Frans Timmermans, the deputy head of the European Union executive, launched a bid to succeed his boss Jean-Claude Juncker next year, saying on Wednesday he would seek to lead the centre-left campaign for May's European Parliament elections.
Speaking in his Dutch hometown, the country's pugnacious former foreign minister, said he hoped to run a "beautiful and optimistic campaign" in defence of a European Union which he has helped see through several crises since European Commission President Juncker made him his first vice-president in 2014.
Timmermans, whose fluency and passionate speaking style in German, English, French and Italian among other European languages may make him a formidable campaigner across the continent, stands a good chance of winning the formal backing of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the EU.
However, his prospects of becoming Commission president when Juncker steps down next November are less clear. Polls show the left struggling across Europe and the way in which national leaders will nominate Juncker's successor is not yet agreed.
(With inputs from agencies.)