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EC's Šefčovič to oversee transport

A STRONG economic department is what the Slovak government had in mind for the country’s representative in the European Commission: with the transport and space portfolio, Slovakia seems to have gotten what it wanted.

A STRONG economic department is what the Slovak government had in mind for the country’s representative in the European Commission: with the transport and space portfolio, Slovakia seems to have gotten what it wanted.

“The portfolio of transport, mobility and space policy is a strong economic portfolio, which I have been aspiring to from the beginning,” Maroš Šefčovič, who is going to be the longest-serving member of the EC in this term (from 2009 on), said in reaction to his appointment. He is glad that EC President Jean-Claude Juncker gave him the opportunity to shift from a rather general agenda dealing mainly with internal EC affairs, to a sphere that is much more concrete, he added.

In the 2010-2014 term, Šefčovič oversaw the agenda of inter-institutional relations and administration, coordinating cooperation between EU institutions, such as the EC, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and organising EU summits. Back in 2009 when the appointment was announced, Slovakia’s governmental politicians, including then and current PM Robert Fico, welcomed this step.

However, when discussions about the division of portfolios in the newly-forming EC began, Fico made it clear that he had launched what he called a significant diplomatic activity to land the Slovak representative a strong economic portfolio.

An important department

Transport and space policy indeed is an important portfolio, both from the viewpoint of budget and legislation, analyst Radovan Geist, publisher of Euractiv.sk, told The Slovak Spectator.

With €40 billion assigned to it, the transport and space department has, along with agriculture, regional policy, science and research, one of the highest budgets within the EU budget, according to the Representation of the EC in Slovakia. Additionally, member states receive over €63 billion for the development of their transport infrastructure from the Cohesion Fund.

“The development of transport infrastructure is one of the predispositions for deeper economic interconnectedness in Europe, for forming and functioning a single market, and for the effectiveness of the European economy,” Geist said, adding that transport-related issues also have an impact on other areas, such as climate policy or the energy sector.

Additionally, the space-related part of the portfolio is related to the area of security and communication technologies, Geist noted.

As a commissioner for transport and space, Šefčovič will be responsible for relations with several agencies, including the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Railway Agency (ERA).

Done with vice-presidency

While Šefčovič served as the EC vice-president in the previous term under José Manuel Barroso, he will no longer hold this post in Juncker’s cabinet, despite Fico’s expectations to the contrary.

“I believe that the position of Maroš Šefčovič is so strong regarding his personality, his opinion, that mister EC president has an absolutely natural interest in having him as close as possible,” Fico said, as quoted by the TASR newswire on September 6, when asked about the possibility of Šefčovič losing his vice-presidency.

Analyst Geist, however, suggested that losing the vice-presidential chair must be seen in the context of the fact that Juncker’s commission is set to work in a different way from its predecessors. The work of the commissioners will now be divided into teams or clusters led by the vice-presidents.

The new commission will have six vice presidents, seven in addition to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Policy and Security Policy, Italy’s Federica Mogherini. They will steer and coordinate the work of a number of commissioners in compositions that may change according to need and as new projects develop over time, according to the EC press report.

“In this context it will be the task of the vice-presidents to coordinate, while the commissioners will focus on their own portfolios,” Geist told The Slovak Spectator.

A surprise

Šefčovič is the second Slovak to hold the EC post. He was first selected for the job when he was still serving as the Slovak ambassador to the EU. He joined the first commission of Barroso in late 2009, just one month before the term of that commission expired, to take over the agenda of education, training, culture and youth, after Ján Figeľ, who served as Slovakia’s first commissioner since its entry into the EU in 2004 and resigned after he was elected chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) political party.

In the 2010-2014 term, Šefčovič was nominated by the government of Robert Fico and assigned the agenda of the “EU admin”. In the May 2014 European Parliament elections he ran as number one on the slate of the ruling Smer party, but did not take up his MEP post, as he advanced straight to the EC. He is not alone in the commission: one third of its members, including Juncker, campaigned in EU elections.

It took Juncker and the EU leaders the whole summer to agree on the division of posts in the new commission. Days before the appointment, various rumours spread throughout the Slovak media, with some reports suggesting he would be assigned the development portfolio. Days before the actual division of portfolios was announced, the Czech euractiv.cz website wrote that Šefčovič would oversee EU enlargement and neighbourhood policy, a post that eventually went to Johannes Hahn of Austria.

The Slovak media suggested that the assignment of transport and space to the Slovak commissioner is one of the ‘surprises’ in the cabinet that Juncker’s chief of staff Martin Selmayr tweeted about on September 8, with the Sme daily reporting that this department was expected to be assigned to the Czech representative, Věra Jourová (who will cover justice, consumers and gender equality instead).

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