New commission merges fisheries, environment

The new European Commission doesn’t officially take office until 1 November, but plans to streamline the commission’s operations and responsibilities, including oversight of EU fisheries, is already drawing fire from environmental groups.

The European Council appoints a new body of 28 commissioners, one from each EU country, every five years, choosing a candidate for president to be ratified by the European Parliament. This year, former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) is taking the helm, after the parliament confirmed him on 15 July. Juncker’s new government, which still needs approval by the Council of Ministers, then the parliament, includes combining of responsibilities in several areas.

Notably, Juncker wants to combine Environment and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries into a single designation. He has nominated Karmenu Vella, of Malta, to oversee the combined area. In a statement, Juncker said both areas represent a “twin logic” of two arenas that are closely linked.

"In the new Commission, there are no first or second-class Commissioners — there are team leaders and team players,” Juncker said. “They will work together in a spirit of collegiality and mutual dependence. I want to overcome silo-mentalities and introduce a new collaborative way of working in areas where Europe can really make a difference."

Environmenal NGOs were not happy overall with Juncker’s approach to the environment. Mahi Sideridou, managing director for Greenpeace EU, noted Juncker’s choices were “full of surprises — not all of them good.” Without citing specifics, Sideridou said choosing Vella was “controversial” and accused him of having an “energy portfolio.”

Tony Long, director of the European Policy Office of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), spoke in more general terms but had strong concerns about the possible impact of the Juncker commission on the environment.

"WWF finds it regrettable that for the first time in 25 years the environment will not have its own designated Commissioner,” he said. “This comes precisely at the time when environmental problems are looming larger on the political agenda.”

The WWF also issued a joint release written by the “Green 10,” a coalition of environmental activist groups. The release cites an open letter to Juncker outlining “grave concerns” that the new commission represents “a serious downgrading of environment and a rollback of EU commitments to sustainable development, resource efficiency, air quality, biodiversity protection and climate action.”

Regarding the merging of environment with maritime affairs and fisheries, the statement again expressed stronger concern about the consequences for the environment in general, rather than fisheries in particular, saying the merging of the two arenas “seems entirely centered on deregulation, asking a review of all current major initiatives underway.”


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