Green and centre-left MEPs are unconvinced of candidate Miguel Arias Cañete’s commitment to tackling climate change
By Megan Darby
The appointment of Miguel Arias Cañete to the top EU climate and energy job hangs in the balance after he was subjected to a fierce grilling by MEPs yesterday.
Greens in the European Parliament declared him unfit for the job due to his links to the oil sector.
The Socialists and Democrats alliance (S&D), which represents the second largest voting bloc, also expressed doubts about his commitment to tackling climate change.
The energy and environment committees of the parliament, which jointly interrogated Cañete, have deferred a vote on his suitability for the job until next week.
They are waiting for the legal affairs committee to rule on concerns about Cañete’s financial interests raised during the hearing.
It delays the decision until after a vote on France’s Pierre Moscovici, who got a rough ride from centre-right MEPs, apparently in retaliation for the left’s treatment of Cañete.
Explaining their position, Green MEPs Bas Eickhout and Claude Turmes said in a statement Cañete has “fundamental and direct conflicts of interest”.
While they conceded his performance was “competent on the content”, they had “major concerns about his political perspective”.
At the hearing, Cañete affirmed his support for the EU’s energy and climate goals, including a proposed 40% emissions cut for 2030.
And most commentators agreed he showed a good understanding of the brief.
If appointed, he will represent the EU at international climate negotiations in Lima and Paris.
He has experience of UN climate talks, having represented Spain at the 2012 Doha conference in his former role as environment minister.
The European Parliament was also familiar territory for Cañete, having served as an MEP under the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group.
Critics said he showed more support for fossil fuel exploration than renewable energy in government.
The controversy has crystalised around his links to two oil companies.
He continued to hold a small stake in both companies until he was offered the commission job, when he sold the shares.
At the hearing, he confirmed his son and his wife had also ended their involvement in the companies, but refused to answer questions about his brother-in law.
The companies in question store and supply fuel for ships, rather than exploring for new sources of oil, he pointed out.
Cañete kept his composure during the session but left without holding the usual press conference.
A video by the Equo party sets out those family links in more detail (in Spanish, with English subtitles).
S&D vice president Kathleen Van Brempt said: “We didn’t get good answers on the potential conflict between his family ties with the oil industry in Spain and his portfolio.
“Unfortunately his explanations during the hearing didn’t shed much light: he refused three times to answer our questions about his brother-in-law’s interests in the oil company of which Cañete recently sold his shares.”
The group’s climate spokesman, Matthias Groote, added: “Mr Cañete made many general statements about the importance of climate change and the need to mainstream sustainability in all policy areas. However, he did not convince our group of his genuine belief in what he said.
“His record as a minister in Spain shows how little he implemented the measures which he now so strongly defends. Over the course of the hearing he said that he left hard decisions in the hands of experts. Well, we need a commissioner with a vision who can ensure that climate policies and sustainability will be at the core of his/her portfolio.”
An Avaaz petition to keep Canete out has passed 400,000 signatures and dozens of activists protested outside the hearing yesterday.
The EPP group spoke up for its colleague, with MEP Krišjānis Kariņš saying: “Cañete was convincing and well prepared. He spoke of working together to build a stronger and more efficient climate and energy policy. I am convinced he will strike the right balance between reducing CO2 emissions and keeping European industry strong.”
If MEPs object strongly to any candidate, the incoming commission president Jean-Claude Juncker may be forced to reconsider his choices.
Cañete’s fate depends not only on his own performance but negotiations between rival political factions.
If conservatives succeed in toppling Moscovici, the candidate for financial affairs and taxation whom they accuse of lacking credibility, it becomes less likely left-wingers will accept Cañete.
Other candidates on shaky ground reportedly include the UK’s Jonathan Hill, Hungary’s Tibor Navracsics and the Czech Republic’s Vera Jourova.