The designation of Miguel Arias Cañete as Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Policy in the new Commission has divided the Spanish political establishment, with the right-wing government stressing the importance of the position in Brussels, and the opposition denouncing it as “nonsense”.
Although Spain hasn’t managed to get any of the economic portfolios it coveted, it is satisfied with climate and energy, as the government sees it more relevant than Research and Innovation, which it was rumoured to get.
Cañete, a controversial centre-right politician from the ruling Popular Party (PP), received overwhelming support from his party.
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said that climate and energy is key. “It is a very important portfolio for Spain and Europe because of the crucial decisions to be taken,” she said.
“It’s a great strategic portfolio content, proposals and decisions at the community level, now medium and long term,” a statement issued by the Partido Popular read.
Cañete party colleague Esteban Gonzalez Pons MEP, described it as “successful” appointment, and has indicated that it demonstrates the “strong position” of President Mariano Rajoy in the EU. “We are all concerned that the Energy Commissioner is Spanish,” he added.
However, the success conservatives see in Cañete’s appointment does not seem to be shared by the opposition, who strongly criticised Juncker’s decision to give the Spanish commissioner climate and energy.
Iratxe García, the president of the Spanish Socialist delegation in the European Parliament, lamented the “power loss” for Spain, considering that in Rajoy´s rush to get the Eurogroup presidency for Luis de Guindos, Madrid is now left without a vice-presidency post in Brussels. According to the MEP, “Rajoy’s political negotiation” has been a “failure”.
Juncker’s decision seems to not only divide Spain’s mainstream parties, but has created gaps in the centrist UPyD, the Unión Progreso y Democracia. While its MEP, Francisco Sosa Wagner congratulated Cañete, his number two, Carlos Gorriarán Martínez, considered the nomination “bad news”.
“Arias Cañete does not represent the model of advanced, efficient, integrated, competitive, sustainable and transparent energy policy needed in Spain and the whole of the EU,” explained Gorriarán, who added that “on the contrary, exports the failed energy policy model of successive Spanish governments”.
The fox guarding the hen house
The Socialists (PSOE) were unambiguous in their feelings about Cañete’s appointment. Pilar Lucio PSOE Secretary for Climate Change and Sustainability, described the election as incomprehensible, and predicted a difficult future for the environment, noting that it is unfortunately in worse hands.
MEP Marina Albiol, accused the conservatives of showing “that politics [for Cañete] is just one more way to defend his own economic interests and those of his family, and has not hesitated to lie several times. Albiol referred to “the false statements Arias Cañete made, in which he omitted his involvement in several energy companies and their relation with public administration”.
Pablo Iglesias, MEP and leader of the rising Podemos party, stated that “It is striking that someone who owns 2% of Ducar could be named climate action commissioner.”
Green MEP Ernest Urtasun expressed his disappointment. “You can not put energy policy in the hands of someone who has personal interests and investments in the (energy) sector, the fox to guard the henhouse.”
Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth and Ecologists in Action have been surprised at the news and criticized the appointment, citing Cañete’s poor record on environmental management.
In the spotlight for ‘sexist’ comments
Cañete is likely to feel the heat in Parliament over having said, “Holding a debate with a woman is complicated, because showing intellectual superiority could be seen as sexist.”
Cañete made this statement last May, during a televised debate ahead of the European elections, saying that his Socialist opponent was no match for him, because he could not attack her in the same way, as he would have with then-Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.
Ahead of this month’s hearings in Parliament, the Socialists have confirmed that they will scrutinize the commissioner-designate very closely, as he seems to lack both climate knowledge, and a good record on gender equality.
“He is a retrograde with macho attitudes,” said Albiol, adding that she will prevent a sexist and a liar from becoming a commissioner.
Following the European summit of 30 August, the Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, and the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, were named the next President of the Council and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs respectively.
Jean-Claude Juncker then announced how the different portfolios would be distributed between the commissioners. The member states have been putting pressure on Mr Juncker to assign them “important” portfolios.