28 October 2015

Meet ‎Frans Timmermans, the EU In campaign’s secret weapon


 Frans is 54. He likes French literature, history, travel, the European Union and Nato. ‎Frans is fluent in English, Italian, French, Russian and Dutch. Frans would like to meet sensible Britons for constructive dialogue.

Much of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme audience this morning will have been hearing the voice of Frans Timmermans for the first time. Who is this well-spoken polyglot Dutch person with better English than most of us living in the UK?

He is the Vice President of the European Commission and a former Dutch civil servant who is going to be extremely important in deciding what happens next in terms of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

The European Commission is on a bit of a public relations push at the the moment, and seems finally to have woken up to the reality that Brexit could happen. They must have seen the polls and picked up the vibes emanating from Whitehall.

For the In campaign has not had a great start. While many of its most ardent supporters spend their time on social media sneering at the Outers, branding sceptics as old and stupid (that’ll win people over!), the Out/Leave campaign is getting down to organising an insurgent campaign that will be lively, fun and anti-elite.

In/Remain should watch and learn from Timmermans. His contribution‎ on the Today programme was outstandingly good, and I say that as a moderate sceptic leaning Out.

The under-reported reality of the current EU Commission’s work is that Timmermans is leading the drive to hack back the amount of regulation and bossiness coming from Brussels. The Commissioners are under instructions to do a lot less but better. Will it work? Pass. However, beyond that Timmermans sounded so cooperative and keen for the UK to stay that it even seemed for a moment as though the chaotic British attempt at a renegotiation might, just might, get somewhere.

As European Commission types will tell you, the Dutch really, really don’t want ‎Britain to leave the EU. Not only do they have a similar pro-market agenda to the UK, they fear the consequences of being stuck between mighty Germany and dysfunctional France without a British counter-weight.

I am not suggesting that Timmermans should be drafted in by the Remain crowd as their leader. But for sceptical floating voters who think “why the hell should I listen to the ex-M&S man Stuart Rose? And what does Baroness Brady know about anything apart from working for David Sullivan and running struggling football clubs?” ‎the polite Timmermans pitch, packaged and presented by others, could be potent.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX