Schulz flashes red light for Juncker: Put in sustainability

Martin Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker will need to talk. [European Council]

EXCLUSIVE:  European Parliament President Martin Schulz has sent a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, urging the European Commission President-elect to include sustainable development in the portfolio of Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness.

Schulz has taken on the request introduced by the Parliament’s chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Giovanni La Via, and by the coordinators of the five main political groups (EPP, S&D, ALDE, GUE/NGL and Greens/EFA).

Lawmakers are flagging a clear risk that environmental, climate and fisheries policies are demoted in the Juncker Commission, as the President-elect seems to put more emphasis on economic growth than protecting the environment.

Not growth, but sustainable growth

The cross-cutting issue of sustainable development is not integrated into the portfolio nor in the mission letter of Vice-President Katainen, they said in a letter obtained by EURACTIV.

“This means that VP Katainen is not being asked to integrate nor take into account this dimension while steering, coordinating and proposing policy choices to the College in the areas of jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness,” reads Schulz’s letter to Juncker.

Even though ‘sustainable’ is mentioned in the mission letter of the Finnish vice-president through the coordination of the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy, it is not explicitly put on the same level as the competitiveness dimension.

Emphasizing that the Committee does not challenge the new structure of the Commission, with vice-president posts, MEPs question, however, why the clear commitment to green growth, clearly outlined by Juncker in his speech to Parliament is not properly spelled out in Katainen’s title and mission, since he is supposed to coordinate the work of Commissioners Vella and Andriukaitis. The Maltese and the Lithuanian commissioners are respectively in charge of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and Health and Food Safety.

Sustainable development and the fight against climate change are EU’s overarching objectives set by the Lisbon Treaty, and need to be included in the vice-presidents portfolios, since they have a coordinating role and ‘veto’ power, say MEPs. MEPs demands have mirrored Green NGOs’ call to rebalance the priorities of the Juncker’s Commission towards sustainability.

Environment and climate are no cinderella

The proposed new structure of the European Commission sidelines sustainability issues and risks undoing years of environmental legislation, writes Tony Long in an exclusive op-ed in EURACTIV, explaining the reasons for a rejection of the Commission if President-elect does not act in consequences.

With parliamentary hearing starting today (29 September), the pressure on Juncker to ease criticism is on.

Schulz has demanded an answer from Juncker today. In a previous letter sent by a group of MEPs on their concern over the sidelining of sustainable development, Juncker answered that “growth can only make a meaningful difference if it is able to last or continue for a long time”.

“Sustainable development is the simultaneous consideration of economics, life , environment and human well-being. I would find it too limiting to box-in sustainable development under the responsibility fo a single Commissioner,”  he argued.

Since Juncker presented his new team on 10 September, mounted criticism of the new structure and distribution of portfolios is raising the stakes for the commissioners-designate hearing in Parliament this week.

The merging of Climate Action and Energy portfolios, and their subordination to the Energy Union vice-president, has clearly underscored the focus of Juncker’s commission away from sustainability, some say.

The same was said of the merging of environment, maritime affairs and fisheries.

Juncker rebuffed the claims, by saying that he combined the policies in one to reflect the twin logic of ‘Blue’ and ‘Green growth’, explaining that the same logic has been applied in merging climate and energy policies.

“Strengthening the share of renewable energies is not only a matter of responsible climate change policy. It is, at the same time, an industrial policy which is imperative if Europe still wants to have affordable and sustainable energy,” he insisted.

Commissioner-designate Vella has tried to defuse tension ahead of his hearing today.

MEPs  indeed complained that the 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP), which entered into force in January 2014 and provides for binding commitments in environmental policy up to 2020, is not even mentioned in the mandate of Mr Vella.

In his written answers to Parliament ahead of the hearing, Vella wrote that “Protecting the environment and maintaining our competitiveness go hand in hand and will make growth and investment more sustainable in the future than in the past. In this respect, the General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 (7th EAP) provides a relevant framework as it sets out a roadmap to achieving an inclusive green economy, while protecting our natural capital and the health of our citizens.”

Vella’s hearing takes place today at 13:30. Commissioner-designate Andriukaitis will be heard tomorrow morning at 9:00 and Miguel Arias Cañete, in charge of climate and energy, on Wednesday at 18:00. 

>> More on the hearing timetable

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President-elect, announced on 10 September the distribution of portfolios within his team in Brussels.

With 18 former ministers and prime ministers, the new Commission will be ‘a very political Commission, as incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said presenting his new executive.

If confirmed in a Parliament vote in October, the European Commission will take office on 1 November 2014.

Read more >> The Juncker Commission 2014-2019

  • 29 September to 7 October: Hearings of Commissioners-designate and committee evaluation meetings; no hearings on Friday 3 October 2014 and on Monday 6 October 2014 in the morning
  • 7 October: Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of Committee Chairs to evaluate the outcome of the hearings.
  • 8 to 9 October: The Groups will meet on Wednesday 8 October in the afternoon and on Thursday 9 October in the morning in order to evaluate the hearings.
  • 9 October: The Conference of Presidents meets to declare the hearings closed and finalise the evaluation
  • 22 October: Vote in Plenary

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