One of Holland's brightest diplomats is moving to the heart of Brussels’ bureaucracy. Known for his energy, language skills and social media addiction (the first pictures from a European Commission meeting have already been posted on Facebook), former diplomat Frans Timmermans quickly gained popularity as the Dutch foreign minister after years as social-democratic MP. A more vital and visible minister than his predecessors, Timmermans is seen as having put the Netherlands back on the map in international relations with his constant travels and good personal relations with other leaders. He especially received a lot of praise for his moving speech at the UN Security Council after the crash of flight MH17 over Ukraine. It came as no surprise when he was nominated for a European commissariat, although the exact responsibilities of the newly invented position were unexpected: As EC President-elect Jean Claude Juncker's “right arm”, Timmermans will be the First Vice-President, in charge of Better Regulation, Intern-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The nomination has had a mixed reception in the Netherlands. Especially after Timmerman's UN speech, there were high hopes of him being nominated for the position of High Representative. In the months leading up to the nomination, the Dutch cabinet of ministers also stressed that the Dutch Euro-commissioner should have a 'heavy and economic' portfolio. When the position had finally been confirmed, most of the news reports led with the fact that Timmermans will become Juncker's first replacement, with ‘a central role’, the 'second man in the European Commission'. However, some opposition leaders said that the job was not hard-hitting enough, complaining that dealing with the minutiae of European bureaucracy is not worth giving up a good foreign minister for. Others questioned the tools he would have to make a real difference in attacking excessive bureaucracy.
Given the influence of the very vocal, if ultimately unsuccessful, Dutch Eurosceptics, this nomination could be seen as a chance for the Netherlands to reassert itself as a reliable partner in the EU. With his right as a Vice President to veto any initiatives from other commissioners, and the fact that he takes the lead in a new position designed to solve some of the problems that caused the upset in the European elections this year, this is an interesting step for Timmermans. The question is whether he is the right person for the role: he will have to leave his diplomatic experience and foreign relations expertise in his suitcase to concentrate on internal institutional issues. What is certain is that his Facebook friends will be able to follow every step of the way.
This article is part of a series of views on the portfolios and the people of the new European Commision, including Josef Janning's article on the importance of the new cluster structure. For the full collection, go here.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.