Dimas gears up green credentials for Parliament hearing

New Commissioner designate for the Environment, Stavros Dimas, will try to convince MEPs on 29 September that he is not the right-wing free-marketeer lawyer he has sometimes been portrayed as.

The new Commissioner designate for the Environment, Stavros Dimas, is expected to be ‘grilled’ by MEPs when he goes before Parliament for a hearing on 29 September. 

The questionnaire MEPs sent him reflected concerns that the objectives of economic growth and competitiveness would prevail in the new Commission over the other two pillars of the so-called Lisbon strategy, namely social and environmental policies. Dimas’s written answers strike a careful balance between the three pillars. Here are the main highlights of his written answers:

  • Environmental aspects of the Lisbon strategy 

“We do not have to choose between economic growth or high environmental standards, but we can and must have both”. “Environmental policy can make an important contribution to the Lisbon strategy and deliver win-win solutions to the problems that the EU is facing. We should aim at becoming not only the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy, but also the most eco-efficient, capable of sustainable economic growth, with more and better jobs, greater social cohesion and a healthy environment. Environmental technologies can contribute directly to increased competitiveness and create a comparative advantage for Europe.” 

“The mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy in the year 2005 is an extremely important date. (…). I intend to work closely with other commissioners to ensure that progress made towards the 2010 objectives is realistically assessed”. “We must step up efforts to modernise the European social model in the face of the challenges posed by globalisation and an ageing population, (…) and exploit synergies from environmental aspects to improve European competitiveness”.

“We also need to put emphasis on implementation of existing legislation – if all our laws were fully implemented we would have a significant impact on the environment”.

“As a member of the group on the Lisbon Strategy, I will work to ensure that the environmental dimension is well integrated into the Lisbon process”.

  • Extended impact assessments on major EU policy proposals 

“The extended impact assessment should identify the likely positive and negative economic, social and environmental impacts of major proposals. It should contain not only quantitative, but also qualitative elements. (…) It is important that we go as far as we can with all impacts, economic, social and environmental: short-term financial costs are often the easiest to quantify, but we need to view them in the wider context of longer-term benefits to society as a whole”. 

  • Priorities for the EU environmental policy 

“The main priorities for environmental policy over the next five years are (…) combating climate change, protecting biodiversity, dealing with the environmental factors which are harming human health, especially in the urban environment (…), and finding more sustainable patterns of production and consumption.” 

“In order to deliver results we should focus on the following: 1) Improve the implementation of existing legislation through determined enforcement, (…) 3) Strengthen the links between environmental protection and competitiveness, by reinforcing the economic and scientific basis of our policies, promoting the use of environmental technologies, ‘greening’ public procurement and Community funds. 4) Develop the EU’s international activities in key areas such as climate change, biodiversity and water.

  • Climate change 

“The European Union has always been at the forefront of the global fight against climate change. I intend to continue this. (…) We need to put emphasis on monitoring and reporting [on Member States’ Kyoto targets] so that everyone can see where we are making progress and where we are falling behind. It is essential to ensure that, within the EU, there is a smooth start and an effective functioning of the emissions trading system for the first stage starting January 2005”. 

  • Chemicals overhaul proposal (REACH) 

“I am well aware that a proposal as important as REACH will need a lot of discussion (…).While it is important to establish the new system as speedily as possible, not least so as to give legal certainty to EU industry, it is even more important to get the system right from the start. The implementation date of 2006 remains the target date and, together with the European Parliament and the Council, I hope we can keep it.” 

  • Environment and health strategy (SCALE) 

“Research is indeed an important component of the Action Plan, but it is not the only one. (…) We need to know which policies must be revised most urgently so as to protect children and vulnerable groups. (…) Whenever evidence comes to light concerning implications for health [in certain existing legislation], we will need to be ready to take appropriate action.” 

  • Sustainable transport 

“It is important to ensure that the price of transport better reflects the real costs to society, in particular the environmental costs”. “If [the possibility of applying special charges in sensitive areas] of the Commission’s [Euro-vignette] proposal is accepted it will allow the cross-subsidisation of more environmentally friendly projects, for instance alternative railway routes in sensitive areas. This is a concept that I support”.

Dimas's past career in a Wall Street law firm and his previous responsibilities as Industry Minister had raised concerns among some NGOs that the environment had disappeared from the EU's agenda in favour of measures aimed solely at boosting the economy and the competitiveness of European businesses (see EURACTIV, 13 August 2004).

Probably the harshest comment came from the Guardian's environment correspondent John Vidal. In a article entitled "All hope is lost", he wrote: "If the European Commission really wanted to signal that it didn't give a monkey's about the environment then it would probably choose as its new environment commissioner an old, rightwing free-marketeer lawyer who used to work for the World Bank and had responsibility for Africa in the bad old 1970s".

Dimas will 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.

  • Mr Dimas's hearing will take place on 29 September (Brussels, 9:00 to 12:00 am)
  • The European Parliament will vote on whether to approve the whole Commission between 25-28 October in Strasbourg
  • If approved, the new college of commissioners will start its five-year term on 1 November

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