Published: 12:30, August 3, 2023 | Updated: 13:05, August 3, 2023
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EU climate chief exit seen as blow to its green goals
By Chen Weihua in Brussels

European Commissioner for European Green Deal Frans Timmermans speaks during a media conference on threats of climate change and environmental degradation on peace, security, and defense at EU headquarters in Brussels, on June 28, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

The impending departure of the European Union's Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans will likely slow the pace of the bloc's 2050 climate neutrality ambition, experts say.

Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, has served in the commission since 2014 and became the first executive vice-president in charge of the European Green Deal in 2019.

He announced recently he will run for the leadership of a joint Socialist-Green ticket in the Netherlands' election in November after Prime Minister Mark Rutte's announcement of his departure from politics following his government's collapse.

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Timmermans' departure will come ahead of the 2024 EU election when some conservatives are expected to attack the Green Deal ambition as excessive, given the challenge of energy security following the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Against its backdrop, the exit of Timmermans from the commission might undermine the actual implementation of climate policies in the next few years and hamper the delivery of the EU Green Deal.

Qin Yan, Carbon analyst with Refinitiv

"EU's direction of travel under the Green Deal will not be affected by the departure of Timmermans, but the pace of implementing climate legislations could be slower with his exit from the commission," said Qin Yan, an Oslo-based carbon analyst with the financial data provider Refinitiv.

She credited Timmermans with playing a key role in pushing forward the EU's comprehensive climate policy initiatives, including the "Fit for 55" package and REPower-EU proposals.

The "Fit for 55" package is part of the European Green Deal, which aims to put the EU on the path toward climate neutrality by 2050. Its key element is to help the EU achieve a 55 percent reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Strong push required

"Most of the key Fit for 55 legislations have been approved, but it would still require a strong push to implement these climate policies," she said, adding that energy security concerns and challenges from the US' Inflation Reduction Act have triggered voices within the EU, calling for less progressive climate legislations.

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"Against its backdrop, the exit of Timmermans from the commission might undermine the actual implementation of climate policies in the next few years and hamper the delivery of the EU Green Deal," Qin said.

French President Emmanuel Macron called in May for a "regulatory break" to help the industry digest the standards of the European Green Deal, a call echoed by others, including Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Lai Suetyi, associate professor at the Center for European Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said the EU has passed over a dozen green regulations, including the 2050 carbon neutral goal and Fit for 55 since the European Green Deal program was introduced in 2019.

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"These are under the leadership of Timmermans as the so-called 'EU Green Deal chief'. Therefore, his departure to return to Dutch national politics brought worries about the EU losing the engine in pushing climate change action," Lai said.

"It may be slower without a big advocate like Timmermans, but the EU cannot go backward," she said.