Dutch pick for EU climate job to face tough hearing

FILE PHOTO: Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister arrives at the Binnenhof for the Council of Ministers

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Dutch nominee to run the European Union's climate change portfolio is likely to face a tough hearing in the European Parliament to win the role, caught between calls for a more "realistic" approach to climate policies and those seeking more urgent action as extreme weather escalates.

The Dutch government confirmed on Friday that outgoing Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra will be the Netherlands' candidate for the EU Commissioner post.

Hoekstra needs to win a positive assessment from the EU Parliament and pass a potentially close vote in the assembly with majority support. Past negative assessments have prompted some candidates to withdraw.

If appointed, Hoekstra is expected to assume responsibility for climate change policies in the EU Commission.

He belongs to the Dutch Christian-Democratic CDA party, part of the European People's Party group in the EU Parliament.

The EPP does not hold a majority, so Hoekstra must win the support of other groups. It was not clear on Friday how they would vote.

"We welcome the opportunity to restart a less polarising and more realistic climate policy for Europe," a spokesperson for the EPP Group said.

"We need to reconnect with parts of society, like the rural areas, with a more inclusive policy that achieves our climate goals and is not seen as a threat to the livelihoods of people in Europe."

The EU rolled out a world-leading package of policies to fight climate change and protect nature under previous EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans, who stepped down on Tuesday to run in Dutch elections.

"Climate is one of the biggest themes of this time," Hoekstra told reporters in The Hague. "I am hugely honoured and very grateful to be proposed as successor to Timmermans."

Hoekstra would handle the climate part of Timmermans' brief, while European Commission Executive Vice-President Maros Sefcovic has taken over overall coordination of Europe's green policies.

New EU green laws have faced increased political resistance - including from the EPP, which attempted to block a law to restore nature that the group said threatened farmers.

Bas Eickhout, a Green EU lawmaker, said Hoekstra would need to prove his commitment to Europe's climate change agenda.

"The hearing in the parliament will not be a done deal," said Eickhout, who is Dutch.

"He has no climate experience. He will be questioned on that and he will have to show that he is really eager to do this," he added.

Socialist EU lawmakers also warned Hoekstra's hearing would not be easy.

"As finance minister, Hoekstra showed contempt towards Southern Europe. He'll have a tough time convincing the European Parliament that he's the right man for the job," said Paul Tang, a Dutch Socialist member of the EU Parliament.

As Dutch Finance Minister, Hoekstra angered southern nations for a perceived lack of empathy during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he initially blocked joint EU debt plans to respond to the crisis, despite the pleas of hard-hit Spain and Italy.

The Socialists and Democrats group said: "To gain the support of our Group, any Commissioner-designate has to prove beyond doubt their commitment to European values, such as solidarity."

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Additional reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Giles Elgood)