In two and a half weeks the time has come: on October 2, Wopke Hoekstra must report at 6:30 PM for his hearing before a committee of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He must convince a large majority that he is suitable as European Climate Commissioner. His climate exam will not be easy, MEPs from all parties warn.
In preparation for the hearing, Hoekstra is working hard this week in Strasbourg. He has to convince many opponents and so he goes from one appointment to the next, carefully shielded from the press. In the corridors, MEPs use words like “climate crash course” and “European internship” for Hoekstra’s charm offensive.
Hoekstra is studying hard on the climate dossier, people in his team confirm. This is necessary, because before his lecture, which came as a big surprise to almost everyone, he was not concerned with climate issues. Much depends on how he performs during the hearing, but he will not be judged solely on his substantive knowledge.
There will be elections for the European Parliament in June next year, so Hoekstra’s hearing is also a way for political parties to profile themselves. That makes his position even more difficult.
To become European Climate Commissioner, Hoekstra needs the support of a two-thirds majority, a significant hurdle. The Christian Democrats, the largest party in the European Parliament, naturally support the CDA’s candidacy. The Social Democrats, the second party in the EP, have already announced that they will not entrust Hoekstra with the climate legacy of “their” Commissioner Timmermans.
Mohammed Chahim, MEP for the PvdA, is not yet enthusiastic. “I mainly expect problems surrounding Hoekstra’s credibility. There are of course many statements that haunt him from the past, which show that he does not have climate and nature policy high on his list of priorities. The question is how he can credibly distance himself from that.” to take.”
The Liberals, the third party, are divided. They may abstain from the vote. But even if the Social Democrats change tack and Hoekstra receives the support of the three largest groups in the European Parliament, he is not there yet. For the necessary majority he has two options, left or right. Hoekstra must either convince the Greens or the right-wing conservative party, which includes parliamentarians from (formerly) JA21 and the SGP for the Netherlands.
Hoekstra must receive a two-thirds majority in the hearing and then a ‘normal’ majority in the European Parliament. This is the current distribution of seats in the EP:
It is obvious that Hoekstra wants to get the Greens on board, because a European Climate Commissioner without support from the Greens is not credible.
But that support is not self-evident, thinks Bas Eickhout, leader of GroenLinks. “Why should we support him?”, says Eickhout, “We have had nice conversations, but he has not yet convincingly shown me why he would be a good European Commissioner for Climate. He can say that he finds climate policy important, but he must become much more concrete. What is he going to do, what is he going to fight for? We are not going to believe his beautiful eyes.”
Rob Roos (formerly JA21, now independent) is more positive, but not yet convinced. “If Hoekstra continues Timmermans’ line, he can forget our support. We want him to provide a realistic policy. That climate policy becomes feasible and affordable and not more complicated and expensive. The Green Deal has already caused enough problems.”
The Greens and the European conservatives are diametrically opposed to each other on climate issues. All in all, it is difficult for Hoekstra to balance. Because if he shows himself to be too ambitious in an attempt to win over the Greens, his own Christian Democratic supporters could start to sputter. They are happy that they have been rid of Frans Timmermans and expect a more moderate course from Hoekstra.
If Hoekstra fails to achieve a two-thirds majority, there is a second chance. It has not yet been determined when that will be. In any case, a vote in the entire European Parliament is still necessary, where a simple majority is enough. Only then can Hoekstra become European Commissioner.
In the meantime, time is running out, because the important climate conference COP 28 will start in Dubai at the end of November. The intention is for Hoekstra to go there as a negotiator on behalf of the EU. The European Environment Ministers will establish a mandate for these negotiations on October 16, so it must actually be approved by the European Parliament before then. The hearing on October 2 is a first test of whether this will prove feasible.
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