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Frans Timmermans Alamy Stock Photo

Dutch climate campaigner leaves top EU Commission role to run for Prime Minister

Frans Timmermans is stepping down after 10 years in Brussels.

VETERAN DUTCH CLIMATE campaigner and former EU Commission vice president Frans Timmermans has been confirmed to lead a left-wing coalition in coming elections for the Netherlands, in which he will also run for the  premiership.

His confirmation came hours ahead of his resignation from the EU commission, which he will leave with immediate effect.

Timmermans (62) was appointed to the top spot in the PvdA (Labour) and GroenLinks (GreenLeft) coalition after a ballot in which some 91% of more than 37,000 party members backed his candidacy.

“An overwhelming majority has agreed to have Timmermans as leader,” the PvdA-GroenLinks coalition said in a statement.

Timmermans is stepping down after 10 years in Brussels.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen thanked Timmermans for his work leading the bloc’s ambitious Green Deal pact towards carbon neutrality.

She called Timmermans a “key member” of her commission whose work had allowed the European Union to make “great strides” towards its climate goals, and who had influenced many other policy decisions.

“I had a wonderful time in Brussels,” Timmermans told AFP after a meeting of PvdA-GroenLinks party members in The Hague.

“I think we set something together on the European Green Deal which is going to last even beyond the limits of this commission mandate,” he said.

“It will help Europe be the first climate neutral continent in 2050.”

Get ‘swag’ back

Timmermans told party members he aimed to “put the Dutch government back on the rails”.

“We have to restore trust in the government,” he said, referring to a series of scandals that has plagued the previous government under the outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte and his Liberal and business-friendly VVD.

“We also have to ensure that we trust each other. We have to ensure that the Netherlands gets its swag back,” Timmermans said, earning laughter from the audience, many who were young.

“I say that to connect with younger people, but what I mean is that the Netherlands must get its mojo back,” he said.

With his candidacy, campaigning will now start in earnest.

“I want to become prime minister, because I think together we can do politics differently than it had been done in the past few years,” Timmermans told reporters outside the venue.

‘Unique chance’

Timmermans’s term as EU executive vice president had been scheduled to end after next year’s European elections.

But the collapse of Rutte’s coalition over asylum issues triggered snap elections to be held on 22 November.

Timmermans, whose social-democrat PvdA won a surprise victory in European parliamentary polls in the Netherlands in 2019, was previously in charge of the EU’s flagship “Green Deal” drive to bolster the environment.

The ecology-minded politician is seen as a heavyweight contender from the left for the Dutch premiership, left open by the departure of long-time leader Rutte.

Rutte, leader of the centre-right VVD party, stunned the Netherlands by announcing last month he was quitting politics after 13 years at the helm.

His departure has left the field open in the coming vote, which has also seen the emergence of two centre-right parties that political analysts say could make major inroads.

PvdA and Green-Left members voted last month to merge their parties to form a single left-wing bloc for the vote, which is expected to be dominated by issues including climate change and immigration.

For the Dutch left, this was “a unique chance”, Timmermans said. “For many years I hoped for a united left, and suddenly due to circumstances the left now got together.”

© AFP 2023 

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