Miguel Arias Cañete began his hearing at the European Parliament on the 1st October, apologising for his infamous masochist comment during the European electoral campaign in Spain, and by explaining that he has sold his shares in the fuel storage companies Ducor and Petrologis (where his brother-in-law remains a shareholder). This way, he jumped directly in to the eye of the hurricane to try dissipate the polemic, and to present a greener version of himself, engaged with the EU energy and climate ambitions.
This is not the first time Cañete has had the ecologists campaigning against him, a clear example is the mismanagement of the Prestige disaster back in 2001. More recent examples, from his latest mandate as Food and Environment Minister in Spain include the polemic:
- Reform of the “Law of costs” providing a prolongation of licences of 75 years to 10,000 illegal houses and 3000 beach bars; and the
- Exotic Species Act, which allows species to be introduced to the wild which may pose environmental problems, but generate benefits to companies engaged in the fur, hunting or fishing industries.
Although these actions are not directly linked with climate change, they show the industrial orientation of the candidate. He was also part of a government that has cut drastically the subsidies to renewable energies, promotes fracking, and is on the lookout for new deposits of fuel.
It is good to hear that the Commissioner-designate thinks that climate change needs to be tackled. The President of his party, Mariano Rajoy, expressed his doubts about it in 2007: “If you can´t predict the weather in Seville tomorrow, how can you predict how the climate will be in 300 years?”. I hope Cañete can now change his mind.
Although Mr Cañete is a competent, experienced and multilingual politician, he is not the mediator needed to mix the often opposing industrial, social and environmental interest related to a future EU energy-mix. He has been a pragmatic man of the industry, often criticised by the greens and by the NGOs (see #StopCañete).
He hasn´t convinced the EP about his independence from particular companies either, as the decision about his suitability has been postponed by the political groups to next week.
I guess he, and Rajoy, hoped for a different seat in the peculiar game of EU musical chairs. If the European Parliament eventually gives his consent to the new College of Commissioners, we can only hope that his muddy background and subsequent public scrutiny will push him and his team to pursue his undertakings in a transparent way, in line with EU ambitions.
What this case shows once again is the way in which the Commission works: Commissioners are picked by Member States and portfolios are distributed according to political weight, not necessarily in line with the suitability and expertise of the candidates for each policy area. It is a fight for power, which takes place far far away from the interests of European citizens.