No two-thirds majority for Hoekstra as new climate commissioner

The European parliament in action. Photo: EU audiovisual service

Former Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra has not yet convinced European parliament members about his suitability as EU climate commissioner, following the resignation of Frans Timmermans to run for office in the Netherlands.

After a three-hour hearing on Monday evening and hours of discussion among political groups, Pascal Canfin, chairman of the European parliament’s environment committee, announced on Tuesday afternoon that both Hoekstra and commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič, had failed to gather enough support.

The two candidates are expected to share the European Green Deal portfolio, commission president Ursula von der Leyen decided. But their appointments have to be confirmed by the European parliament itself.

Canfin said neither man gathered the support of at least four political groups, needed to add up to two-thirds of MEPs. The groups therefore decided to send both a letter asking further questions, to which they are expected to reply by 7am on Wednesday morning.

The groups will then assess the answers, and if they are satisfactory, the confirmation vote will go ahead on Thursday at the European parliament session in Strasbourg.

If not, the procedure would go back to the environment committee, with possibly another vote by simple majority at the next plenary session, the week of October 15.

Hoekstra and Šefčovič will be required to provide additional details on plans for a 90% greenhouse gas emission reduction target by 2040 compared to 1990.

Hoekstra was also requested to disclose more information about his past role at consultancy firm McKinsey, while Šefčovič will be requested to give more details about his position on the EU embargo on energy from Russia – given a pro-Kremlin candidate from his party won a general election in his country Slovakia.

The fate of the two commissioners will be intertwined, with left-wing MEPs voting down Hoekstra if conservatives vote down Šefčovič.

The European People’s Party (EPP), to which Hoekstra’s CDA party is affiliated, issued a statement saying it fully supports the nomination of Wopke Hoekstra as new commissioner for climate action, but is “unhappy with many vague answers” from Šefčovič in his new role as vice-president in charge of the Green Deal.

“The Green Deal must go hand in hand with a credible and forward-looking industrial policy. It is particularly satisfying to see that Mr Hoekstra showed willingness to work across the political landscape to make that possible,” said Dutch MEP Esther de Lange, the EPP group’s deputy chairwoman for the economy and environment.

Environmental organisations under the umbrella group Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe said this morning that given Hoesktra’s poor track record on climate issues, he will have to prove himself quickly.

“His pledge to follow scientific advice for the 2040 climate target proposal, committing to support a target of at least -90% net emission cuts, and to do more on climate action across the EU shows that he is feeling the pressure on him to deliver, but he will need to prove himself in action, not words alone,” CAN said.

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