European Commissioner-designate for Climate Action, Wopke Hoekstra (C) looks on during a hearing at the European Parliament's Environment Committee in Strasbourg, France, 02 October 2023. EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND


Mr U-turn: Climate Commissioner hopeful Hoekstra becomes a born-again environmentalist


The Dutch Candidate for EU Climate Commissioner, Wopke Hoekstra, performed a series of U-turns on October 2 as he auditioned for the job in front of Euro MPs.

Hoekstra, who is hoping to replace Brussels “green pope” Frans Timmermans, who has returned to national politics in the Netherlands, claimed he was convinced of the necessity of the bloc’s climate goals despite past statements to the contrary.

The former consultant, a smooth talker, told his audience that “At least once a week, my children ask me about two things: the war in Ukraine and climate change.”

Hoekstra said it was “absurd” that people have to pay taxes for fuelling their cars, while “filling a jet is untaxed”.

He said he was “going after the aviation industry”, despite having pumped billions of euros into Dutch carrier KLM when finance minister. “The sooner fossil fuels become history, the better”, he said, as they are “counterproductive for the EU’s energy transition,” he said.

As well as a tax on fossil fuels, the Commissioner-designate said he wanted a worldwide tax on kerosene and a maritime tax.

In another U-turn, he said he had became a strong believer in European funds, including the joint issuing of bonds, something he vehemently opposed in the past.

During the COVID crisis, he said those countries in need of cash should have been more frugal when times were better. Some even dubbed him a “bond villain” because of this. Hoekstra apologised  for his past stance. He said he did not recognise the difficulties some Member States had at the beginning of the pandemic. “I should have handled that differently”, he said.

He opposed a “climate damage” fund for African countries while Dutch minister but now wants to pursue the idea.

The toughest criticism came from his national compatriots. The Socialist Mohammed Chahim went on the offence by reminding everyone how Manfred Weber, Hoekstra’s EU ally, wanted to block the nature restoration law. “You have a past of not honouring political agreements,” he said.

Chahim asked if Hoekstra saw the nature restoration law as essential for reaching climate goals. What was his view on the infamous climate action ‘pause button’, as demanded by his own EPP Group? Why he should be trusted this time, given his past U-turns?

Hoekstra was unfazed, referring to a Dutch saying, “the closer to the crown, the less partisan”, implying ministers and thus Commissioners have to be independent and not bound by any EPP marching orders.

Hoekstra said he was “in love with ETS”, the European Union Emissions Trading System. That system has existed in Europe since 2005 and stipulates that companies must pay for their carbon emissions.  Polluting companies have to buy extra rights, making sustainable production rewarding. But some call this “carbon welfare” and say big polluters profit from it.

The vote on the eventual nomination of Hoekstra will take place on Thursday.