The end of Timmermans era

Politics - September 4, 2023

The Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and head of the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans has resigned to run for the next general elecetions to be held in the Netherlands next November.

In the past few days of August 2023 therefore Timmermans informed Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of his decision that he wanted to leave his role.

In this occasion, the President of the Commission expressed all her gratitude and appreciation towards Timmermans’ work during his long tenure as a member of the Commission. She declared as follows: “I thank Frans Timmermans for his passionate and tireless work to make the European Green Deal a reality. He has been a key member of my College of Commissioners. Thanks to his excellent contribution and strong personal engagement, we have made great strides towards meeting the EU’s objectives to become the first climate neutral continent, and towards raising the levels of climate ambition globally. Frans Timmermans’ contribution to the work of the Commission and to the European project goes beyond the European Green Deal. He has contributed to shaping many of the Commission’s initiatives, in a true collegial style.”

Timmermans is leaving office ten months before the end of his term. The former commissioner also served as first vice president of the European Commission in 2014-2019, responsible for better regulation, interinstitutional relations, the rule of law, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, before assuming responsibility for the European Green Deal in the current term of the EU Commission. In this role, he coordinated the European Commission’s ambitious legislative agenda to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050 and represented the EU in international climate change negotiations. He also coordinated the European Commission’s work on the EU strategy for biodiversity, a zero-pollution future, and the circular economy.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen assigned the role of Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal to Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. She has also decided to temporarily assign the portfolio responsibility for Climate Action Policy to Vice-President Šefčovič until the appointment of a new Member of the Commission of Dutch nationality. Maroš Šefčovič is a member of the Socialists and Democrats party and he has a decennial experience in the EU Commission. He has served as Vice President for Energy Union since 2014. Moreover, during the period from 2010 until 2014, he was Vice-President of the European Commission for Inter-institutional Relations and Administration and was briefly Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth from 2009. Šefčovič is a former Slovak diplomat, who has served in Zimbabwe, Canada and as a Slovak ambassador to Israel (1999–2002). He was also Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the European Union (2004–2009).

During these days, then, Šefčovič takes on this very important role within the European Union, becoming the head of European climate policy at one of its most complex historical moments.

In fact, it is precisely in this last period that environmental policy has assumed an increasingly bursting centrality in the public debate, creating a divide between the climate extremists, who would like an immediate and abrupt transition, and instead a wing made up of supporters of a more cautious green transition, which takes into account all the variables of society, so as to achieve a transition that is both environmentally and socially sustainable.

Frans Timmermans is considered the father of the Green Deal. In this sense, throughout his tenure, he has always stressed the almost obsessive need to make an ecological and environmental transition as quickly as possible. It was under his leadership that the European Commission wanted to impose unrealistic environmental goals. In fact, the overall goal of the well-known European Green Deal is to achieve zero net new emissions by the year 2050. This is an ambitious goal, which if accomplished could make Europe the first zero-emissions continent in the world.

To do all this, a number of measures, some of them very drastic, were brought forward, again under Timmermans’ strong push.

One example is the directive concerning green houses, in order to promote a plan to renovate and build houses capable of reducing energy consumption and emissions. Again, the so-called Industrial Green Deal, which focuses on the industrial sector and aims to strengthen the competitiveness of Europe’s net-zero industry and accelerate the transition to climate neutrality by creating a more conducive environment for increasing EU production capacity for net-zero technologies and products.

Finally, also central is the goal, contained in the general European Green Deal, to achieve at least a 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, or in a time frame of less than ten years.

These are just some of the proposals that have been brought forward so far by the Commission and, therefore, by Timmermans.

Solutions, however, that raise not a few problems for the citizens and businesses of the European Union. In fact, while achieving these goals imposed from the top of the European institutions, the weight of the consequences that these changes would produce on the entire European citizenry has not been addressed at all, considering that these results want to be achieved peremptorily in a very short period of time. Imposing a directive on houses means forcing citizens to face exorbitant costs to renovate or refurbish their homes, just as forcing industries to drastically reduce emissions by choosing other avenues of work could reasonably be expected to produce business closures and, consequently, job losses for millions of people working in the industrial sector. All these dramatic consequences have not been evaluated at all, wanting to impose a climate priority on a political and social priority.

However, today it is quite widespread in Europe the support to a slower and more gradual path to arrive at an ecological ecosystem that is sustainable in all respects. This is precisely the view of the European right parties, which hopefully, especially with the upcoming elections, would make EU policies more responsible and common sense.

Therefore, we could rightly say that Timmermans’ resignation is by no means a defeat or a loss for achieving a green Europe, but rather, it could be the first step in making a change in the measures to be taken on environmental issues.

And so it is that the exit from the stage of the so-called father of the European Green Deal could make a real change in the European environmental agenda in the near future. An agenda that should no longer be made in forced stages, spokesmen for extremist and irrational environmentalism.

The key word will have to be pragmatism. All this therefore means moving yes toward the creation of a zero-impact Europe, but through a gradual process that does not destroy the serenity and economic stability of millions of citizens and businesses. Then again, nothing good can come out of something done all at once. And this is even more true when it comes to issues involving multiple parties and multiple interests. The environment and its protection and defense remain a priority on the European political agenda. But to arrive at a truly green and sustainable Europe, it is essential that we also think about all those who are part of it.

The upcoming elections for the European Parliament in 2024 will make it clear whether the wind can change, pushing to the right as has already happened in many member States of the EU, and there may finally be a chance to achieve excellent climate outcomes, gradually and without any suffering  for citizens and for the European competitiveness.