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New EU Commission taps Timmermans to head climate change fight

Pedro Nunes, Reuters | Frans Timmermans will head one of the bloc’s most important portfolios, its fight against climate change.

The new European Commission taking office in two months will boost its fight against climate change by making it a top portfolio to be handled by Dutchman Frans Timmermans, incoming Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday.

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Timmermans, a 58-year-old Brussels veteran, will effectively be the number two in the incoming commission under von der Leyen, who has made cutting carbon emissions a key priority of her executive for the next five years.

His elevation to first executive vice president for a "European Green Deal", with powers over investment, taxes and food standards as Europe transitions to clean energy, was welcomed by environmental groups.

"The structure presented by Commission President-elect von der Leyen shows that she is following through on her climate and environmental promises by giving the highest level of attention to delivering on a European Green Deal," the head of the European office for the WWF, Ester Asin, said.

Von der Leyen told a news conference that Timmermans would be the pointman in making Europe "the world's first climate-neutral continent".

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His stated mission, set out in a letter from von der Leyen, is to "look at everything from how we use and produce energy, unlock private investment and support new clean technologies, all the way through to the transport we use, the food we eat and the packaging we throw away".

The decision places the 2016 Paris climate agreement at the heart of the EU's policy. That stands in sharp contrast with the United States, which is pulling out of the accord under President Donald Trump who is a climate-change sceptic.

Von der Leyen reaffirmed the ambition for Europe to reach climate neutrality by 2050, but told Timmermans: "We have to be more ambitious when it comes to our 2030 emission reduction target. This should increase to at least 50 percent by 2030, up from the 40 percent currently agreed."

She also tasked him with international negotiations to increase engagement along the same lines by "other major emitters" by 2021.

Vestager gains power

Announcing the key roles in her line-up, von der Leyen said Denmark's Margrethe Vestager would remain in charge of competition policy and step up to be an executive vice-president too.

Vestager was the star of the outgoing commission, upsetting Berlin and Paris by opposing a merger between train-makers Alstom and Siemens and clashing with the White House.

Last year, US President Donald Trump complained to outgoing commission head Jean-Claude Juncker about Vestager's efforts to regulate big tech, declaring: "Your tax lady, she really hates the US."

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Irishman Phil Hogan was put in charge of trade, a crucial position that will require him to settle the European Union's trade relations with post-Brexit Britain and with the United States.

Von der Leyen will become the first woman to head the European Commission after promising a platform of a greener, fairer and rule-based Europe.

Her proposed team offers rough gender balance, a plus point for EU lawmakers, with 13 women and 14 men.

"This team will shape the European Way: we will take bold action against climate change, build our partnership with the United States, define our relations with a more self-assertive China and be a reliable neighbour, for example to Africa," she said in a statement.

"This team will have to stand up for our values and world-class standards,” she added. “My Commission will be a geopolitical Commission committed to sustainable policies. And I want the European Union to be the guardian of multilateralism. Because we know that we are stronger by doing together what we cannot do alone."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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