Brussels: The European Commission has nominated Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra to be the European Union’s new top climate diplomat, replacing Frans Timmermans.
The head of the EU’s executive branch Ursula Von Der Leyen announced yesterday that she was nominating Hoekstra to lead the EU’s climate finance work and climate diplomacy in the run-up to Cop28.
But while he has the approval of Von Der Leyen’s European Commission, Hoekstra still has to win over the European Parliament’s environment committee.
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That will be difficult as left-wing members argue that the centre-right Dutchman does not have a good enough climate record.
Analysts and campaigners have expressed similar concerns, arguing that Hoekstra has not expressed interest in climate change and that his hardline fiscal conservatism is likely to obstruct climate finance to the developing world.
In Europe, Hoekstra is best known for opposing wealthier north European nations like the Netherlands lending money to poorer southern European countries.
In March 2020, Portugese prime minister António Costa branded Hoekstra “repugnant” and “senseless” after he called for the EU to investigate why some countries did not have enough savings to deal with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
If he is confirmed, Hoekstra will lead the EU’s negotiations at Cop28 on the new fund for the loss and damage caused by climate change and on other climate finance issues.
“I think the parallel between intra-EU solidarity and international solidarity is an obvious one,” said Dutch E3G analyst Pieter De Pous,”I’m sure he’s going to get a lot of questions on that.”
Hoekstra’s domestic climate record has also been criticised, with Greenpeace EU campaigner Silvia Pastorelli saying it “doesn’t inspire much confidence”.
After leaving university, Hoekstra spent three years working for the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell in various junior positions.
Much later, as finance minister, he bailed out the airline KLM without putting substantial green conditions on the money.
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Pastorelli accused him of having “led the attack in government against rules to cut nitrogen pollution”.
These rules provoked fierce protests from farmers, who De Pous said are the traditional voters of Hoekstra’s centre-right party.
Partly as a result of this pushback, Hoekstra’s party has sunk in the polls and so, with elections scheduled for November, his domestic political prospects have sunk.
Since 2019, the EU’s climate work has been led by Dutch politician Frans Timmermans.
Last month, he announced he was stepping down from that role to campaign to be prime minister in the Netherlands’ November elections.
The Dutch government chose Hoekstra to replace him and, after an interview, Von Der Leyen accepted their choice.
If approved, Hoekstra will lead on climate action “under the guidance” of Slovakian commissioner Maroš Šefčovič.
Hoekstra will soon have a hearing with the European parliament’s environment committee where he will be grilled on his record and suitability for the job.
To get approval, Hoekstra needs a two-thirds majority of the committee’s 87 members.
But his and Von Der Leyen’s centre-right European Peoples Party group only has a quarter of these members.
Members from other groups have already expressed scepticism. Centrist French member Pascal Canfin said that his confirmation was “not a done deal” and “he will have to prove that he is the right man”.
Left-wing Dutch member Mohammed Chamim told Euractiv: “I was not very enthusiastic upon hearing about Hoekstra’s nomination. He has never shown any interest or ambition regarding climate policy before.”
The date of the hearing has not yet been set. If rejected by the European parliament, the Dutch government will have to nominate another candidate.
Dutch media has suggested that Centrist Sigrid Kaag may be chosen. De Pous said the former profesional diplomat be “more qualified” because of her international experience.