A multilingual former diplomat, Frans Timmermans would seem well-suited for a position as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Born in Maastricht in 1961, Timmermans studied French literature at the University of Nijmegen, and also studied in Nancy, France (European law, French literature and History).
Once a member of the social liberal Democrats 66 party, he joined the Labour Party in 1990. He served as an MP from 1998 to 2007 and again from 2010 to 2012, when he was appointed as foreign minister.
Timmermans’ diplomatic career included a spell at the Dutch embassy in Moscow and a short spell in Brussels as a member of the private office of Hans van den Broek, a European commissioner.
Timmermans’ background and diplomatic skills have won him much praise. “He is a foreign minister par excellence” said Bernard Wientjes, the President of the Dutch employers’ organisation, in a profile by European Voice.
“He is incredibly well informed and understands foreign policy like no one else. You notice it in how he treats people, in his charm, in his language skills [Timmermans speaks Dutch, German, French, English, Russian and Italian].”
As an MP, he was the representative of the Dutch parliament on the Convention on the Future of Europe. He was European affairs minister from 2007 to 2010. A committed – but not uncritical – ‘European’, he is a member of the European Movement.
He has set out a path for EU reform – notably in an article for the Financial Times in November 2013 – that includes a smaller, reformed Commission with a president and vice-presidents heading a limited number of policy clusters, and only those leading members being able to initiate legislation.
Timmermans also advocates a stronger role for national parliaments – “to bring Europe back home where it belongs” – including the right to summon commissioners to capitals and more powers to block Commission proposals. Anxious to avoid more naval-gazing, he states that these reforms can be realised within the current treaties.
Timmermans can be hopeful of the High Representative role, but may be one Socialists too many if the PES win the Commission and/or European Council presidencies. However, he may be content with another senior role in the Commission – and like other Labour Party candidates, his prospects are helped by the fact that the Liberal VVD party has supplied the commissioner for the past 15 years.