University where he was invited as a guest lecturer at the end of September. “If we don't act together, the values that other people have might dictate our future… If you want to change something, it's not enough to be idealistic. It's not enough to be right. You have to be relevant.”

Timmermans described the general trend of disunity, citing the EU's decision to sue Poland for undermining the independence of its Supreme Court, along with a potential EU suit over Hungary's new laws that legally prohibit aid for asylum seekers. 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.”

Timmermans' father is a Dutch diplomat who speaks seven languages. He was raised in Paris, Brussels and the Dutch city of Heerlen. He studied French literature, political science and European law in the Netherlands and France. Before joining the EC, Timmermans served as the Dutch minister of foreign affairs. In Brussel he has earned a reputation as a champion of rule of law.

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