“In order to save the climate, we have to include the rest of the world”

“In order to save the climate, we have to include the rest of the world”

EU Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra speaks at UM about the EU’s ‘great challenges’

22-05-2024 · Background

A war on our own continent, a migration flow that is far from under control, harmful applications of artificial intelligence (AI), an economy that is being outpaced on all sides, and on top of all that, the threatening consequences of climate change: Europe is having a tough time, was EU Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra’s warning last Tuesday to roughly two hundred UM students and staff members. Having been invited by Studio Europa, the politician spoke in the Franz Palm hall at SBE about the ‘great challenges’ that the European Union is facing.

It is not the first ‘big name’ to come to Maastricht in the run-up to the European Parliament elections at the beginning of June. At the end of last month, all ‘Spitzenkandidaten’, including the current President of the European Committee, Ursula von der Leyen, showed their faces during the Maastricht Debate in the Vrijthof Theatre (co-organised by Studio Europa too). This time, it was Hoekstra’s turn, former minister and – since last October – EU Commissioner for Climate Action, to encourage those at UM to make their way to the polling station, by giving a speech and a Q&A session.

Because having your voice heard is important in these turbulent times, said Hoekstra. “Europe is a great place, but it must not become a relic of the past.” That the EU is on the right road, is according to Hoekstra apparent from such things as the swift and considerable support to Ukraine after the Russian invasion (“something that even surprised Putin”), the new migration pact (“a historic agreement”) and the AI Act with regulations for the use of artificial intelligence (“a worldwide first”).

Fair transition

Also in the field of climate action, Hoekstra’s portfolio, the EU wants to take a leading role. “With the clear final objective of being carbon-neutral in 2050. But under the conditions that every EU citizen is included in this transition in a fair manner and that we are left with a clean but also competitive economy.” This also means that the EU needs to look beyond its borders. “Because the EU is only responsible for 7 per cent of the global emissions. To really make changes, we will have to include the rest of the world, for example by means of import taxes on CO2.”

But then Europe is not there yet, not by a long shot, Hoekstra reckons. Setting long-term objectives and working constructively continue to be crucial in coping with all those challenges. But what if the new European Parliament is less open to that, now that there is a conservative wind blowing across the continent, a staff member in the audience wants to know. Hoekstra says he will not give voting advice, only to continue: “But if you wish to prevent such a parliament, vote for parties who say the same as me.”


The rest of the Q&A session doesn’t yield any surprising insights either; Hoekstra avoids most of the questions with general or meaningless answers. How does he think, for example, that the position of the Netherlands will change, now that the main lines of the agreement of the coalition parties is heading towards a collision with the EU? “In my role, I cannot say anything about that except that dialogue is always good.” Should the emphasis be more on nuclear energy? “That is up to the member states.” How can we ensure that the EU becomes less abstract to the average citizen and that there is more attention for the elections? “By showing that EU policies are very important, also in their daily lives.” To finish with: “Please go and vote.”


Photo: Studio Europa / Jean-Pierre Geusens

Tags: wopke hoekstra,eu,climate action,european union,parlement,commission,elections,climate,studio europa,students

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