By Nick Meynen
Translated from the Dutch version.
The announcement of the team of president-elect of the European commission Jean-Claude Juncker’s is like a corporate coup and destruction of 25 years of EU environmental policy making. That sums up the message from the biggest 10 environmental organizations in the EU.
‘Instead of putting sustainability central to his new team, Juncker has decided to relegate it to the margins by scrapping the dedicated posts of a climate and an environment commissioner and appointing a deregulation first Vice-President to put a competitiveness filter on all initiatives’, EEB Secretary General Jeremy Wates commented on the announcement. (The European Environmental Bureau or EEB is the biggest federation of environmental NGOs in Europe). What remains is an oil-business person that scrapped all subsidies to renewable energy who has to listen to an energy minister who also scrapped all subsidies to renewable energy. And he’s now in charge of saving us from climate catastrophy.
Understandably, the Green 10, the alliance of leading environmental NGOs at EU level, supported by over 20 million EU citizens and active in all 28 Member States, express their grave concerns over the direction the EU seems to be taking. The letter leaves no space for doubt that approving this team will be an ecological nightmare for Europe and the world in general.
“The structure of the new Commission, the mission letters, and the choice of Commissioners all reveal a serious downgrading of environment and a roll back of EU commitments to sustainable development, resource efficiency, air quality, biodiversity protection and climate action. This would represent a betrayal of the interests of EU citizens, a vast majority of whom feel strongly about the environment.
The special Eurobarometer 416 from the 8 September 2014, shows that despite the economic crisis 95% of the 28.000 interviewed citizens said that protecting the environment is important to them personally and that more should be done. It would also mean downscaling EU ambition precisely in one of the few areas where there is abroad consensus on the usefulness of EU action.
And finally, it would destroy Europe’s standing in the world as a pioneer and champion of tackling the global ecological crisis and switching to a green economy. In particular we are concerned that:
•The move from a Commissioner with dedicated responsibilities for environment to having this policy area shared with other demanding dossiers represents a clear relegation of environmental issues in the order of political priorities. This is reinforced by the virtual lack of any reference to environment in the responsibilities of the Vice-Presidents.
•The mandate to the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner seems entirely centered on deregulation, asking a review of all current major initiatives underway. It does not mention the need to achieve any EU objectives, let alone take new initiatives;
•The inclusion in the mandate of orders to consider changing the EU Nature protection legislation, pre-empting the results of the ongoing fitness check, suggests a high level decision to weaken biodiversity protection in the EU. This is even more troubling as the Environment portfolio is 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 position to amend.
•The merging of the climate and energy portfolios and putting this Commissioner under a Vice President for Energy Union could imply that Climate Action is considered subordinate to energy market considerations.
•The choice of a Climate and Energy Commissioner with well-known links to the fossil fuel industry raises issues of conflict of interest.
•The shift of the responsibility for relations with the European Chemicals Agency, whose job is to protect European citizens from harmful chemicals, from DG Environment to DG Enterprise shows a clear bias towards prioritizing business interests over protection of human health and the environment and flies in the face of the objectives of the REACH Regulation.
•The fact that sustainable development, resource efficiency and the green economy are not covered at all at Vice-President level implies a Commission that will be operating on the basis of an outdated paradigm of economic growth, one that benefits the industries and jobs of the past over those of the future, and detached from real world constraints and limits.
Your promise not to authorize any legislative initiative that is not in line with your priorities, combined with the virtual absence of any environmental priorities, suggests a de-facto shut down of EU environmental policy making.
We believe these concerns must be addressed if the European Parliament is to approve this Commission, and more importantly, if this Commission is to respond to the needs and expectations of EU citizens of present and future generations.”
“Taken together this is the total implementation of the corporate agenda wish-list, putting private interests before public interests. The total and utterly complete dismantling of the environmental agenda of the EU needs to have been planned in a small circle months in advance, if not years. Even within the European Environmental department, this came out of the blue.”, concluded – Pieter de Pous, the EU policy director from the EEB.
The only remaining hope is that the European Parliament, who should approve the team from Juncker, takes up its role as the institute where the people we elected protect our interests. There will be hearings starting on 29 September and a final vote on 26 October. Until then, we can remind the Members of the European Parliament that 95% of all Europeans wanted that more is done on the environment and that cancelling all environmental policy will make matters only worse.
If there is any red line in all the policy recommendation from the EJOLT project, it’s probably the need for stronger regulation to make sure that corporations are accountable in and beyond Europe for whatever they do. Instead of privatising the profits and nationalising the losses, states need to protect the common good. EJOLT has consistently shown the adverse effect of this neoliberal trend on ordinary people. We have mapped over 1200 environmental conflicts that can be linked to our current economy model focussed on growing extraction, rising inequality and profitmaking at the expense of the common good. What we see now, is that the European Commission is doing everything it can to speed that process of destruction and conflict up. We’re currently witnessing how Jean-Claude Juncker is trying to put profits before physics.
When science and fact-based activism becomes irrelevant and a religious believe in the possibility to keep growing becomes the policy overruling all other policies, we have to wonder which other actions we can take to prevent the self-destruction of humanity. On 20 and 21 September the world will see the biggest number of people hitting the streets to protest against the lack of effective action on climate change. You might want to find out in which of the over 2000 events all over the world that you will participate in. You might want to actually call Members of the European Parliament. Or you might want to put a crime scène tape around the European Commission or the house of the new oilman in charge of saving the climate.