The European Parliament’s environment committee approved former Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra to be the EU’s next head of climate change policy on Wednesday after lawmakers won extra promises from him to strengthen green measures.
Hoekstra and Maros Sefcovic, who is the nominee to lead overall co-ordination of European Union green policies, both secured approval from at least two-thirds of the committee.
The two still need formal approval from a majority of the full EU Parliament – in a vote on Thursday that some lawmakers said is likely to pass, given the committee’s endorsement.
Committee chair Pascal Canfin said lawmakers had sought “a clear commitment to keep on delivering on the Green Deal”, referring to Europe’s overall climate and environment policies.
Lawmakers won enough, but not all, of what they wanted, Canfin added.
Europe’s green agenda is facing increased political pushback, with some governments and lawmakers resisting proposals that raise costs for voters.
The new EU green chiefs must walk a political tightrope between those concerns and green and left-leaning lawmakers’ demands for urgent action to curb the CO2 emissions fuelling disastrous extreme weather.
Both candidates hinted at the tough politics ahead – saying that the EU would explore how “dietary changes” can contribute to meeting longer-term climate targets.
Debates over emissions from livestock farming and the environmental footprint of meat have sparked fierce political debates in countries including the Netherlands and former EU member state Britain.
Hoekstra promised to try to ensure the EU sets a target to slash its net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90 per cent by 2040, and push at the UN’s COP28 climate summit in November for a phase-out of all fossil fuels.
That would put Europe at odds with oil– and gas-producing nations that want to use technologies to “abate” – meaning capture – the emissions from burning fossil fuels, rather than ending the use of the fuels themselves.
Hoekstra is set to take charge of EU climate-change policies while Sefcovic would sit above him and co-ordinate all overall green policies – on climate, energy, transport, agriculture and environment.
Both had failed to pass a parliamentary hearing earlier this week, but won over lawmakers after Hoekstra made extra promises, including to disclose how much EU money is spent on fossil-fuel subsidies and to take a firmer line at UN talks on phasing fossil fuels out.
In a document shared with lawmakers on Wednesday and seen by Reuters, Sefcovic also pledged new EU limits on microplastic pollution and animal welfare rules this year, after some lawmakers accused Brussels of trying to quietly shelve the rules.
But he failed to say if and when Brussels would deliver promised restrictions on harmful chemicals – suggesting they will be buried at least until after EU elections next June.
That pleased some centre-right lawmakers who said they backed ambitious climate measures, but feared adding more nature and chemicals measures on top could overburden industries.
“There is sometimes a trade-off,” German lawmaker Peter Liese said.