EU Climate Chief Timmermans Seeks to Lead Left Alliance in Dutch Election

European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans plans to return to Dutch politics and run for leadership of the left alliance in a bid to succeed Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

(Bloomberg) — European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans plans to return to Dutch politics and run for leadership of the left alliance in a bid to succeed Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Timmermans, who is a former foreign minister of the Netherlands, is bidding to become the leader of the Dutch Green Left and Labor parties which are combining campaigns for the November parliamentary election. He announced his candidacy on Thursday via an interview with Dutch state broadcaster NOS. 

“I want to be prime minister because I think that together we can do politics in a different way than has been done in recent years,” Timmermans said. Labor party chief Attje Kuiken tweeted her “strong support” for Timmermans’ candidacy and Green Left leader Jesse Klaver said he is “absolutely the perfect prime minister” for ushering in a new era in the Netherlands.

Despite being away from Dutch politics for nearly a decade, Timmermans remains popular in the Netherlands and is a strong candidate for the premiership. His pro-environmental policies will likely put him at odds with Caroline van der Plas’ pro-farmers party, or BBB, with Timmermans a strong proponent of plans to reduce nitrogen emissions.

Read more: Dutch Green, Labor Parties Unite in Bid to Succeed Rutte

An EU spokesperson said that there would be no change in Timmermans’ position at the commission for now.

Since 2019, Timmermans has spearheaded the EU’s green deal, the landmark plan to put the continent on course for climate neutrality by the middle of the century. Over the last two years, the bloc has put forward dozens of pieces of legislation designed to overhaul the economy, including measures to phase out the combustion engine car and make foreign countries pay for the emissions embedded in their exports to the EU.

Being the figurehead of the EU’s green plans has frequently put Timmermans in the firing line for politicians who are skeptical over the speed and cost of climate action. He recently came under fierce attack for the bloc’s plan to re-wild nature in the region, pitting him against the center-right European People’s Party, the largest group in parliament and the party of Commission President Ursula von de Leyen.

Read more: ‘Culture Wars’ Are Risking Paralysis of Europe’s Green Deal

“The Green Deal’s accomplishments are historic,” said Michael Bloss, an EU lawmaker from the Greens. “The EU Commission loses its visionary mastermind. He tirelessly fought against the fossil lobby and the opponents of European climate action.”

While the bulk of the EU’s green deal package has now successfully passed through the bloc’s cumbersome legislative procedure, Timmermans still has some unfinished business on the global stage. At the United Nations’ COP27 climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, last year, Timmermans made dramatic concessions to help fund the losses and damage caused by extreme weather in poorer countries, yet failed to achieve more assurances on global emissions cuts.

This year’s summit will be hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a major fossil fuel producer, where Timmermans’ absence will be sorely felt. He enjoyed good relations with US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua. He frequently called Mia Mottley, the Barbados prime minister leading calls for an overhaul of the global financial system to spur climate finance, his “sister.” 

The Green Left and Labor currently have a combined 17 seats in Dutch parliament. In the run-up to the Senate elections in March, the two parties had already presented a single list of candidates and gained 14 senate seats in second place behind the surprise winner, BBB. 

(Updates with comments from Timmermans, party leaders and an EU spokesperson)

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