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Environmental credentials of new Commission under the spotlight

With the European Parliament having ratified the new European Commission team on the 22nd October, the new European Commission took office formally on 1st November 2014 and with it a new political phase for the European Union. Green 10, an alliance of 10 leading environmental organisations in Europe seeks to work with the EU law-making institutions - the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers - to ensure that the environment is placed at the heart of policymaking. The alliance is now calling on President Juncker and his team of Commissioners to give European citizens, and their future generations, a healthy, inclusive and environmentally sound place to live.

Since the first line-up of the new Commission was presented, civil society organisations, progressive businesses, forward-looking MEPs, and the President of the European Parliament have expressed strong concerns and asked a new road map for true development based on sustainability, environmental protection, and bold action against climate change.

While we welcome that some small improvements have been made, notably on the inclusion of sustainability in the portfolio of the First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the commitment to keep medicines and pharmaceutical products with the Commission’s directorate for health, and a more cautious approach to the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Green 10 remains gravely concerned that the Juncker Commission could see a serious downgrading of environmental policy.

In particular the alliance is concerned that the portfolio for the Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries & Maritime Affairs contains no explicit task to fully implement the 7th Environment Action Programme and implies a weakening of the Birds and Habitats Directives and potentially a backpedalling on key legislative proposals on air quality and the circular economy.

The mandate and title (see attached) issued to First Vice-President Frans Timmermans by Jean Claude Juncker still do not specifically reflect his responsibility for sustainability and the Political Guidelines which are to serve as the main reference for deciding which new initiatives will come out of the Commission contain virtually no reference to the environment other than climate. Furthermore, there is not enough clarity about how responsibility for climate and energy policy will be divided between First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič and Commissioner for Climate and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete;

A number of commissioners have been appointed against a background of considerable public disquiet with respect to their competence, commitment and independence.  Commissioner Vella, a former Minister of Public Works, Industry and Tourism in Malta, was the first candidate to be interviewed by MEPs in a series of Parliamentary confirmation hearings that led to a confirmation vote on the new College of Commissioners on 22 October. NGOs were less than convince by his performance

MEPs expressed significant opposition over the merging of Environment with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, which until now were separate portfolios supported by separated Directorate Generals.  The new directorate general will sit under the broader policy area of Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, overseen by Vice-President nominee Jyrki Katainen, of Finland.

In his defence Vella stressed that merging the two portfolios was a “natural fit” and that blue and green growth were “two sides of the same coin”.  Vella rejected suggestions that conflicts could arise between economic and environmental interests within the newly merged Environment and Maritime Affairs portfolios.  On the question of merging of the Birds and Habitats Directives – Vella said he would prefer to wait and see results of ongoing assessments of existing legislation before launching new initiatives.
The Commissioner’s main emphasis was on effective implementation of existing laws rather than on new legislation. Since there were over 300 infringement cases over environmental law last year, making member states comply with legislation, should take precedent. See attached open letter from Jean Claude Juncker to Commissioner Vella

Simon Pascoe

Issue 37