Frans Timmermans, an influential Dutch politician and diplomat, has recently left his position as Vice-President of the European Commission in order to run for the position of Prime Minister in the Netherlands. Timmermans, known for his multilingualism and strong negotiating skills, played a crucial role in promoting the ambitious Green Deal of the European Union, despite growing resistance. During his tenure in Brussels, he became the spokesperson for environmental policies implemented under the conservative President Ursula von der Leyen. His departure coincides with the waning negotiations on the Green Deal, as some member states and right-wing members of the European Parliament call for a “pause” in environmental legislation.
Timmermans joined the European Commission in 2014 under the leadership of conservative Jean-Claude Juncker. Although initially intended to be Juncker’s right-hand man, he was limited in his powers, leading to frustration. However, in 2019, he became the Vice-President of the Commission and was put in charge of the flagship project of the Green Deal, a comprehensive set of measures aimed at reducing the EU’s carbon emissions. Timmermans used his linguistic skills, speaking English, French, German, Italian, and Russian in addition to his native Dutch, to negotiate these complex policies.
However, Timmermans faced objections to his climate measures, such as introducing carbon pricing for housing and banning new cars with combustion engines by 2035. Critics raised concerns about the impact on low-income households and the potential for social unrest, referring to the “yellow vest” protests in France. Timmermans defended his proposals, emphasizing the need for a fair transition to a low-carbon society.
Despite his efforts, the Green Deal remains unfinished. Discussions on reducing pesticides have stalled, and the future of a key biodiversity law is uncertain following contentious exchanges in the European Parliament. Timmermans has been a target of attacks by the center-right European People’s Party, accusing him of threatening European agricultural sovereignty and even jokingly suggesting he wants to demolish Santa Claus’ village in Finland to restore land to nature.
Timmermans laments the politicization of climate policies, emphasizing the importance of focusing on facts rather than engaging in cultural battles. In addition to his role in climate negotiations, he has also been involved in international climate talks, including recent visits to China in preparation for the COP28 summit.
Born in 1961 in Maastricht, Timmermans grew up between Brussels and Rome. He studied French literature and European law in Nancy, France, and pursued a career in diplomacy, including a stint as an ambassador in Moscow. He later became a parliamentarian, Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands. Timmermans gained international recognition for his moving speech at the United Nations after the MH17 plane crash in Ukraine, which claimed the lives of 298 people, including 193 Dutch citizens.
Now, as Timmermans returns to his home country, the EU will lose a visionary leader who fought against fossil fuel lobbyists and climate action opponents. His departure raises questions about the future of the Green Deal and the EU’s commitment to tackling climate change.