With Frans Timmermans, PvdA and GroenLinks bring their dream candidate to The Hague

“I want to be prime minister.” On his return to The Hague, Franz Timmermans heads for Torrentje as party leader of Groenlinks-PVDA. But Timmermans has been around so long that everyone has an opinion about him. Both positive and negative.

John Hodeman And Hans von Soest

Formally, GroenLinks-PvdA is holding another party leader election. Those interested can register as a candidate till August 4. However, no one doubts that the face of European Commissioner Franz Timmermans will adorn the election posters of the left-wing (closer) Union Party. Other main candidates, Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Abutaleb, Groenlinks and current party leaders of the PVDA, Jesse Klaver and Adje Kuiken and Marjolein Moorman, have already supported Timmermans’ candidacy.

Until recently, Timmermans had always said he did not want to return to The Hague because of the ‘cold climate’. However, last week, he flipped the switch, say those in his immediate circle. That was after a phone conversation with PvdA party leader Kuiken on Thursday evening. Earlier he had also visited GroenLinks leader Klaver’s house.

Timmermans’ party, the PvdA, has been dragging him down for years. He has to rescue the party from its predicament. When Lodewijk Asscher dropped out during the 2021 campaign, he was also voted out. However, Timmermans wanted to continue as European Commissioner to secure his ‘Green Deal’. Now that his tenure in Brussels is almost over – and there will be European elections again in May – he dares to do just that.

With Timmermans’ return to The Hague, the election campaign is expected to be by no means dull. He can verbally wash the ears of his enemies. Friend and foe alike praise Timmermans as an orator. In six languages, plus: Italian, English, German, French, Russian and Dutch.

The seed of this multilingualism was sown in his youth. Timmermans’ father was a diplomat, which is why he grew up partly abroad. To improve his English, he was sent to an English-language school in Rome as a thirteen-year-old boy. A priest there anointed him. Timmermans kept quiet about it for years, even to his wife. In 2002, after all the abuse scandals surrounding the church, she told her story. “It’s been almost thirty years now, but in those years the feeling of stuffiness came up often,” he said. NRC.

Strict climate policy

As European Commissioner, Timmermans campaigned – successfully – for a tougher climate policy, which made the PvdA member popular among GroenLinks supporters. But Timmermans also has an image of being vain and unable to take criticism well.

The GroenLinks-PvdA campaign group hopes for a repeat of the ‘Timmermans effect’ in November 2019. That year, as party leader of the PvdA, he won the most votes in the European elections and made his party bigger: 6 of the 29 seats in the Dutch European Parliament went to the PvdA. This is the party’s first victory in many years.

Later, pollsters attributed the victory to the popularity of former minister Timmermans – all other parties had lesser-known party leaders. Now many famous names such as Mark Rutte and Sigrid Kok are not running in the upcoming parliamentary elections, which the campaign team hopes will give Timmermans a head start. “But the results of the past are never a guarantee of the future,” Timmermans said Thursday in his candidacy, putting things into perspective.

Conditions under which the Prime Minister left office

If he didn’t know he had a serious chance of winning on Nov. 22, Timmermans probably wouldn’t have applied. He did not hide his ambition: “I want to be prime minister.”

Polling firm I&O Research has been saying for years that the ‘Left’ could deliver a prime minister, and if the Left parties join forces, the ‘Right’ will clash over who is bigger.

The first condition has now been met: GroenLinks and PvdA members agreed on Monday to a plan to enter the House of Representatives elections with an electoral list, thus creating a political group in the House of Representatives (as is already happening in the Senate).

It is not yet clear whether the second condition can also be ticked. But the signs are positive: On Thursday I&O predicts a neck-and-neck race between GroenLinks-PvdA and VVD. The development of GroenLinks-PvdA will mainly be at the expense of D66.

However, the I&O survey is surrounded by several uncertainties. For example, it is not yet certain whether MP Peter Omdzigt will come with his own party. If that comes to pass, Omtzigt’s new party could become the largest party.

Foreign portfolio

Timmermans has been in politics for a long time now and everyone has an opinion about him. And it’s not always positive. In 2010, for example, he angered his PvdA colleagues in the House of Representatives by refusing six months of work, a PvdA member said. Ronald Plasterk once said in an interview.

Plasterk mentions Timmermans’ return to the House of Representatives after serving as Secretary of State for European Affairs in the Balkenende IV cabinet. After the election, he became dissatisfied with the portfolio he got as a Member of Parliament. He preferred to speak on foreign affairs, but it is unusual for a former minister to become a spokesperson for a member of parliament on matters that fall under the department he or she leads.

Plasterk at the time: “Timmermans said: ‘I want a foreign portfolio.’ But there was already someone there. He said, ‘Well then I won’t do anything’. In fact, he didn’t do anything for half a year.”

In the end, Timmermans — who did not respond to an interview — still got his way, according to Blasterk.

Timmermans became a Member of Parliament in 1998 from Limburg. In 2012 he became Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Rutte II cabinet. At that time he was not yet a strong supporter of left-wing collaboration. Shortly before he became minister, he announced the beginning of the end of the then PvdA leader Job Cohen: Cohen sought reconciliation with the SP in 2012, after which Timmermans sent a critical e-mail within the party, saying that ‘all the best socialism of the SP yesterday’ contradicts the PvdA. The mail leaked out, and with it the internal compartment was left open.

slips and appreciates

Like many with such a long career, Timmermans was not immune to slip-ups and controversies. In 2014 he appeared on the TV show Too Painful Peacock He suggested that the victims of MH17 had time to put on their oxygen masks. Relatives were deeply saddened. Until then, they assumed the occupants had died instantly. Timmermans apologized, but the damage had already been done.

After Timmermans swapped his ministerial post for a key role in the European Commission in 2014, he was demoted again in 2016, when he said in July of that year there were ‘increasing signs’ that the Gulen movement was involved in a plot in Turkey. He based it on ‘American research’. But no one knows what the European Commissioner is talking about in America.

After Timmermans announced his candidacy, the election campaign immediately gained momentum. He is being praised by prominent figures of the party. “You can hand him the keys to the Netherlands. Frans wants content and perspective, which is what a progressive Netherlands needs,” says PvdA member Martijn van Dam, a colleague in the Rutte II cabinet.

Former party leader Jacques Wallage: “I think it is a great devotion to duty to nominate you for your second term as European Commissioner. You are returning to the Netherlands at a critical time.

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