Environment not being downgraded in European policy, Juncker insists

30th September 2014

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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Air ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Ecosystems


Neil Spence

European commission president elect Jean-Claude Juncker has dismissed claims by MEPs that his proposed new commission structure ignores sustainable development.

Juncker plans to introduce vice-presidents to coordinate work across the commission, with the environment portfolio overseen by vice-president Jyrki Katainen.

His brief specifically includes jobs, economic growth, investment and competitiveness, but the letter outlining Katainen’s role contains no mention of sustainable development, raising fears among MEPs that it will be ignored when developing policy.

On Friday, the commission’s environment committee wrote to Juncker urging him to change Katainen’s brief to include sustainable development.

In his response to the committee, Juncker said that the new structure of the commission was designed to reduce “silo” working and that sustainable development would be considered by all institutions that are part of the EU.

“Sustainable development is the simultaneous consideration of economics, life, environment and human wellbeing.

“In this sense, sustainability implies long-term and working for the benefit of future generations. I would find it too limiting to box-in sustainable development under the responsibility of a single commissioner,” he wrote.

Malta’s Karmenu Vella, who has been put forward for the role of commissioner for the environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, also insisted that the environment was not being downgraded in the new commission’s structure.

MEPs yesterday questioned Vella on his suitability for the role. During the hearing, Vella agreed with Juncker’s position that sustainable development would be taken into account across the commission.

“Everyone benefits from the environment, so it should be everyone’s responsibility,” he said.

He also dismissed concerns that the habitats and birds directives could be watered down, after Juncker asked him to review them with a view to “merging them into a more modern piece of legislation”.

“If we agree to review them, there is no idea to deregulate or demote them. We are not revising, only reviewing,” he told the hearing.

In his written evidence to MEPs, Vella pledged to evaluate work on resource efficiency, the biodiversity strategy and the water framework directive, and prioritise negotiations on an air quality strategy.

The candidate for the post of energy and climate commissioner, Spain’s Miguel Arias Cañete, will be questioned by MEPs this evening. All commissioner posts will be confirmed by a vote at the end of October.

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