Brussels - Karmenu Vella, candidate for Commissioner for Fisheries and Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, survived his hearing in the European Parliament relatively unscathed, but without convincing that the Juncker Commission will put sustainability at the heart of their agenda.

Commission President Juncker had insisted that all nominees not promise any new legislation during their hearings, and this was certainly carefully adhered to in the three hour grilling by the Environment and Fisheries committees. The tone throughout the question and answer session was one of consolidation, enforcement and possibly even a watering down of the existing environmental legislation, with Mr. Vella insisting “we must first take stock of EU legislation and its implementation”.

Responding that morning to letters from the Environment Committee and European Parliament President Martin Schulz expressing concern about the structure of the new Commission, Juncker (echoed by Vella) insisted that consideration for the environment and sustainability were to be present throughout all the portfolios of the commissioners. Dutch Liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy responded to this idea, calling it “intellectually naive”, noting that “if everybody is supposed to be doing it, then nobody is doing it.”

There were some positive highlights of Mr. Vella’s hearing. His respect for good science in fisheries management was evident throughout. He advocated the use of Marine Protected Areas for habitat preservation as well as fisheries stock recovery and he highlighted the importance of advisory councils in the development of discard plans. Overall he seemed more confident on this area than he was when answering questions on the environment portfolio.

However, there were notable omissions that do not bode well for EU environmental and marine policy over the next five years. No explicit mention was made of the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), despite the challenge of achieving Good Environmental Status for European seas by 2020. Most of Mr. Vella’s answers on the environment questions were vague and noncommittal, even when repeatedly asked for specifics by MEPs.

It is Seas At Risk’s hope that that Mr. Vella’s restrained performance is not a reflection of his term as Commissioner. The EU has been a progressive voice developing new, creative ways to balance economic and environmental concerns, but there remains much left to do. The scale of the environmental challenges we face today means that the job of the Juncker commission cannot merely be reduced to unambitious management - the EU must continue to lead.

The Environment and Fisheries committees will make their recommendation on the nominees next week, and the European Parliament and Council will take a vote on the whole commission on 21st and 23rd October respectively.

For further information

Contact Ed Davitt
Seas At Risk Communications Officer

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