New EU energy and climate commissioner ‘must drop oil shares’
Miguel Arias Cañete told by MEPs that he must give up his shares in two oil companies if his nomination is to be approved
- The Guardian, Friday 12 September 2014 08.54 BST
Just two days after being appointed by Jean-Claude Junker, the EU’s new climate and energy commissioner is under pressure to drop his shares in two oil companies which members of European parliament say represent a conflict of interest.
The MEPs say EU’s proposed new climate and energy commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, must dispose of any oil company shareholdings before they consider giving his nomination a green light at European parliament hearings later this month.
One environment committee member, the German social-democrat Jo Leinen, told the Guardian there was “no guarantee” that Miguel Arias Cañete would be confirmed at European Parliament hearings, which have powers to send back proposed commissioner lists to Juncker.
In his declaration of interests, the former Spanish agriculture and environment minister lists holdings in two oil companies, Ducor SL and Petrologis Canarias SL, as well as work as a lawyer.
The current worth of his stock is unknown but Cañete valued the shares at €326,000 (£259,000) in a Spanish government interests statement in 2011. His office declined to respond to any questions about the matter.
“A commissioner has to be independent from special interests and in my opinion it is obligatory that he give up any shares in oil companies if he wants to fulfil his duties in office free from any conflict of interests,” Leinen, a German social democrat MEP, said. “He must not be compromised by commercial or personal interests.”
Cañete had previously served as president of both companies but stepped down in 2012. His brother-in law, Miguel Domecq Solis, became director of both Petrologis andDucar. His son Miguel Arias Domecq is a board member at Ducar.
A close ally of the current Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, Cañete’s nomination as climate commissioner surprised many, after the new EU president, Jean-Claude Juncker’s high-profile pledge that 40% of his new commissioners would be women.
Cañete, an independently-wealthy vintage car collector, was criticised for using sexist language to disparage a female Socialist opponent in a televised debate earlier this year. “Holding a debate with a woman is complicated, because showing intellectual superiority could be seen as sexist,” he said.
But it will be his oil industry involvement while he was agriculture and environment minister – itself the subject of ‘conflict of interests’ allegations – that is likely to set the tone of the parliamentary hearings.
“We will question him in the hearing about his commitment to a low carbon economy as well as his personal and political integrity and we expect clear answers,” Leinen said. “Parliament has refused various candidates in the past so there is no guarantee that he will come out as a commissioner.”
Leinen was one of 25 all-party MEPs – including Conservatives and Liberals – on the environment committee who signed a letter to Juncker last week protesting leaks of this week’s decision to merge the EU’s energy and climate change portfolios in the new administration.
The Climate Action directorate was created after the last European election in February 2010 as a way of implementing three climate and energy goals for 2020, projecting 20% cuts to emissions, improvements in energy efficiency and market uptake for renewables by 2020.
This was considered the minimum necessary to align Europe’s emissions with the 2C global warming trajectory recommended by the UN’s climate science panel, the IPCC, and a statement of intent to help unlock UN climate negotiations.
“A year before the conclusion of a new global climate agreement, this is not the right time to send the opposite signal by not appointing a dedicated climate action Commissioner,” the MEPs wrote.
As well as merging climate action and energy, Juncker’s new-look commission will mesh the bloc’s environment portfolio with its fishing and maritime directorates, and reshuffle long-standing environmental priorities.
The ‘G10’ group of Europe’s biggest green NGOs – including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF – has expressed “grave concerns” at the mandate handed down to the EU’s nominee-environment, maritime and fisheries commissioner, Karmenu Vella, a former Maltese tourism minister.
It “seems entirely centred on deregulation,” the NGOs wrote in a joint statement. “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.”