High-level debate with Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the European Green Deal

Mr Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the Green Deal, was in South Africa in early March 2020. During a two hour debate with European companies involved in the green economy, Mr Timmermans and the South African Trade Minister, Ebrahim Patel, discussed the challenges and opportunities raised by the Green Deal.

(From left to right: South African Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Ebrahim Patel; Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the Green Deal, Mr Frans Timmermans; EU Ambassador to South Africa, Mrs Riina Kionka)

“Becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is the greatest challenge and opportunity of our times. To achieve this, the European Commission presented the European Green Deal, the most ambitious package of measures that should enable European citizens and businesses to benefit from sustainable green transition. Measures accompanied with an initial roadmap of key policies range from ambitiously cutting emissions, to investing in cutting-edge research and innovation, to preserving Europe’s natural environment.” (European Commission website – A European Green Deal).

Along with the EU’s Ambassador to South Africa, Riina Kionka, a dozen CEO’s were present, representing a spectrum of EU companies in South Africa involved in or affected by green economy issues.

The discussion focused around the question on how the Green Deal could be operationalised and turned into a business opportunity for trade and investment between the EU and South Africa. Diego de Radigues, Chairman of the EU Chamber and Industry in Southern Africa recalled that “firms from EU Member States represent over 75% of inward FDI in South Africa. It is very important for us to anticipate these developments which will have a major impact on the labor market and, hopefully, on the planet.”

Frans Timmermans began his remarks by stressing that we are facing a climate emergency and the importance of mutual collaboration on resources, technologies and knowledge. “Public opinion in Europe currently supports us in this process. However, we must convince the rest of the world to follow us, otherwise our efforts will be in vain and our support in Europe will vanish,” said Timmermans.

According to all participants, “regional cooperation between South Africa and the EU Chamber could help drive larger green energy projects with the scope to promote more manufacturing and jobs”. There is scope to increase skills development initiatives currently underway within some European companies and to see greater involvement of development finance institutions to ensure the necessary funding is available to support a Just Transition. EU business is also keen to follow the processes underway in South Africa to allow participation of private sector players in energy generation and to secure consistent electricity supply.

To continue this discussion, the EU Chamber will start, in the next few weeks, a working group on “renewables energies” with the objective to bring out concrete proposals and help the government diversify its energy mix, while limiting the carbon footprint of energy production.

Frans Timmermans

Frans Timmermans began his career with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1987. After taking part in the junior diplomat training programme, he worked at the European Integration Department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Moscow. He later worked for Hans van den Broek, European Commissioner for External Relations, and Max van der Stoel, High Commissioner on National Minorities for the OSCE.

In 1998, Frans Timmermans was elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), where he dealt principally with foreign affairs. In the fourth Balkenende government, from February 2007 to February 2010, Mr Timmermans was Minister for European Affairs. In 2010, Mr Timmermans returned to Parliament as the Labour Party’s spokesperson on foreign policy.

On 5 November 2012, Mr Timmermans became Minister of Foreign Affairs in the second Rutte government. Two years later, on 1 November 2014, he became First Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for better regulation, interinstitutional relations, sustainable development, the rule of law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.  Since 1 December 2019, he is the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the Green Deal.