Hoekstra’s Brussels job raises questions home and abroad

Wopke Hoekstra talks to reporters on Friday. Photo: Robin Utrecht ANP

The appointment of Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra as the Netherlands’ European commissioner to replace Frans Timmermans has raised several eyebrows at home and abroad. 

According to Politico.EU, Hoekstra is set to face a “difficult grilling” in the European parliament, where key MPs have greeted his nomination with scepticism. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will interview Hoekstra on Tuesday, after which his name will be put forward to MEPs.

“It’s not guaranteed that parliament will back him,” Mohammed Chahim, deputy president of the center-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D), told Politico. “The probability of us supporting him depends on whether he surprises us at the hearing. But we’re not very keen on him.”

There are also concerns in some quarters that the appointment of a Christian Democrat could slow down work on tackling some aspects of environment-related law making, Politico said.

At home, environmental groups have also criticised Hoekstra’s lack of experience in green issues. 

Timmermans was in charge of the EU’s “green deal” package of measures to offset climate change and Hoekstra has no history of involvement with climate issues. Nevertheless, Hoekstra told reporters on Friday that global warming is “one of the biggest themes of our time.” 

Greenpeace Nederland Andy Palmen said he was furious about the nomination. “Hoekstra is a former Shell worker and gave billions of euros in support to KLM during the coronavirus crisis,” he said. “And as leader of the CDA, he allowed the nitrogen crisis to explode.”

Palmen was referring to the cabinet crisis last year, when Hoekstra said the government target of reducing nitrogen-based pollution by 50% by 2030 was “not holy”. 

Politically too, some have questioned the appointment. D66 leader Sigrid Kaag told reporters that her party had several people who are better qualified for the role. And Kaag herself has more international experience, Laurens Kok pointed out in the AD.

Prime minister Mark Rutte has refused to go into details about why Hoekstra was chosen for Brussels. “What you need is someone who can negotiate and unite people, at an international level,” he said. 

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