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The Netherlands set to name Wopke Hoekstra as EU commissioner

The Netherlands is expected to name Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra as its next European commissioner after the departure of climate czar Frans Timmermans, two people familiar with the government’s thinking told POLITICO.

Hoekstra, whose government is headed for elections in November, would fill the role recently vacated by Timmermans who announced in July he was returning to national politics.

The Commission said earlier this week Maroš Šefčovič would be taking over Timmermans’ duties as executive vice president, including oversight of the European Green Deal’s rollout.

But that may leave open the climate action file, which could now pass into the hands of Hoekstra for the final year of this Commission’s term, one of the people aware of the decision said. The choice of who gets the climate action file is ultimately up to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who could select another commissioner.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government is expected to finalize Hoekstra’s nomination during a cabinet meeting on Friday, said the two people, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly. They echoed reports in the Financial Times and Dutch media.

Asked about the plans, a spokesperson for the Dutch foreign minister said: “These are rumors.”

The nomination of Hoekstra, who belongs to the same conservative European political group as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, for any climate role would be controversial in Brussels.

The European People’s Party has waged political war against Timmermans’ environmental agenda over the last year, orchestrating a rebellion in the European Parliament against the Commission’s nature restoration bill, which narrowly failed in its aim of knocking down the proposed legislation.

Having a conservative put in charge of environmental files could anger green and left-wing backers of Timmermans’ legacy — even if Šefčovič, a Slovakian socialist, is now in charge of the Green Deal legislation.

Hoekstra, who was finance minister before becoming foreign minister, is not known as a climate diplomat. If confirmed by The Hague, he would likely face a tough grilling from left-wingers and the liberal Renew party during his confirmation hearing in Parliament, even if he would only be in charge of the file until a new Commission is sworn in late next year.

Asked to comment on reports of Hoekstra going to Brussels, an EPP official who was granted anonymity to discuss the situation said the Dutch minister’s arrival offered a “real possibility for a restart of political conversation around the Green agenda.”

Another potential point of tension could emerge around the choice of a man for the role, as Hoekstra’s arrival would further upset the College of Commissioners’ gender balance. 

In past weeks, Dutch political operatives mentioned liberal ex-finance minister Sigrid Kaag as a possible choice for the commissioner role.