Commissioners will have key role in global climate talks, but leaked Brussels chart shows “energy union” takes priority
By Megan Darby
Jean-Claude Juncker is set to reveal next week who will get what portfolio in the next European Commission.
With fierce competition for the top jobs between member states and conflicting national priorities, these are politically charged decisions.
The latest leaks from Brussels show the energy and climate change departments merging, led by representatives from Latvia and the UK.
A draft organogram dated 2 September and released by Euractiv names Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis as the vice president of the “energy union”, a newly created role. Jonathan Hill of the UK is tipped for energy and climate change commissioner.
These two, or whoever ends up in these posts, will play a critical part in efforts to curb dangerous climate change. They will have to articulate Europe’s position and engage in intense negotiations on the world stage.
Nothing is settled, but the draft gives some indication of Juncker’s thinking. And it is mixed news for the prospects of ambitious climate action from Europe.
The creation of an “energy union” post reflects the energy security threat posed by Russia’s incursion into the Ukraine.
Eastern European countries, in particular, are highly dependent on Russian oil and gas.
Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister, has led calls for Europe to fund gas pipelines to help diversify supplies.
His vision of an energy union involves jointly negotiating energy contracts with Russia, while continuing to exploit coal. Climate change barely enters the picture.
Poland was understood to be after the energy brief, until it won for Tusk the higher status role of European Council president.
And the restructuring of the energy and climate change departments bears Tusk’s fingerprints.
The appointment of Dombrovskis to head up energy union would be slightly more encouraging from a climate perspective.
While Latvia shares Poland’s reliance on Russian imports, it is also one of the biggest producers of renewable energy in Europe.
Dombrovskis has spoken in favour of clean technology and the need to adapt to climate change.
The incorporation of climate change with energy is generally seen as a good idea, even if the more senior post does not include the words climate change.
By bringing the two portfolios together, Juncker could avoid the inter-departmental tensions seen between incumbent commissioners Gunther Oettinger and Connie Hedegaard.
Lord Hill’s appointment would make sense as the UK government has a combined energy and climate change department.
The former political lobbyist and PR consultant is not known to have a strong position either for or against climate action.
Some observers say UK prime minister David Cameron will not be satisfied with the energy and climate brief. He has been pushing for a vice presidential role.
Cameron is particularly keen to show the UK has clout in Europe, given the pressure at home to pull out of the EU altogether.
He has promised the electorate an in/out referendum, but argues Britain can reform Europe from within.
His credibility as a reformer was undermined earlier this summer, however, when Juncker was appointed as Commission president despite Cameron’s objection.
A big economic portfolio for Lord Hill would help Cameron face down the Eurosceptics in his party and UKIP.
Other European leaders have an interest in mollifying Cameron, to avoid the disruption of a British exit.
Whoever ends up covering energy and climate change will have an important diplomatic role.
They will inherit a set of climate targets for 2030 and have the task of fleshing out the policy.
These will feed into negotiations in Lima this December and Paris next year, which are hoped to produce a binding global treaty.
All the while, they must balance this with the pressing need to Russia-proof Europe’s energy security.
Whether they choose to go down a coal and shale gas route or champion energy efficiency, renewables and nuclear will make a big difference to the chances of international agreement.