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The Dutch revolt against Net Zero

Voters have sent Frans Timmermans, the EU’s ‘climate pope’, packing.

James Woudhuysen

Topics Politics World

One of the big losers of this week’s Dutch elections, in which right-winger Geert Wilders romped to victory, was Frans Timmermans, leader of a newly formed alliance of the Labour and Green parties. Timmermans is best known internationally as the former vice-president of the European Commission, where he was the architect and face of the EU’s flagship climate policy, the European Green Deal. To fans, he was hailed as the EU’s ‘climate pope’. Yet it is no exaggeration to say his stringent climate targets are set to impoverish Europe.

It seems the European mainstream media are finally taking note of the disastrous consequences of Timmermans’s Net Zero zealotry. Last week, Politico warned that his EU climate policies could be about to set off a wave of deindustrialisation on a scale we haven’t seen in 50 years.

The report asked the question: ‘Does the architect of Europe’s Green Deal truly understand what he’s unleashed?’ The answer can only be a resounding ‘Yes’.

The truth is that Timmermans is simply indifferent to deindustrialisation in the EU. Indeed, as noted in Politico, he ‘has been candid about the cost of his revolution’ and has warned that ‘the journey will be harder on some than on others’. Back in 2020, Timmermans admitted to the European Parliament that his wild goose chase for Net Zero would be ‘bloody hard’.

So who, precisely, is Timmermans asking to make sacrifices? Most of the burden of his green schemes will fall on the working class – both through job losses from factory closures and from ever rising energy costs.

One of Timmermans’s flagship policies is the EU’s Nature Restoration Law, which formally demands that countries restore, by 2030, at least 30 per cent of poor-condition agricultural land, peatlands, forests, rivers and ‘marine habitats such as seagrasses or sediment bottoms’. That requirement then rises to 90 per cent by 2050. The law, which is supported by green corporate paragons such as Unilever, H&M and Nestlé, might sound unobjectionable. Who could be against restoring the natural environment? The problem with this scheme is that it will significantly reduce the land available to farmers. It is this type of measure that has led to recent protests not just in Timmermans’s home country of the Netherlands, but also in Italy.

Timmermans hasn’t just confined himself to wreaking havoc in agriculture – he’s also taken aim at the automotive industry. Under him, the European Commission has required that makers of new city buses switch to 100 per cent zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, and that manufacturers of new lorries meet ever more demanding targets. They must now nearly halve their 2019 levels of emissions by 2030, moving up to 65 per cent by 2035 and 90 per cent by 2040. Timmermans had initially wanted heavy-goods vehicles to switch to zero emissions by 2040, but that was too fast even for his Commission colleagues.

As it happens, I’ve argued myself that electrifying buses and lorries makes a lot more sense than electrifying cars (in terms of reducing CO2, air pollution and noise). But for Brussels to pull this off, it would need to get serious about research and development in the field of large vehicles. For Timmermans and the EU, however, the priority has always been meeting targets on paper, not making advances in technology. The Commission’s Strategic Transport Research and Innovation Agenda’s budget for ‘ongoing projects’ in transport electrification is a frankly abysmal sum of €581million. So it’s no wonder that, in the absence of a serious commitment to developing electric bus and lorry technologies, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers has just described Timmermans’s targets as ‘the most challenging in the world’. Trying to meet them can only jeopardise thousands of jobs.

A third and final farrago launched by Timmermans is to swap European gas for renewable energy from Africa. On his watch, the EU stood by while member states banned fracking for shale gas – even though in places like Poland it could have eased Europe’s crippling energy shortages. Timmermans has also done nothing to prevent the collapse of gas production in his native Netherlands, where since 2013 output has fallen continuously from 72 billion cubic metres (bcm) to 15bcm – a record low – last year.

The shift to low-carbon electricity that Timmermans has always favoured will mean that Spain, as well as parts of the Balkans, Germany and Poland, will be exposed to closures of coal, oil, gas and even nuclear power plants.

And it won’t just be job losses that follow from his climate megalomania. A recent report by the deep-green International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that if the future supply of fossil fuels drops faster than demand, it will lead to ‘much higher and more volatile prices’. These, the IEA adds, are ‘highly regressive and cause financial difficulties for more vulnerable households’, as well as having ‘significant impacts on economic growth and the competitiveness of particularly energy-intensive industries’.

Clearly, Frans Timmermans is best kept as far away from the corridors of power as possible. The damage that his Net Zero obsession is doing to European industry and living standards is immeasurable. Every way one looks at it, his resignation from the European Commission and his inability to win power in the Netherlands represent a lucky escape for Europe. Even if the devastating effects of his policies will still be felt for years to come.

James Woudhuysen is visiting professor of forecasting and innovation at London South Bank University.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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