In its new European Commission JM Barroso has decided to separate environment from Climate Change; Environment portfolio goes to Janez Potocnik (Slovenia), who wad Research in the last Commission, the new ‘Climate Action’ nominee is Connie Hedegaard from Denmark.
Is this the result of member states short-sightedness and not understanding the system when amending the Constitutional treaty so that the new Lisbon treaty would have an European Commission (representing the European interest) with 27 commissioners?
But what is for sure is that Barroso is using this illogical increase in the name of portfolios to divide and rule. It is understandable, this is politics.
The field of Environment has been a pain during the last 5 years; one of the policy fields that more legislation has produced, that more cases has brought in front of the European Court of Justice and with one of the stronger commissioners: Stavros Dimas.
Stavros Dimas, outgoing Environment Commissioner, has been one of the positive surprises of the last commission. Nobody expected the greek conservative to take environment seriously, hence he was the perfect candidate to keep Environment low profile. This didn’t work and luckily for the environment he has been a pain; he has never hesitated in contradicting his president and the member states.
But Barroso is learning; he doesn’t want to have a strong profile on Environment (remember his cutting red-tape obsession) so he separated Environment from Climate Change first and then put Potocnik, a profile with proven record of uncontroversiality, ahead of it. This should help him keep things under control…
But is this good for Europe? The problem with separating dossiers is that when producing policy it is often the case that different DGs of the Commission produce contradictory policies. For instance; the industry DG deciding push for more cars when environment DG says we should have less or Environment DG deciding on policies that reduce employment, contradicting what is preached by DG Employment.
So far, it has been very useful (and logical) to have Environment DG dealing with climate change because it assured that all environmental policies were intended to fight climate change. This might seem obvious but it is not. Even now DG environment has promoted legislation that does not help to fight climate change. For instance; instead of pushing for recycling the EU is effectively promoting incineration. The argument of climate change was useful to make the case that destroying resources and having to start with extraction and production cycle again is worst than recycling. Still the EU chose incineration because of one more example of the power of industrial lobbies. This is one of the exceptions, but generally speaking DG Environment has been consistent in policies that link environmental protection with climate change.
By splitting the Enviroment portfolio and giving it to low profilers we will have more examples of uncoordinated action to fight climate change. More contradiction means less action, less action means less trouble. We can continue to play the role of the naked emperor with the aggravation of using climate change as an excuse to justify anything, even what is not good for the environment. There is a danger that the new Climate Action DG might become the newest greenwashing tool at supranational level.
Barroso is showing he is willing to manage power and it is to be welcomed that he is now taking own decisions under his sole responsibility. But is this emergence of a real head of the European executive good for the environment and, at the end of the day, good for Europe?