Members' Research Service By / September 29, 2023

Hearings of European Commissioners-designate: Wopke Hoekstra – Climate

This Briefing concerns a portfolio change in the European Commission in mid-mandate and takes the same format and approach as those Briefings published in September 2019 to give Members of the European Parliament an overview of major issues of interest in the context of the Hearings of the Commissioners-designate.

© European Commission, 2023

Written by Liselotte Jensen.

Hearing due to be held on Monday 2 October 2023 at 18.30.

European Parliament committee responsible: Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI).

Wopke Hoekstra was a Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) Member of the Dutch Senate from 2011 to 2017. On 26 October 2017, he joined the Cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, holding the post of Minister for Finance from 2017 to 2022. From January 2022, following elections, he held the dual positions of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Hoekstra became leader of the CDA in 2020 and stepped down in July 2023. The CDA is affiliated to the European People’s Party (EPP).

During his tenure as a Member of the Senate, Hoekstra was party spokesperson for pensions, and served on several committees. Notably, he voted against the party line, when voting in favour of a legal status for lesbian parents and for a ban on civil servants refusing to marry same-sex couples.

On the European scene, Hoekstra led the opposition to euro-area reform in 2018, forming the ‘New Hanseatic League’ coalition among finance ministers of eight Member States. He has called for greater transparency in international finance and fighting tax evasion. In 2020, during the pandemic, Hoekstra drew heavy criticism when he called on the Commission to investigate the (lack of) financial robustness of EU Member States; this was perceived as a direct attack by several southern European countries.

Born in 1975, Hoekstra studied Law at Leiden University, from which he graduated in 2001. In 2005, he obtained an INSEAD MBA degree. Early in his career Hoekstra held commercial positions at Shell. In 2006, he joined global consulting company McKinsey, of which he became a partner in 2013.

This briefing concerns a portfolio change in the European Commission in mid-mandate and takes the same format and approach as those briefings published in September 2019 to give Members of the European Parliament an overview of major issues of interest in the context of the hearings of the Commissioners-designate.

For information on the procedure, see a separate note on replacement of individual Commissioners. The full set of briefings in the context of the 2019 hearings of the Commissioners-designate can be found at:


On 22 August 2023, the European Commission Executive Vice-President responsible for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, handed in his resignation. In response, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen handed over the role of Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal to Vice‑President Maroš Šefčovič. The Netherlands put forward Wopke Hoekstra as Dutch commissioner candidate and von der Leyen has nominated him as Commissioner for Climate Action.

Building on the 2030 policy framework for climate change and energy, and the Commission’s 2018 vision ‘A Clean Planet for all‘, during his mandate Timmermans was tasked with presenting and implementing the European Green Deal. In her political guidelines, von der Leyen stated that making Europe the first climate-neutral continent was the ‘greatest challenge and opportunity of our times’.

On 11 December 2019, the Commission adopted a communication on the European Green Deal, this set out Europe’s new growth strategy to transform the EU and decouple economic growth from resource use, and to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. A European Climate Law was proposed in March 2020 and, following agreement between the co-legislators, it entered into force on 29 July 2021, making it legally binding to deliver climate neutrality by 2050 and a net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction of 55 % by 2030, compared with 1990.

Recent developments

The EU Climate Law raised the previously agreed 2030 emission reduction targets, requiring further revision and strengthening of the energy and climate acquis. The 2021 Commission work programme outlined the ‘fit for 55’ package, of which the first files were presented in July 2021, and subsequent ones in December 2021.

The fit for 55 package consists of 13 interlinked proposals to revise existing EU climate and energy laws, and six proposals for new legislation. Most files have completed the legislative process and entered into force during the first half of 2023. They include, for example, the revision of the Effort-sharing Regulation – increasing Member States’ obligation to lower emissions in non-emissions trading system (ETS) sectors from 29 % to 40 % by 2030 at EU level, compared with 2005, while broadening the scope of the ETS to maritime transport, road transport and buildings, and providing for the participation of airlines in the international CORSIA offsetting scheme. The review of the EU ETS is expected to deliver a GHG reduction of 62 % in ETS-sectors by 2030, compared with 2005. To address the social impacts of the expansion of the EU ETS to transport and buildings, the Social Climate Fund was proposed and agreed by lawmakers. Carbon removals from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) are essential to deliver a climate neutral Union by 2050, and the revised LULUCF Regulation seeks to reverse the trend of decreasing carbon removals and by 2030 reach 310 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in carbon removals from the sector.

The implementation of the above-mentioned legislative instruments is highlighted in the mission letter from Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Commissioner designate Hoekstra, along with the task of facilitating the adoption of the review of the Regulation on Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases (F-gases) and the review of the Ozone Regulation. Hoekstra will also lead the work towards adoption of the Commission’s proposal for a carbon removal certification framework, as well as preparing the 2040 climate target and its accompanying communication, expected before summer 2024.

Article 14 of the energy union Governance Regulation obliged Member States to submit an updated draft national energy and climate plan (NECP) by 30 June 2023. At time of writing, the Commission’s NECP page showed that only 15 Member States have presented their updated draft plans.

Multiple crises over recent years have highlighted risks relating to European dependence on third countries. First, the experience of supply-chain disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently the need to substitute Russian energy and other raw materials, following Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine. As discussed in the recent EPRS Future Shocks 2023 publication, these recent developments, along with a more assertive China, which could impose further export restrictions on critical raw materials essential to Europe’s green transition, have made the need to strengthen Europe’s strategic autonomy more urgent, along with the need for partnerships with like-minded countries to fight disinformation and deliver on global climate action.

Priorities and challenges

On 13 September 2023, von der Leyen, in her State of the European Union address, outlined several priorities and challenges facing the continent. In terms of the green transition, she outlined the key achievements – mainly the EU Climate Law and the adoption of most files under the fit for 55 package. The ‘next phase of the European Green Deal’, as she put it, will focus on supporting European industry through the transition, with first initiatives such as the net-zero industry act and the critical raw materials act, followed up by a series of clean transition dialogues with industry, to develop ‘an approach for each industrial ecosystem’.

As Climate Commissioner, Wopke Hoekstra will play a key role in overseeing the work of the Innovation Fund, aiming to help bring industrial solutions to decarbonise Europe to market. He will also be tasked with presenting an ambitious and forward-looking strategy for carbon capture, utilisation and storage before the end of the current mandate. This follows on from the Commission’s 2021 communication on boosting sustainable carbon cycles.

Balancing the green transition with the need to safeguard the competitiveness of European industry and increase European strategic autonomy may be one of the biggest challenges for the coming decade, considering also the nexus of risks represented by climate change, geopolitics and energy, as defined by the 2022 AXA Future Risks Report. Tasked with leading international climate negotiations, the Climate Commissioner will need to tackle geopolitical tensions and countries’ differing interests, needs and agendas, to find consensus on global renewables and energy efficiency targets and advance work on a global carbon pricing system. As pointed out by the Euractiv media network, the previous expertise of the Commissioner delegate could prove useful in the process of working out the details of a loss and damage fund, and a certain level of diplomacy will be key.

As Climate Commissioner, Wopke Hoekstra would be responsible for ensuring consistency in the implementation of the EU Climate Law and reporting on progress made by the end of 2023. This task involves assessing the NECPs and preparing recommendations for Member States in collaboration with the Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson. With the deadline for submission of updated NECPs passed, this could point to some challenges on the EU domestic front as well. Further supporting this scenario, Poland filed a case with the European Court of Justice in July, challenging key climate legislation as strengthened by the co-legislators in the ‘fit for 55’ process.

The Climate Commissioner will have to continue work on climate awareness and change in behaviour and production processes and, through the European Climate Pact, bring together Europeans taking action for climate. The task list also includes measures to improve European preparedness for climate-related risks, an area of increasing attention given the visible impacts of recent extreme weather events and one where a communication is still due to be delivered during this mandate.

On 15 June 2023, the European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change provided the EU institutions with a science-based recommendation for a 2040 climate target and an EU greenhouse gas emissions budget for the 2030-2050 period. The Advisory Board recommended net emissions reductions of 90-95 % by 2040, relative to 1990 levels, and an overall 2030-2050 carbon budget within a range of 11-14 Gt CO2 equivalents, in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. Ensuring strong commitment on the fit for 55 objectives and the long-term climate neutrality goal while delivering an ambitious 2040 climate target will likely be one of the main challenges for the climate portfolio up to the end of the current Commission mandate.

European Parliament

Treaty basis and European Parliament competence
EU environmental policy is based on Articles 191 to 193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Article 191 lists climate action as one of the objectives of EU environment policy. Article 11 TFEU also requires environmental protection to be taken into account in other EU policies (a process known as ‘mainstreaming’). Combating climate change has been an explicit EU objective since the Lisbon Treaty.
Environment policies are a shared competence between the EU and Member States, and subject to the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision by Parliament and Council), with the exception of fiscal matters, town and country planning, land use, quantitative water resources management, choice of energy sources and structure of energy supply, which require unanimity in the Council. The European Parliament has to give its consent for the EU to become a party to international agreements.

Parliament has played an important role in raising the ambition of EU climate legislation, calling repeatedly for a mid-century zero-emission strategy (2017 and 2019) and ambitious 2030 targets (2018) during the last legislative term. These positions were reaffirmed by the current legislature in its January 2020 resolution on the European Green Deal, in which Parliament called on the Commission to present a proposal for a European climate law with legally binding targets.

In 2019, the European Parliament declared a climate and environment emergency, calling for reform across key policy areas to remove inconsistencies with Union climate ambitions.

More recently, in response to the increasingly visible impacts of our changing climate in the form of extreme weather, Parliament adopted a resolution with a view to stepping up EU efforts to fight climate change. In its October 2022 COP27 resolution, Parliament stressed the need to raise targets to align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target. It welcomed the Glasgow Dialogue on ‘loss and damage’, and called on the EU to increase the proportion of adaptation finance in the Global Europe Instrument, noting the need to prioritise grants over loans in all climate finance, and to align all types of financial flows to the 1.5 °C target.

The nomination of Wopke Hoekstra as Climate Commissioner generated mixed reactions among Members of the European Parliament, with the S&D Group and also some Members of the Greens/EFA and The Left expressing concern at the nomination of an EPP candidate (to replace an S&D Commissioner), referring to the EPP’s outright rejection of a key European Green Deal file.

Further reading

Erbach G. and Jensen L., Fit for 55 package, EPRS, European Parliament, June 2022.

Erbach G., European Climate Law, EPRS, European Parliament, August 2021.

European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change, Scientific advice for the determination of an EU-wide 2040 climate target and a greenhouse gas budget for 2030–2050, 15 June 2023.

Jensen L., COP27 climate change conference: Outcomes, EPRS, European Parliament, December 2022.

Read this briefing on ‘Hearings of European Commissioners-designate: Wopke Hoekstra – Climate‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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