Dimas lacks experience for top environment job, say most MEPs

Most political parties and commentators have pointed to Dimas’s
lack of experience on environmental issues. Pro-business circles
were the only ones to welcome his performance at a hearing in
Parliament.

Stavros Dimas repeated the case he had previously made in his
written answers to MEPs’ questions, that environment and
competitiveness can go hand in hand, ‘bossing’ technological
development along the way (see EURACTIV, 28 September 2004).

On specific issues, Dimas pledged for continued support for
the EU’s climate policy and vowed to keep unchanged “the
susbstance” of the controversial REACH proposal on chemicals
evaluation and registration. He repeated that implementation of
existing environmental legislation would be his first priority.

However, he probably lost support among the Green ranks of the
Environment Committee when he hinted that some EU countries could
not be ready in time for the EU’s trading system for CO2 emmissions
on 1 January 2005. Dimas was reported by the International Herald
Tribune as saying the EU emissions trading system (EUMTS) “was
designed in such a way that it will be able to produce the results
we want with fewer countries, those that are ready.” “From the
beginning, it was thought that perhaps it would start with fewer
countries,” he was also quoted as saying.

In a press statement, the chair of the Environment
Committee Karl-Heinz Florenz MEP (EPP-ED)
said that European environment policy needed "a strong
Commissioner" but also "more than just declarations of intention".
"If Commission President designate Barroso puts the Lisbon strategy
on top of the agenda, this must not mean that the primacy of
economic over environment policy gets cemented," Florenz said.
Although he believes that "environment policy is not an end in
itself", he added that Europe had "a responsibility" for future
generations. Commenting on Mr Dimas's lack of experience on
environmental issues, Florenz pointed out that current environment
commissioner Margot Wallström had also been "underestimated when
she first took office". "We have to grant Mr Dimas the time to grow
into such a complex portfolio," Florenz concluded. 

Socialist MEPs in charge of environmental
issues said they would give Dimas only a "qualified approval".
Guido Sacconi, Socialist Coordinator and Parliament rapporteur on
REACH, said "many of the plans outlined by Mr Dimas were too vague.
We can all agree with the goals he outlined but these goals will
not be met without a firm concrete method". On REACH specifically,
Sacconi warned that Dimas's approach would "need changing if he is
to get co-operation from Parliament." "Dimas has been put on
notice. He knows our concerns and we look forward to seeing these
being addressed," said Socialist spokesman Jan Marinus Wiersma.

The Green group in Parliament have stated
their doubts about Dimas's environmental commitment. Satu Hassi,
Finnish Green MEP and Vice-President of the Environment Committee,
said the hearing "confirmed [his] fears that the new Commission
intends to downgrade environmental protection". According to Hassi,
Dimas "demonstrated a worrying lack of environmental commitment and
vision". "We need a strong Environmental Commissioner who will act
as a determined lobbyist for the environment and can stand up to
strong pressure from industry," Hassi stated. "We find it hard to
take on trust that Dimas will acquire the necessary qualifications
by learning on the job," he added. "Commission President Barroso
should think again about whether he has chosen the right portfolio
for Mr Dimas. We do not believe that he has," the Green MEP
concluded.

The Left Group in Parliament (GUE/NGL) said
they would not be supporting Mr Dimas's appointment. In a
statement, Group Co-ordinator Jonas Sjöstedt said he was
"dissapointed" with Mr Dimas's performance. "Many of his responses
to important questions from colleagues were vague. He did not
appear to have adequate knowledge on the environment and did not
convince us he was committed to his prospective tasks as
Environment Commissioner," Sjöstedt commented.

Christoph Leitl, President
of Eurochambres, the Association of European
Chambers of Commerce and Industry, described Mr Dimas's hearing as
"good news for industry". "Environmental protection is important,
but it has to go along with a healthy and prosperous economy,"
Leitl said. "Dimas has rightly made clear that the economic pillar
of the Lisbon process must not be subordinated to the environmental
pillar and that environmental protection is every citizen’s, not
just the industry’s, responsibility".

Speaking to EURACTIV, European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
Secretary General John Hontelez said Dimas's performance before
Parliament was "not very strong" and left him with "some question
marks". "I understand that he is taking the competitiveness issue
as very important," Hontelez said, although he pointed out that
this could be interpreted in several ways and remained careful not
to prejudge Dimas's future role. "There has never been an
Environment Commissioner who has had a previous environmental
background," Hontelez pointed out, citing the outgoing Wallström as
an example. "He has a lot to learn".

The Commissioner designate for the Environment, Stavros Dimas,
faced a sceptical audience at his hearing before the
Environment Committee in Parliament on 29 September. His past
career in a Wall Street law firm and his previous responsibilities
as industry minister had raised concerns among some NGOs and MEPs
that the environment had disappeared from the EU's agenda in favour
of economic competitiveness (see EURACTIV, 13
August 2004
)

  • The European Parliament will vote on whether to approve the
    whole Commission on 25-28 October in Strasbourg
  • If approved, the new college of commissioners will start its
    five-year term on 1 November
  • Dimas is set to be part of the informal group of commissioners
    responsible for co-ordinating and streamlining the Lisbon Strategy.
    The group will be chaired by President Barroso himself and also
    includes Vice-President Gunter Verheugen, in charge of enterprise
    and industry policy.

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