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European climate commissioner Frans Timmermans said he plans to return to Dutch politics after nearly a decade in Brussels, announcing a campaign to be the country’s next prime minister.
The socialist politician said on Thursday he would bid to lead a joint campaign by the Labour and Green parties in November’s general election. If he wins the coalition’s leadership race he will face a tough election contest, with more than 20 parties vying for power.
The governing coalition of centrists and liberals collapsed this month after a dispute over curbs on immigration, with Mark Rutte remaining as caretaker prime minister amid rising tensions over the climate and the economy.
Timmermans, 62, would take on the insurgent Farmer Citizen Movement (BBB), a populist party that won provincial elections in March by backing farmer protests against government attempts to close farms to cut emissions. Timmermans has been a staunch supporter of the measures.
“It’s time for us in the Netherlands to grow closer together again,” the former foreign minister said in Maastricht. “The fragmentation in politics must be countered. We have enormous challenges — the climate crisis, nature is not in good shape . . . a war on the borders of Europe.”
The fragmented Dutch political system has 20 parties and independents in parliament, but some analysts suggest the Labour/Green alliance could gain enough seats to win the election. Rutte was prime minister for 13 years and his VVD liberal party is the biggest in parliament, with 34 of the 150 seats in the lower house. The four-party coalition he led fell out over Rutte’s push to tighten immigration policy.
Europe’s centre-right parties, including the Dutch Christian Democrats, have turned against the most ambitious EU climate policies. Timmermans lobbied hard to get a nature restoration plan through the European parliament and has watered down a plan to cut pesticide use by half.
EU electorates are backing rightwing parties, with socialists losing power in Sweden and Finland in the last year, and Spain expected to follow suit this week.
Timmermans believes he can turn the tide. In current polling Labour and the Greens have about 18 per cent of the vote. The two parties voted this week to have a shared list.
The other big parties will have new untested leaders. Sigrid Kaag, the finance minister and head of the D66 Liberal party, is stepping down, while the only candidate to replace Rutte as VVD (People’s party) leader so far is justice minister Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius.
“Timmermans can fill a vacuum in politics. There is no one else left,” said Luuk van Middelaar, co-founder of the Brussels Institute for Geopolitics. “He’s a very effective campaigner. It will change the dynamic of the campaign. I’d be surprised if anyone challenged him.”
Green leader Jesse Klaver has said he does not want to be the candidate but Labour leader Attje Kuiken has not yet announced her decision. Ahmed Aboutaleb, Labour mayor of Rotterdam, the country’s second-biggest city, could mount a bid. Members vote after the party boards have announced their preferred candidate, with the result announced on August 22.
Timmermans has championed the EU’s Green Deal, which intends to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent between 1990 and 2030 and reach net zero emission by 2050.
The European Commission said he would continue in his role for the time being.