Frans Timmermans, the man tasked with spearheading the EU's ambitious climate policies, has resigned from the Commission to return to Dutch politics in the hope of becoming the country's next prime minister.
Timmermans, who has been in Brussels for the past decade, is to helm an alliance between the Greens (GL) and the Labour Party (PvdA) in the early general elections scheduled to be held on 22 November.
The alliance is currently leading in the polls with aggregator EU Elects favouring them with 17.1% of the votes, ahead of the centre-right VVD party of departing Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
"I thank Frans Timmermans for his passionate and tireless work to make the European Green Deal a reality," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
"Thanks to his excellent contribution and strong personal engagement, we have made great strides towards meeting the EU's objectives to become the first climate-neutral continent, and towards raising the levels of climate ambition globally," she added.
Maroš Šefčovič, the Commission's Vice-President for inter-institutional relations and foresight and a former EU energy chief, will take over Timmermans’ portfolio in charge of the European Green Deal. He was also assigned, temporarily, the portfolio responsibility for Climate Action Policy until a new Dutch Commissioner is appointed.
Von der Leyen wished Šefčovič success in his new task of "driving forward the protection of the climate and the European Green Deal with the ambition it requires" and requested that the Dutch Prime Minister propose the names of a female and male candidate to be the new Dutch Commissioner.
The European Parliament and the Spanish Council Presidency have already been informed about the new arrangements.
The EU's climate czar
Timmermans announced his intention to run on behalf of a left-wing alliance of socialists and greens in the upcoming Dutch general election in July, following the unexpected collapse of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's coalition government.
His announced departure had left a hole in one of the EU's most critical portfolios, which Timmermans had led since 2019.
Having served in Brussels for nearly a decade, Timmermans is hailed the EU's climate 'czar'. His anticipated departure had jeopardised the last stretch in EU policymaking for the Green Deal before the European elections take place in 2024.
He became responsible for the landmark EU Green Deal in 2019, which von der Leyen herself described as "Europe's man on the moon moment". Since then, he has spearheaded the adoption of transformative policies that aim to ensure the 27-member bloc reaches climate neutrality by 2050.
He has also been a prominent figure in international negotiations, and was instrumental in facilitating a deal during the COP27 summit.
His achievements include an EU ban of the combustion engine, a carbon border tax and a new Emissions Trading System (ETS) for road transport and buildings.
More recently, the highly contested Nature Restoration Law was adopted by a narrow majority in the European Parliament to become the latest feather in Timmermans' cap.
His passion for green legislation meant he became a target for right-leaning parties, which claimed his legislation placed unnecessary burden on European industry and handicapped the economy.
These issues will be at the forefront of the elections in the Netherlands, where the populist Farmer-Citizen Movement gained significant territory in local elections in March this year, riding on a wave of rural anger at government environmental policies.
A critical portfolio
The Green Deal is likely to remain one of the European Commission's priority portfolios as Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič takes the helm.
In her statement, von der Leyen described Šefčovič as one of the most senior and experienced members of her college.
"Our priority will be to strengthen the Industrial Clean Revolution, upgrading our grids and infrastructure for the energy transition and access to Critical Raw Materials," she said.
His appointment means the EU's climate policies will remain in the hands of a socialist, despite the scathing criticism of the main right-leaning European political group to which von der Leyen belongs towards the environmental initiatives led by Timmermans.