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article imageJuncker's right-hand man joins race for EU top job

By AFP     Oct 10, 2018 in World

Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans launched a bid on Wednesday to succeed his boss Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission next year.

Timmermans, who is currently first vice president of the EU's powerful executive arm, said he would seek the nomination of Europe's social democrat group for the post.

The former Dutch foreign minister has most notably been the commission's pointman in its confrontation with the right-wing Polish government over the rule of law.

"I want to be a candidate for the European socialists and democrats to be their lead candidate in the European elections, and to become the next president of the European Commission," he announced in his hometown of Heerlen in the southern Netherlands.

He added that "this is where I am from, this is where my parents grew up, this is where my grandfathers worked in the coal mines, this is where I belong, not in the Berlaymont" -- the European Commission headquarters often portrayed as a symbol of a remote bureaucracy.

But the bearded polyglot faces an uphill struggle. The socialist group is unlikely to win the May 2019 European Parliament elections -- the first such polls after Brexit.

The post will likely go to a member of the centre-right European People's Party, which is expected to be the biggest group.

Former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb and current EPP chief Manfred Weber, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have both thrown their hats in the ring for the party's nomination.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Frenchman Michel Barnier, recently ruled himself out of the running.

Traditional parties face a major challenge in the elections from eurosceptic populists emboldened by Britain's vote to leave the EU and the success of the hard right in Italy.

Juncker -- the former Luxembourg PM who has recently been dogged by health concerns as well as reports of a drink problem that his spokespeople strongly deny -- is due to step down in mid-2019.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte meanwhile denied having ambitions to replace Juncker or the other top EU official -- European Council President Donald Tusk.

"I'm not a candidate for either of the two jobs," Rutte told a news conference with Merkel in The Hague.

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