Who will fill Timmermans’ shoes as EU climate commissioner?

Frans Timmermans, Kadri Simson

Now that Frans Timmermans has decided to leave his post as the EU’s commissioner for climate to lead the PvdA/GroenLinks combination, who will replace him in Brussels?

The decision is for the caretaker cabinet to make but any candidate it proposes may not coincide with the choice of the next cabinet, whose composition may be very different from the current one, the Financieele Dagblad said on Thursday

The EU wants a new commissioner in time for the UN conference on climate in Dubai later this year, but the decision is “not easy” and is not expected until the end of next week, a source told the paper.

Current candidates for the tenure, which only has a year left but may be extended, may include former D66 leader and finance minister Sigrid Kaag, defense minister Kajsa Ollongren, junior mining minister Hans Vijlbrief, all D66, and foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra (CDA), the paper said.

Hoekstra is not thought to be a favourite in Brussels following his criticism of southern European countries’ spending during the pandemic.

Esther de Lange, also CDA, would stand a better chance, insiders say, as the MEP has been involved in Timmermans’ work on climate for a number of years. Her lack of ministerial experience may count against her, however, as would her resistance to the new nature restoration law.

Diederik Samson, Timmermans’ right-hand man and Green Deal architect, may also be in the running.

Rumour has it that European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen wants a candidate with diplomatic experience and that would put Sigrid Kaag, who worked for the UN and in other international functions, firmly in the picture.

Von der Leyen said she wanted a woman for the post but has since dropped that requirement. However it could still play out well for Kaag, EU expert Luuk van Middelaar told the paper.

The gender factor is not important now but it may be for the next commission which will be elected next year, he said. “If a woman should take up the post, and she stays, chance’s are she may be given a bigger post. That would make it worthwhile,” he told the paper.

Even if the post is just for a year, it would allow the candidate to build a network and strengthen relations with Ursula von der Leyen, who may decide to go for a second term at the next European elections in 2024, he said.

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