EU climate chief Timmermans to run in Dutch election

By Toby Sterling and Kate Abnett

AMSTERDAM/BRUSSELS (Reuters) -EU climate chief Frans Timmermans on Thursday said he wants to become the next Dutch prime minister and will contest a parliamentary election in the Netherlands in November.

The four-party coalition government of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte resigned earlier this month after failing to reach an agreement on restricting immigration, triggering a vote on Nov. 22.

Timmermans formally announced his candidacy to lead the ticket for Labour and Green Left parties, which are joining forces in a bid to stem a decline in support for left-leaning parties.

“This morning I told the Labour and Green Left parties that I would love to be a candidate to lead them in the next elections,” Timmermans said on national Dutch television.

“I want to become prime minister because I think we can do politics differently than in recent years, that we can create a more just society, in which the market serves the people and not the other way around.”

If the parties confirm Timmermans as their lead candidate, a decision not expected before late August, he would need to leave his EU post.

A European Commission spokesperson said Timmermans would not be required to immediately step down, since his candidacy “remains hypothetical” until the parties confirm him as their pick.

Timmermans, 62, serves as the European Commission’s vice president, and is in charge of the EU’s Green Deal – its wide-ranging package of policies on climate change and the environment.

He is also a well-known figure in the Netherlands, having served as foreign minister in 2012-2014 in Rutte’s previous cabinet.

Timmermans, a native of the southern Dutch province of Limburg who has spent nearly a decade in Brussels, is standing in the first election since 2006 in which Rutte will not be leading his conservative VVD party.

Timmermans had been tipped as a top candidate to lead the Dutch parties following his campaign for European social democrats in the 2019 European election, which was widely regarded as a success.

Timmermans, who speaks English, German, French, Italian and Russian in addition to his native Dutch, is known as a skilled negotiator during international climate negotiations and his departure from EU politics will cause shockwaves.

How well he may perform in Dutch politics is an open question, but a poll published on Thursday indicated that 39% of Dutch voters said they trusted him to lead the next government.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Kate Abnett, Bart Meijer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson)