“I think that in recent times, we have strayed slightly from the key issues regarding Europe”, says European Commissioner Frans Timmermans. The first vice-president of the European Commission regrets the current atmosphere in Europe, which is too often characterised by ‘everyone for himself’. That is largely because the debate is no longer objective”, according to the Maastricht born Timmermans.
“We are focusing too much on the currency or the market, as of those were the only objectives. But even in the Maastricht Treaty, economic and monetary union is nothing more than an instrument. An instrument to increase prosperity in Europe, an instrument to prepare Europe for the admission of new countries that at the time had just won their freedom. In essence, an instrument to extend peace and stability in Europe. Unfortunately, that instrument is seen in the public debate as more of an end than a means.”
If you ask anyone at an average weekly market in Limburg to name a European politician, there are more than likely to say Frans Timmermans. And not always because they admire him. Particularly in Heerlen, where he used to live – he now lives in Brussels – opinions are divided about the former Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Timmermans, who was born on 6 May 1961 in Maastricht, gained experience of living abroad from an early age. That was because his father was archivist at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That meant that the young Timmermans spent part of his early years in Brussels and Rome, where he laid the foundations for his later language ability.
In the mid-1970s, he returned to Heerlen with his mother. After secondary school, he studied French and European law in Nijmegen and Nancy.
When doing his military service, he became fluent in Russian. As a result, he was selected for the illustrious international traineeship of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that served as preparation for a career as a diplomat. During the European Summit in 1991 in Maastricht, Timmermans worked at the embassy in Moscow.
Timmermans is positive about the future of Europe, even though he remains realistic. It may well be that at some time in the future, there will no longer be a euro or the borders will be closed, he says. “But to guarantee those things that are important for us, which we value – good education, a fair division of wealth in society, a safety net for the unemployed, good care for the elderly – we need a strong economy. And that strong economy is possible only if we work together in Europe.”