(Bloomberg) -- A Brussels-based eurocrat is joining Slovakia’s presidential race in a bid to ensure the country won’t veer from its pro-European Union course as the bloc struggles to confront challenges to its democratic principles.

Vice-Chairman of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic accepted an offer from the ruling Smer party to run on its ticket in the March 16 vote. He joins the contest as anti-Western sentiment fuels anti-establishment parties that have embraced ideas being pushed by nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary, which bracket Slovakia and are clashing with the EU over democratic backsliding.

"I’ll guarantee our firm anchoring in the European Union," Sevcovic told journalists in Bratislava on Friday. "We have to say clearly that we want to be an active and full-fledged part of it. I’m concerned when I hear voices who question where we belong."

Sefcovic, a 52-year-old career diplomat, has been a member of the commission since 2009. Last year he announced his ambition to become the EU governing body’s chairman, but then withdrew his bid. He’ll face an array of opponents in the Slovak race, including scientist and businessman Robert Mistrik and the head of the far-right People’s Party Marian Kotleba. Candidates can register by the end of the month.

The president’s job is largely ceremonial. Its current holder, Andrej Kiska, won’t seek re-election when his term ends in June. He’s a strong supporter of Slovakia’s western orientation and is an open critic of the Smer-led government, which he has accused of failing to uproot corruption.

Sefcovic’s candidacy is also a bid by Smer to restore its influence after the murder of an anti-corruption journalist last year triggered massive street protests and the resignation of former Prime Minister Robert Fico. The party remains the most popular in the country of 5.3 million, although its support has fallen to just above 20 percent, opinion polls show.

To contact the reporter on this story: Radoslav Tomek in Bratislava at rtomek@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Dudik at adudik@bloomberg.net, Michael Winfrey

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