Frans Timmermans: ‘We are going full steam ahead to the end’

Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the EU Commission, says of himself, “I’m a politician, not a bureaucrat.”

Mr Timmermans, you are drawing a lot of criticism for your proposals to restore nature and reduce pesticides. The EPP rejects them and argues with food safety. 

We know very well where the real threat to food security comes from: the climate crisis, the overuse of pesticides and also farming practices that require a lot of fertilizer. There is therefore a real attack on biodiversity, the risk of losing a million species, and this must be prevented. The EPP, if I understand it correctly, is not questioning this at all. It is about whether we change our practices now or we wait and see. My experience with climate and nature is that the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets.

The majority in the European Parliament behind the Green Deal is crumbling. How do you want to make sure that your projects have priority until the end of the legislature?

First of all, we have to avoid the impression that we are already done. We have achieved much more than many believed. We have set ourselves the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030, and with the measures we have adopted, we will achieve that goal. But we must enable nature to play its part in this. Soil that is dead does not absorb carbon. Forests that are in poor condition emit carbon and they do not absorb it. That is why we need a Nature Restoration Law. We are therefore going full steam ahead to the end. But we are also ready to negotiate.

No conflict between renaturation and wind turbines

How will you convince the MEPs when you discuss with them in the committees this week?

I already made it clear in the last plenary session: ‘If you throw the nature restoration proposal in the wastepaper basket, there will be no further proposals until the end of the term’. That was important for some to know. Secondly, I asked the MEPs to tell us what specifically the contentious issues are because as it is, we don’t know. This way we will have the opportunity to clarify or propose compromises. Thirdly, this week I will have the opportunity to clarify before MEPs some points that are said lightly.


For example, that nature restoration means that you can’t build wind turbines or solar panels there. That is just not true. I have also seen this in my own country when the prime minister said: ‘Now I can’t build offshore wind turbines’. No, quite the opposite, because building offshore wind turbines can also create a marine protection zone. I would even say that coalitions are possible between those who want to restore nature and biodiversity and those who want to build wind turbines or solar farms on the same land.

‘Is the EPP still willing to compromise?’

Why do you think the EPP is putting on the brakes right now?

I believe there is a political dynamic that goes beyond the Green Deal. Everything we have built up recently is also based on the willingness to compromise among the parties of the enlarged center in the European Parliament – EPP, S&D, Renew and Greens. However, after the elections in Italy, Sweden and Finland, it appears that the EPP is looking a bit more to the right. The question is therefore: Is the EPP still prepared to find compromises with us and other parties? Or do we have to prepare for a new political dynamic that will not only affect the Green Deal but possibly also the period after the European elections?

Will you present the remaining legislative proposals as planned? 

We will do what we can. But I only present texts when they are ready for it and we have consulted the public. I do not rule out the possibility that some of the texts are not ready.

‘I know that I need majorities’

Is this due to a lack of time or ambition?

I also have to consider the political realities. I am not naive and I know that I need majorities. But in the Commission, we continue to work on the legislative texts. I don’t want to hide the fact that our services are under incredible pressure. But I don’t want a text to be rejected because we haven’t done our job. If it takes longer, it takes longer. If that means it’s nearing the end of the term, yes, so be it, but quality comes first.

The German government has put the brakes on the combustion engine ban for cars, and now possibly also on renovation requirements for buildings. Are you afraid that there will be conflict again? 

As far as cars are concerned: we will do the work we promised the Germans. In Full awareness and with great accuracy. But I still see that the European car industry is going in a certain direction, which is mainly electrification and maybe also the use of hydrogen. If you see that cheap EVs of high quality are being produced in China, then we have no time to lose here. 

Our proposal on the Buildings Directive is intended to support the Member States, as the relevant climate protection targets are already laid down in the Effort Sharing Regulation. If the proposal is not understood as such, it will have to be explained or amended. Regarding Germany, it doesn’t come down to the goals, but rather to the fact that there are already efforts at the national level that don’t always go exactly in the same direction. There is a need for coordination here.

Climate targets for 2040 still within this mandate

Berlin had retroactively questioned the trilateral agreement on the car fleet limits, and now Paris is criticizing the outcome of the negotiations on the Renewable Energies Directive. Has the Commission set a precedent with its concession to Germany? 

That’s how Europe works: through negotiations. The only difference is that the Germans did it after the vote. This has been done by a country otherwise highly regarded for its compliance with the rules, of all things. That’s what triggered this rather negative dynamic.

Do you think that a second Green Deal will be necessary after 2024? There is already talk about climate targets for 2040. 

We will definitely make a proposal before the end of the term on what we think is necessary for 2040. Firstly, because we have an obligation to do this. Secondly, because I believe that the Green Deal, the climate crisis and the threat of ecocide must be the subject of a Europe-wide election campaign. Because these crises cannot be solved within five years of a Green Deal. And I want everyone to show their colors. We had an agreement with the EPP on the Green Deal right at the beginning of the term. Now, as the elections approach, they are making alliances with the extreme right in southern and northern Europe.

‘I will remain committed’

When you look at the future yourself: Will you seek a third term as Commissioner?

There are some who say that I will return to my home country to do politics in the Netherlands. There are some who say that I will stay at the European level. I honestly don’t know today. I only know: I will remain committed. I want to be among those who prepare the program for the elections. At least I want to share my ideas on it. And then we will see. Two terms are already a long time. And two terms as first Vice-President of the European Commission with many heavy tasks, that is already a lot.

Emmanuel Macron recently called for a regulatory pause of the Commission. 

I agree with the President of the Republic when he says: “This next Commission will have to implement these plans.” And it will have a heavy burden to carry in doing so. But we have to be careful: We are in a phase where Europe is much more political than it was five years ago. So I say to all those who aspire to lead the European Commission: They should face the voters. A political project must be presented to the European voters. What voters will go to the European elections if they are told that we are just bureaucrats from Brussels? I myself was elected by Dutch citizens seven times, six times to the Dutch Parliament, once to the European Parliament. I am a politician, not a bureaucrat.


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