EU's Sefcovic named interim climate chief after Timmermans quits

EU Commission's Frans Timmermans visits China for climate talks

By Charlotte Van Campenhout and Foo Yun Chee

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic will be the European Union's temporary climate chief after Frans Timmermans quit to run as a candidate in Dutch national elections in November, the EU executive said on Tuesday.

Timmermans, who was the driving force behind the EU's Green Deal, a wide-ranging package of policies on climate change and the environment, and whose stint at the European Commission was due to end in November next year, will run as the candidate for the Dutch Labour and Green Left in the Nov. 22 general election.

Sefcovic, 57, is perceived by many in Brussels as a heavyweight of similar stature to Timmermans for upcoming international climate negotiatons.

The Slovakian oversees EU relations with Britain and the EU's joint gas-buying programme to replace Russian gas supplies, after previously being in charge of the bloc's energy policy.

He was appointed to the EU executive in 2009 as education and culture commissioner.

Sefcovic will temporarily take over the climate portfolio until the appointment of a Dutch commissioner, the EU executive said. It was not clear whether the new Dutch official would assume the same post.

"Following a successful legislation phase, the focus of Executive Vice-President Sefcovic will be the successful rollout of the European Green Deal as Europe's growth strategy," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

"The Commission will enhance its multilateral Green Deal diplomacy in order to consolidate Europe's leadership role on global renewables and energy efficiency targets," she said.

Sefcovic will face his first big test at the United Nations climate negotiations in November where countries will have to assess whether they have fallen short in curbing climate change and agree on a plan to get back on track. Timmermans played a key role in thrashing out a deal at last year's COP27 summit.

Von der Leyen asked the Netherlands to nominate a candidate to replace Timmermans as a commissioner.

Timmermans, who speaks English, German, French, Italian and Russian in addition to his native Dutch, is a well-known figure in the Netherlands, having served as foreign minister from 2012 to 2014.

Having spent nearly a decade in Brussels, Timmermans will stand in the first Dutch election since 2006 in which outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte will not lead his conservative VVD party.

Rutte, the longest-serving leader of the Netherlands, shocked the nation in July when he announced he would quit following the failure of his four-party coalition government to agree on migration policy.

(Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Foo Yun Chee, additional reporting by Bart Meijer; editing by Alison Williams, Devika Syamnath, Christina Fincher and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)