Miguel Arias Cañete: the right choice for Europe?

Written by Magda Stoczkiewicz on 22 September 2014 in Opinion
Opinion

Magda Stoczkiewic argues that commissioner-designate for energy Miguel Arias Cañete should expect a 'bruising encounter' when he visits the European parliament.

If asked, Brussels insiders can list several controversial nominations for new European commissioners but Spain’s Miguel Arias Cañete is with no doubt top of this list. A full-time politician for more than 30 years, he has pursued myriad business interests throughout his political career which has been dogged by accusations of conflicts of interest.

Arias Cañete has been most active on agricultural issues, most recently as the Spanish minister for agriculture and the environment, but also during his 13 years as a member of the European parliament. As an MEP he fought for EU subsidies for bull breeding, while his wife owns a bull breeding company, managed by their two sons. Arias Cañete was responsible for the negotiations of the reformed common agricultural policy on Spain’s behalf. Through another company, his wife has received payments under the CAP totaling more than €600,000 between 2009 and 2012.

"[Cañete’s] history of conflicts of interest is clear and should be a major cause for concern among MEPs, so too should his suitability to be at the helm of Europe’s much needed energy transformation"

His links to the oil sector are particularly worrying for his proposed role as commissioner for climate action and energy. Until 2011 he was chairman of two oil companies that handle fuel storage and supply, only stepping down when he became environment minister. This week he divested the shares he held in the two companies. However, this does not resolve his conflicts of interest as the oil companies remain controlled by close family members; his brother-in-law is chair of both, his son sits on the two boards, and his family control a significant proportion of shares. The largest shareholder of both companies is an investment vehicle which is routed through the Netherlands.

Earlier, scandal around Cañete’s links to the oil industry intensified when he failed to report contracts made between the two oil companies and the public sector, as required by Spanish anti-corruption laws. His reputation took a further battering when he quickly pushed through environmentally damaging reform of coastal building regulations, after stepping-down from the board of a large real estate and construction company only weeks before.

His history of conflicts of interest is clear and should be a major cause for concern among MEPs, so too should his suitability to be at the helm of Europe’s much needed energy transformation. As the Spanish minister for the environment he approved oil explorations off the coast of the Canary Islands (where one of his oil companies is based), shown his support for prolonging the life span of nuclear power plants, gave a green light to controversial fracking for gas, proposed higher limits for using food crops as biofuels, and slashed government support for solar power.

"Given his past of mingling private interest and public office and his highly controversial stance on many of the most important climate and energy issues, Arias Cañete deserves a bruising encounter with MEPs in his upcoming hearing"

All of these actions were univocally opposed by environmental organisations because of their detrimental impact on people, the environment and the climate. One year ahead of crucial global climate talks in Paris, Europe needs to demonstrate it can once again lead on climate change.

The last elections to the European parliament have shown that an increasing number of European citizens are sceptical of the European Union and its institutions. MEPs play a crucial role in restoring trust in the EU and need to use their mandate to ensure that its senior representatives live up to the highest standards of personal conduct and integrity.

Given his past of mingling private interest and public office and his highly controversial stance on many of the most important climate and energy issues, Arias Cañete deserves a bruising encounter with MEPs in his upcoming hearing. The parliament must satisfy itself that his conflicts of interest and highly problematic track record on the key climate dossier will not damage the credibility of the European institutions and their role in protecting our climate.

About the author

Magda Stoczkiewicz is director of Friends of the Earth Europe

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