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Wopke Hoekstra arrives at the Binnenhof for the Council of Ministers, in The Hague, Netherlands, on July 14.PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW/Reuters

Lawmakers in the European Parliament plan to grill Wopke Hoekstra, nominated to be the EU’s next climate-change chief, regarding phasing out fossil fuels and a new emissions target for 2040, a document seen by Reuters showed.

Hoekstra, a former Dutch foreign minister, has the backing of the Dutch government and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to become the European Union’s next Climate Commissioner – taking over the running of emissions-cutting policies in the world’s third-largest economy.

Some lawmakers have said Hoekstra will need to prove his readiness to lead climate policymaking because that topic was not the focus of his previous roles as a foreign minister and finance minister.

It is not uncommon, however, for EU commissioners to take on a new portfolio they have not had before, and work with the EU’s civil service to get up to speed.

In any case, Hoekstra must first pass a European Parliament hearing. Negative assessments by lawmakers have prompted some commissioner candidates to withdraw in the past.

A document seen by Reuters showed the questions EU lawmakers have put to Hoekstra ahead of his hearing, revealing the issues they plan to test him on.

“Will you defend a fossil fuel phase-out with a timeline consistent with the Paris Agreement?” the document asked, regarding Hoekstra’s expected involvement at the UN COP28 climate summit in November, where countries will consider a global deal to phase out fossil fuels.

The lawmakers also asked what measures Hoekstra would take to phase out fossil fuel subsidies in the EU.

The European Commission has struggled to encourage EU member states to do this. EU countries spent around €52-billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2021 – an annual total that has not declined since 2015, EU Environment Agency data show.

Hoekstra must answer the lawmakers’ questions in writing, before his Oct. 2 hearing.

A key task for the new climate commissioner will be to propose the EU’s first emissions-cutting target for 2040. That will involve balancing competing calls – from scientific advisers recommending an emissions cut of up to 95 per cent, and industry lobbies warning that is economically unrealistic.

EU officials say the parliament is unlikely to ultimately reject Hoekstra. Doing that would likely mean the EU does not have a new climate commissioner in place for the COP28 summit.

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