More than 300,000 people have signed a petition to stop Miguel Arias Cañete’s appointment as Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy ahead of a European Parliament confirmation hearing today (1 October).
Cañete, a Spanish conservative criticised for his links to the oil industry, will face MEPs in the European Parliament at 18.00 pm Brussels time.
The online petition to block the Comissioner-designate will be delivered to MEPs ahead of the hearing. It had originally set a target of 250,000 signatures.
A separate protest, organised by the left-wing Podemos party, and involving MEPs and NGOs, will be held close to the Parliament before Cañete is cross-examined.
Parliament only has the power to approve or reject the new Commission as a whole. But, if the hearing goes badly, they can also put pressure on Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker to replace an individual candidate.
Italian centre-right candidate Rocco Buttiglione had to withdraw in 2004, after socialist, liberal and green groups threatened to reject his candidacy over reports that he said that homosexuality is a sin.
Both the European People’s Party, of which Cañete is a member, and the Socialists, have warned each other they will retaliate if any of their Commissioners were challenged during the hearings. But, as with Buttiglione, Cañete could be replaced for non-political reasons.
Yesterday, Cañete altered his declaration of interests to include a salary for acting as president of the national electoral committee for his Partido Popular party before the 2011 elections.
A PP spokesman told Spain’s El Pais that he has “probably forgotten” to include the salary, which was less than €30,000 a year.
While the amount is understood to have nothing to do with any potential conflict of interest, it’s a big blunder from one of the candidates likely to face the strongest scrutiny from MEPs.
Cañete was forced to sell his shares in two oil companies, Petrolifera Ducar and Petrologis Canaris, to shore up support after being chosen as climate action and energy boss.
But critics have pointed out that his wife, son and brother in law remain shareholders or even sit on boards of the companies.
Spanish press reports have said that when he was an MEP in 1996, Cañete fought for Common Agricultural Policy subsidies. His wife, who breeds bulls for bullfighting, benefited from those subsidies.
She was later investigated for profiting through possible access to privileged information from Cañete’s time as Spain’s agriculture minister.
Responding to written question before his hearing, Cañete promised to strictly obey the code of conduct for Commissioners.
He said, “I will never act on issues of my portfolio in which I could have personal, familial or financial interests that could compromise my independence. If I am faced with a situation of this nature I will proceed immediately to inform the president of the Commission.”
— Friends of the Earth (@foeeurope) October 1, 2014
Luis Morago, Avaaz campaign director said, "Appointing Cañete is the equivalent of putting a fox in charge of the chicken coup and pollutes Junker’s vision of making Europe a clean energy superpower. An oil baron with a family fortune in fossil fuel is simply the wrong man for the job. Especially at a time when the clock is ticking for bold EU action on climate change.”
In a message posted online, Jude Kirton-Darling, a British Socialist and Democrat MEP, said: “We’ve received many tweets, comments and phone calls asking for my view on Miguel Arias Cañete - Commissioner-designate for Energy and Climate Action. I question the suitability of a candidate with strong links to fossil fuel industry who is set to become the Commissioner in charge of tackling climate action.”
Jo Leinen, a German Socialist and Democrat MEP, said, "Arias Canete's past involvement in the oil industry is a clear case of conflict of interest. He is the wrong man for the wrong job. The EU needs an ambitious climate and energy agenda that ensures a sustainable energy mix and a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions."
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.
- November: Expected date for Juncker Commission to take over.
- EURACTIV.com: Spain divided over Cañete appointment
- EURACTIV.com: Cañete faces protests before EU confirmation hearing
- EURACTIV.com: EPP would sacrifice Moscovici if the left attacks its Commissioners
- El Pais: Arias Cañete rectifica su declaración para incluir un sobresueldo del PP