THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday that the foreign minister of the Netherlands is “the right man” to to fill a European Commission vacancy after Frans Timmermans quit this week to lead a center-left bloc into the country’s November general election.
Rutte’s ruling coalition proposed Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra as the new Dutch representative to the commission after Timmermans, 62, resigned Tuesday as the climate czar and vice president of the European Union’s executive arm.
Hoekstra told reporters before a Dutch Cabinet meeting Friday that it would be difficult to leave the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while war is raging in Ukraine “but nobody is indispensable.”
It remains to be seen how other EU nations will receive his candidacy. Hoekstra upset countries in southern Europe in 2020 with comments about their ability to fund a medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called the comments “repugnant” at the time.
Rutte later told Dutch news show Nieuwsuur, “Hoekstra and I have said we could have communicated in a more subtle way.” The prime minister noted Friday that he and Hoekstra had ultimately worked out a compromise accepted throughout Europe.
Hoekstra has little experience in the climate portfolio that Timmermans oversaw in Brussels, but Rutte said the foreign minister would be a strong player in international talks, including during the U.N. climate meeting later this year in Dubai.
He said Europe needs “somebody who is experienced in international negotiations, bringing people together. (Hoekstra) has that as head of the finance ministry and for a few years as foreign minister.”
Lawmakers in the European Parliament would need to approve Hoekstra before he can take the post in Brussels.
Timmermans is returning to the Dutch political scene after winning 91.8% of votes cast by members of the Labor Party and Green Left in a leadership contest in which he was the only candidate.
He will be seeking to succeed Rutte as prime minister once a new governing coalition is formed after the Nov. 22 general election.