28th Sep 2023

Hoekstra as new EU climate commissioner raises eyebrows

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The appointment of Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra as EU climate commissioner has raised eyebrows — given his little experience in green policies and background at Shell.

The news was officially announced on Tuesday (29 August) by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who said that Hoekstra's governmental experience will be "a strong asset", in particular for Europe's diplomacy in the run-up to COP28 and climate finance.

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But the Dutch minister is expected to undergo a tough hearing in the European Parliament, where leftwing MEPs have already raised doubts regarding his capacity to uphold the EU's commitments concerning climate change issues.

Hoekstra, a member of the Christian Democratic party in the Netherlands, has been proposed to take over the climate action portfolio previously held by Socialists & Democrats (S&D) Frans Timmermans, who left Brussels to run for Dutch prime minister.

His role will fall under the oversight of the EU commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič.

In the past, the EU Parliament's negative evaluation of commissioner nominees has led certain candidates to withdraw.

"This is not a done deal," said the chair of the parliament's environment committee, Pascal Canfin, reacting to the news.

Last week, the S&D group argued that the climate portfolio should remain in the hands of the socialist family given the track record of rightwing parties on climate files — criticised by many for attempting to water down and delay key policies such as the Nature Restoration Law.

"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," said French MEP Manon Aubry, co-president of the Left group.

Likewise, climate advocacy groups have also raised concerns over whether Hoekstra is the right candidate to step into Timemermans' shoes.

"In the midst of a climate emergency, we need a leader with proven experience and valid credentials to lead on this critical portfolio," said Chiara Martinelli, director of Brussels-based NGO CAN Europe.

Earlier this year, the Dutch government came under fire when a parliamentary inquiry revealed that financial interests in natural gas extraction in the north of the country had caused a series of earthquakes in the region of Groningen.

Meanwhile, a campaign in the Netherlands against Hoekstra's candidacy has been signed by over 20,000 people.

In 2020, the then Dutch finance minister became known within the broader Brussels sphere due to his controversial remarks about the debt crisis arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

His contempt towards southern Europe, which served to intensify the long-standing north-south divide, prompted Portuguese prime minister António Costa to label Hoekstra's comments as "repugnant."

Prior to his political career, Hoekstra worked for the consultancy firm McKinsey (2006-2013) and as a corporate employee at the oil conglomerate Shell (2002-2004).

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