Leading contenders edge closer to EU's senior climate roles

Wopke Hoekstra and Maros Sefcovic gain backing of European Parliament

Wopke Hoekstra said he would push for the phasing out of all fossil fuels when he attends Cop28. EPA
Powered by automated translation

The European Parliament's environment committee on Wednesday backed former Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra as the EU's next head of climate-change policy and senior Brussels official Maros Sefcovic to lead co-ordination of the bloc's green policies.

This paves the way for a final seal of approval at a plenary session on Thursday.

Chairman Pascal Canfin said a two-thirds majority had been found with the support of the centre-right European People's Party, the centrist Renew, the centre-left Social-Democats and the Greens.

"What we wanted to extract from this hearing was a clear commitment to keep on delivering on the Green Deal," Mr Canfin, a French MEP from the Renew group, said in Strasbourg.

The two candidates were questioned for several hours on Monday and Tuesday by the committee, which then requested they answer further questions in writing by Wednesday morning on their commitment to the EU's green policies.

It is not uncommon for commissioner-designates to be asked questions in writing after a hearing.

Mr Hoekstra and Mr Sefcovic now need a simple majority in Thursday's vote to obtain the European Parliament's final approval, a process sometimes considered a mere formality.

Mr Canfin said the committee's co-ordinators were satisfied with Mr Sefcovic's clarifications regarding the timetable of the pending Green Deal legislative proposals, which must be pushed through before the next European elections in June.

During his hearing, his arguments on climate policy were overshadowed by political events in his home country of Slovakia after populist, pro-Kremlin politician Robert Fico won the general election at the weekend, causing shock waves across the EU which overwhelmingly supports Ukraine in the continuing war.

In his written answers viewed by The National, Mr Sefcovic, who has overseen joint gas purchasing since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, vowed to continue "working on the phasing out of Russian energy supplies in all EU member states, to further boost the Union’s energy autonomy".

As executive vice president of the EU Commission responsible for the Green Deal, Mr Sefcovic said he would "work tirelessly" to ensure its application throughout the continent "without exception".

Mr Canfin said Mr Hoekstra had also provided "more clarity" regarding the bloc's green targets for 2040 and had promised to "go public with the list of missions that he made during his [previous] career at McKenzie" – a key demand by legislators.

Mr Hoekstra said he would "liaise with McKinsey" to know whether a list of clients and projects "can be disclosed in a timely matter".

He said he would engage with the bloc's 27 members to "agree a progressive scaling up of such revenues to support most vulnerable countries to fight climate change, including the incurred loss and damages".

Mr Hoekstra said he would also push for a phase out of all fossil fuels at Cop28.

"At the environment council on October 16, which will adopt conclusions on the EU’s position for Cop28, the commission will argue for dropping or limiting the reference to unabated fossil fuels," he said.

"Unabated" is a reference to fossil fuel emissions that are captured thanks to technology, which stops its propagation in the atmosphere, rather than reducing the extraction of fossil fuels overall.

During his hearing, Mr Hoekstra said technology would remain part of what he called "the solution space" because there are hard-to-abate sectors that cannot be electrified yet or move to green hydrogen fast enough.

Updated: October 04, 2023, 10:59 AM