On Wednesday 22 October, the European Parliament approved the new Commission under President Jean Claude Juncker by 423 votes in favour, 209 against and 67 abstentions.
During the hearing procedure, an unprecedented public outcry about the environmental deficit of the proposed Commission mainly focused on the absence of environmental policy priorities from Juncker’s mission letters to the environment and energy commissioners, the designation of oil industry associate Miguel Arias Cañete as Energy Commissioner and the merging of the environment and fisheries portfolios. In the case of Spain’s Cañete, an Avaaz.org petition calling MEPs to reject his appointment, resulted in over 400,000 signatures within just 24 hours.
In response to the criticism, small improvements were indeed achieved, notably concerning the inclusion of sustainability in the mandate of Vice-President Frans Timmermans and a more cautious approach to aspects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). However, the Green 10 remain concerned that:
•The mandate of the Commissioner-designate 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 backpedalling on key legislative proposals on air quality and the circular economy;
•The mandate and title of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans 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.
On behalf of the Green 10, Birdlife Europe’s Director Angelo Caserta stated that: “Mr Juncker and his team need to show they are able and willing to take Europe forward, towards sustainable development with job creation and environmental justice. Our organisations will continue to act as watchdogs for the interests of people and the environment.”