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Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra has been nominated as an EU commissioner, replacing Frans Timmermans who left to run for prime minister of the Netherlands.
Outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte confirmed the move, first reported by the Financial Times, late on Thursday night.
“I have consulted widely with all factions within the cabinet and with the European Commission president,” Rutte said through his spokesman. “I have come to the conclusion that I will nominate Wopke Hoekstra as commissioner-designate for the European Commission.”
The 47-year-old Christian Democrat, whose party is a member of the centre-right European People’s party of commission president Ursula von der Leyen, is likely to take on the climate portfolio.
Hoekstra has been at the forefront of efforts to support Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression. The Netherlands this week was the first allied nation, along with Denmark, to confirm it would send F16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
The minister faces a tough confirmation hearing in the European parliament, even if his term is only set to last until next year, when a new commission will be formed after EU elections in June.
As finance minister between 2017 and 2022 Hoekstra stood up for fiscal discipline in the EU budget, frustrating many southern member states such as Italy and Greece.
In 2020 Portuguese prime minister António Costa said Hoekstra’s call for an investigation into Spain’s finances after it appealed for support to cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was “repugnant” and “a threat to the EU’s future”.
Iratxe García, a Spanish MEP and leader of the S&D group in parliament, said his attitude was “offensive, ignorant and arrogant”.
Hoekstra held out against plans for common borrowing to deal with the crisis for several weeks.
He could also face questions over his career at oil company Shell where he worked from 2002 to 2004 before joining consultancy McKinsey.
Sophie in ’t Veld, a Dutch MEP from the liberal Renew group, wrote on social media network X that parliament could refuse to confirm him, or veto him for the climate role.
“Hoekstra’s most important European achievement consists of intensely insulting the Italians during the Covid crisis. In addition, he is not exactly a climate champion. What makes him so suitable as a candidate?” she asked.
Hoekstra, a graduate of France’s INSEAD business school, announced in July he would not lead the Christian Democrats into the November elections after the four-party coalition collapsed over immigration policy.
Rutte, who continues in a caretaker capacity, was keen for a swift appointment to ensure the Netherlands retains a strong voice in Brussels.
He was among several candidates, with many observers expecting Sigrid Kaag, finance minister, to get the job. One person with knowledge of the situation said von der Leyen’s decision to drop her usual stipulation for capitals to prioritise female candidates had tilted the odds against Kaag.
If he gets the climate job Hoekstra is expected to represent the EU at crucial COP climate negotiations in Dubai that start in November.