Brussels – The new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, revealed his new team of Commissioners yesterday, and unveiled the surprising plan to merge the Environment and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries portfolios into one position. 

The Commissioner designate is Malta’s Karmenu Vella, who has served as Industry, Public Works and Tourism Minister in multiple Maltese Labour Party governments.

While Seas At Risk remains open minded as to Mr. Vella’s candidacy, there is cause for concern in the merging of the Environment and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries portfolios. In particular, the fisheries aspect of EU policy has been well served by a dedicated Commissioner to date. Making the Fisheries and Environment portfolios part-time policy areas downgrades the importance of both and has a very poor precedent in national settings such as the Netherlands and Spain, where Environment policy generally became subordinate to Fisheries policy.

The merging of the two broad policy areas could serve to undermine the ongoing Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) processes, by moving the focus from environmental protection focus to one of industrial activities. This is reflected in Juncker’s outline agenda for the new Commissioner, which stresses retrenchment and adjustment of existing legislation, instead of showing new ambition to tackle the remaining serious environmental challenges facing our marine environment. 

The new Commissioner is also to report to the Commission’s Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, an indication that the environment is to play a secondary role to the continuing drive for ‘blue growth’ and the industrialisation of our seas. A key challenge for Mr Vella will be to ensure that the MSFD’s 2020 objective of good environmental status is at the core of all maritime policies, in order to ensure a truly sustainable development and use of our seas.

Seas At Risk looks forward to hearing Mr. Vella’s responses to these issues during his upcoming confirmation hearings in the European Parliament.

Green 10 letter to Commission President designate Juncker

 

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