EU Commission president will propose Dutch foreign minister as successor for climate czar Timmermans

BRUSSELS (AP) — The EU's top official said Tuesday she would nominate the foreign minister of the Netherlands as the commissioner in charge of climate action to fill the void left by the departure of Frans Timmermans, who resigned last week to run in the Dutch general election.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen interviewed Wopke Hoekstra, who was named by the Dutch government as its preferred candidate to replace Timmermans.

After their talks, she said he “showed strong motivation for the post and a great commitment to the European Union. He also has relevant professional experience for this post.”

Timmermans, who was in charge of the European Green Deal climate initiative, quit to lead a center-left bloc into the Netherlands' November general election.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling coalition proposed Hoekstra as a replacement. His appointment must now be formally approved by the European Parliament and the European Council of member states.

Von der Leyen said Hoekstra would be working under the leadership of Maros Sefcovic, the EU's new climate chief who took over as executive Vice-President for the Green Deal in addition to his other roles.

It remains to be seen how other EU nations and lawmakers will receive his candidacy. Hoekstra upset countries in southern Europe in 2020 with comments about their ability to fund a medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called the comments “repugnant” at the time.

The fact that Hoekstra is also affiliated with the center-right Christian Democratic European People's Party, and not with the center-left socialists like Timmermans, could also create controversy.

“Appointing an EPP candidate to succeed a Social Democrat is extremely unsportsmanlike of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte,” The Left group said in a statement. "To resist the attempts of conservatives and the far-right to dilute climate policy, a strong supporter of the European Green Deal is needed, not a representative of the backlash coalition.”

Von der Leyen added that Hoekstra, who has little experience in the climate portfolio, insisted during their meeting that he was committed “to continuing an ambitious climate policy and to maintaining a social balance in all necessary joint efforts on the road to climate neutrality.”