Jean-Claude Juncker’s decision to group commissioners into teams serving under a vice-president has been welcomed by some interest groups, and derided by others.
Environmental campaigners are unhappy about the new organisational structure, while industry groups say it will avoid disjointed or conflicting policies and will reduce red tape.
Juncker has grouped energy, climate and environment portfolios together serving under Alenka Bratušek, the vice-president for energy union. Within this subject area, he has merged four existing commissioner posts into two. Energy and climate, which are currently two separate portfolios, have been combined into one post, to be held by Miguel Arias Cañete from Spain. Environment and fisheries, previously two separate posts, have been merged into one, to be held by Karmenu Vella from Malta.
The remaining commissioners on the team will be Ireland’s Phil Hogan as agriculture commissioner, Romania’s Corina Creţu as regional policy commissioner, and Portugal’s Carlos Moedas as research, science and innovation commissioner.
Rumours of the intention to combine the climate and energy portfolios have been sparking alarm among environmentalists for weeks. But the elimination of a dedicated environment portfolio came as a genuine shock to green groups.
Today (11 September) the ‘Green 10’ – an alliance of European environmental NGOs – sent a letter to Juncker saying that his restructuring decisions suggest a “de-facto shutdown of EU environmental policymaking”.
The campaign groups say that placing these commissioners under a vice-president for energy union “could imply that climate action is considered subordinate to energy market considerations”. Only vice-presidents will be able to put policy proposals on to the Commission’s agenda, according to Juncker’s new system. The campaigners say there is a “virtual lack of any reference to environment in the responsibilities of the vice-presidents”.
“The biggest change is the structural blocks put on any new legislative activity,” said Tony Long, director of campaign group WWF. “Every avenue is blocked because it all has to go through a vice-president and then a first vice-president.”
The campaigners say the mandate letter sent by Juncker to Vella indicates that the commissioner’s role will be one of environmental deregulation.
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The mandate letter includes orders to consider changing EU nature protection and biodiversity legislation. It asks Vella to “overhaul the existing environmental legislative framework to make it fit for purpose”.
“In the first part of the mandate, I would ask you to carry out an in-depth evaluation of the birds and habitats directives and assess the potential for merging them into a more modern piece of legislation,” the letter states.
The request to revise the birds directive is particularly sensitive because Malta has frequently infringed EU rules because of bird hunting. “The environment portfolio has been given to a commissioner whose government is under intense international criticism for failing to implement EU bird conservation legislation, which the commissioner will now be in a position to amend,” the campaigners say.
However, business groups say the new structure will eliminate inefficiencies that were causing confusing and inconsistent policy indications in the previous commission. For instance, Connie Hedegaard and Günther Oettinger, the commissioners for climate action and energy respectively, clashed on many issues and their departments were sometimes giving conflicting messages.
Markus Beyrer, director-general of BusinessEurope, described Juncker’s reorganisation as a “courageous approach for a streamlined structure of the new Commission”.
“This underlines the clear aim to focus on the crucial priorities necessary to make Europe more competitive in order to deliver more growth and more jobs,” he said.
Fishing industry association Europêche has had a more cautious response to the change. Javier Garat, the group’s president, said the merger “has been a surprise to the industry, but it does not have to be negative if commissioner Vella is committed to sustainable development and not to radical conservationism”.
The mandate given to Creţu, regional policy, has also sparked some concern among environmental groups. The Barroso Commission earmarked €38 billion from regional funds to be tied to climate action, and also tied funding to resource efficiency. Juncker’s letter to the Romanian commission nominee seems to suggest that this will no longer be the case.
“I would ask you to pay particular attention to the contribution that the funds under your responsibility can make to establishing a European Energy Union and completing the digital single market,” Juncker wrote.
Mark Fodor, executive director of campaign group Central and Eastern Europe Bankwatch, said the letter suggests that Juncker is back-tracking from previous commitments. “By missing out the crucial role of EU funding for addressing the climate challenge, the president-elect is showing complete disregard for the future of our planet,” he said.