The new European Commission under President Jean-Claude Juncker has officially taken office on 1st November. When President Juncker announced his team and the new structure of the Commission in September for the European Parliament to approve, civil society organisations and forward-looking MEPs expressed strong concerns and launched a “political battle” in Brussels to save the future of the environmental protection in the EU. What was the reason for this outcry?
The composition of Juncker’s team with unfortunate choices in terms of Commissioners and a structure which prioritises economic growth and deregulation over sustainable development revealed the dangerous direction which the EU is taking: industry-friendly, a neoliberal Union which operates on the basis of an outdated paradigm of economic growth while regulating less and favouring corporate interests over those of the citizens.
President Juncker organized the new Commission around thematic clusters (Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness; Digital Single Market; Energy Union; etc.) corresponding to key areas of his political guidelines which are overseen by a Vice-President (total of 7) and 28 Commissioners working under their watch. The Green 10 raised serious concerns about this new structure, heavily criticising that in times of ecological crisis President Juncker appointed a Vice-President for energy union with no mandate for climate and no reference to sustainable development at the vice-president level. Moreover, President Juncker merged the responsibilities of Commissioners on energy and climate change, and the maritime affairs and environment, making the environment for the first time in 25 years not to have a fully empowered Commissioner. Juncker’s personal decisions for Commissioners were even more troubling with respect to their competence, commitment and independence. His team have included an ex-petroleum company president as climate commissioner, Spanish Miguel Arias Cañete, and the former Maltese tourism minister, Karmenu Vella, whose government is under intense criticism for failing to implement EU bird conservation legislation. During the Commissioners’ hearings at the European Parliament, through an online petition campaign by Avaaz, more than 550.000 EU citizens called out in vain against Cañete being appointed as Commissioner for Climate and Energy because of the conflict of interests regarding his well-known links to the oil industry.
After numerous Green10 statements and advocacy work on the new EU Commission some improvements have been achieved, notably on the inclusion of sustainability in the portfolio of the First Vice-President Timmermans, and a more cautious approach to the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). However, the Green 10 remains gravely concerned that the Juncker Commission could see a serious downgrading of environmental policy and has listed its urgent actions for the Commission regarding many controversial issues such as the EU’s deregulation agenda, TTIP, and green economy. (See: Green 10 “A New Impetus for Europe: Urgent Actions and Priorities for the new European Commission”)
A new political era has started in the EU. While the 25 million unemployed and mostly young people in the EU rightly deserve key attention, environment protection cannot be suspended. Considering also the current strong accusations over the tax heaven for large companies during his premiership in Luxemburg, the upcoming months will show the colour of Mr Juncker’s footprint. NFI, in cooperation with our partners and members will continue advocating for the ecological, green footprint of the EU and monitor closely the direction the new European Commission will be taking.