The imminent departure of the First Vice-President of the European Commission, the Dutchman Frans Timmermans, comes at a most unfortunate time for the team of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. He will return to Dutch politics, possibly as the new prime minister.
Just as it comes to reaping the harvest in the last year of the parliamentary term, the European Commission is not only losing one of its star players, but there is also growing resistance to crucial Green Deal legacies from Timmermans' portfolio.
Now that it is clear that Timmermans will be the party leader of PvdA/GroenLinks, there is already a lot of speculation in Brussels who should succeed him. By the way: should he actually be followed up for that one year?
Who will defend the dogma 'Thou shalt become more sustainable' next year?: a temporary replacement who only looks after the store? Who will soon be responsible for anchoring Timmermans' climate dossiers for the next EU period 2024 – 2029? According to the regulations, the Netherlands should nominate a new Commissioner-designate. But the Dutch cabinet is outgoing after the resignation of VVD Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and these kinds of appointments are politically particularly sensitive.
The Brussels machinery might think that Timmermans' work is more or less done, that the remainder can be handled by Timmerman's current assistant, file eater Diederik Samsom. If necessary, the remainder can be postponed until after the European elections (June 2024), or one of the current 'Climate' commissioners can add another year.
It will undoubtedly be taken into account that over the next year and a half, agri-agriculture and the envi-environment will not be the real major topics. Perhaps a pity for European farmers, but the EU faces a number of other crucial challenges in the coming year, especially on the geopolitical scene.
In addition, trade relations with the United States and China, the consequences of Brexit, the Russian war in Ukraine are just a little bit more important than whether or not there is a glyphosate ban. It is true that the agricultural lobby in Brussels is already hoping that the early departure of Timmermans will lead 'from postponement to cancellation'. Opinions are still highly divided about the remaining Timmermans files.
For example, the LNV ministers still have to agree to halving the use of chemical agents in agriculture. For example, ministers and Parliament must agree again on an almost dismantled Nature Restoration Act. For example, a decision has yet to be made about less nitrate pollution in the soil water. And relaxation of the use of glyphosate and expansion of GMO techniques have been announced.
In that scenario (= a lot still to be won), committee chairperson Von der Leyen could take the remaining Climate dossier into her own hands and could turn a threatening minus into a plus. It is whispered in the corridors of Brussels that Von der Leyen would like to be reappointed after the European elections. It is said that conservative German Christian Democrats in particular are not so happy about this. They think that Von der Leyen is too Timmermans-friendly, too green.
Several Central European Christian Democratic parties (and EPP party leader Weber !) believe that the EU should take a more right-wing course, with more focus on 'economy + present', and less emphasis on 'Green Deal + the day after tomorrow'.
For von der Leyen, successfully ticking off and securing Timmermans' last steps would not only be a fine diplomatic-administrative result; it could also be a personal campaign strategy for her.