Jean-Claude Juncker’s controversial choice for Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Cañete appears set to be backed by the European Parliament in a vote tonight (8 October), despite more than half a million people demanding his removal from the job.
The early signs are that the Socialists and Democrats group will, in effect, appoint the Spaniard at a vote of the Environment and Industry committees tonight, following a meeting of the whole S&D group this afternoon.
EURACTIV understands the S&D will support Cañete, criticised for his links to the fossil fuel industry, in exchange for the centre-right European People’s Party’s (EPP) support for French Socialist Pierre Moscovici.
As the second largest group in the European Parliament after the EPP, the S&D group’s support or opposition is vital in determining whether Cañete – accused of a long history of alleged conflicts of interest – becomes Commissioner.
The deal is not yet finalised, and public pressure could take its toll.
Nearly 600,000 people have signed an online petition, run by campaigners Avaaz, demanding “oil baron” Cañete, like Juncker an EPP member, be dropped from the new Commission.
Luis Morago, campaign director for Avaaz said: “There is still a chance the Parliament will defy the people and appoint Cañete anyway. This is what a democratic deficit looks like.”
Moscovici, Commissioner-designate for Economic and Monetary Affairs, was forced to answer 22 additional questions from MEPs after his hearing last week. Lawmakers will debate his answers tonight (8 October).
S&D sources described the opposition to Moscovici as “political”, while the reasons for not supporting Cañete were made from “principle”. But in order to secure anti-austerity Moscovici’s appointment, the S&D will support Cañete, the sources said.
The S&D group refused to comment officially on the negotiations, when contacted by EURACTIV.
Juncker’s team told EURACTIV the ball was now in the European Parliament’s court. It was up to them to evaluate Cañete’s suitability, they said. But Juncker stood by his choice, according to his spokeswoman Mina Andreeva.
Socialists and Schulz hold the key
Avaaz’s Morago said, “The key to this lies with European Parliament President Martin Schulz and the Socialists and Democrats — they are kingmakers, and are receiving thousands of messages from people across Europe in the run up to Cañete’s hearing.
“This is a test of European democracy – the Parliament’s credibility is on the line.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Friends of the Earth Europe’s director Magda Stoczkiewicz.
She said, “Cañete’s many years as an oil man, and his family’s continued involvement in oil companies make him an unsuitable candidate for European commissioner for climate.
“For the credibility of the EU institutions, the parliament must reject Mr Cañete and demand a rethink of the Commission structure.”
Schulz, an influential S&D member, would not comment on the ongoing negotiations or Cañete’s qualifications for the job.
He is aware of the petition. His office has also received about 2,000 phone calls urging him to reject Cañete, and a social media campaign is ongoing.
But his office, and that of his party remained insistent they would not comment on Cañete until horse-trading among MEPs was finished.
Ignoring the petition would be particularly difficult after the rise of Eurosceptic parties in May’s European elections highlighted the need for the EU insitutions to better engage with citizens, campaigners said.
They also pointed out that it had more than half the signatures needed to force the Commission to consider a legislative proposal, had the petition been a European Citizen’s Initiative.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, announced the distribution of portfolios among his new team on 10 September.
Among the new Commissioners, due to take up their posts on 1 November, are 18 former (prime) ministers. The President has announced that the new Commission will be "very political".
The new Commission must now be approved by the European Parliament, who will interview the commissioners between 29 September and 7 October.
During these two weeks of hearings, the 27 commissioners will be interviewed by MEPs from relevant parliamentary commissions.
Parliament can then accept or reject the whole team.
- 8-9 October: Parliament political groups meet in the afternoon and on Thursday 9 October in the morning in order to evaluate the hearings
- 9 October: Parliament's Conference of Presidents meets at 13.00 Brussels time to declare the hearings closed and finalise the evaluation
- 22 October: Vote in Plenary
- 1 November: Commission expected to take office