NGOs demand EU Parliament prevents ‘erosion’ of environmental policy

25 September 2014 / Europe

A group of ten environmental NGOs have asked the European Parliament to block changes announced by the incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. They say his proposals are “a serious downgrading” of the EU’s environment policies (CW 10 September 2014).

“The European Parliament must react forcefully to prevent an agenda which seems to erase 30 years of EU environment policy without democratic debate,” say the organisations, which are organised in a group called Green10.

They see the shift of the biocides policy from the Commission’s directorate general (DG) for Environment to DG Health and of the cosmetics policy from DG Health to DG Enterprise as “a clear bias towards prioritising business interests over protection of human health and the environment” (CW 10 September 2014).

Green10, with members including the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Europe, wants to see the biocides and pesticides legislation return under the supervision of DG Environment (CW 5 September 2014).

The NGOs say that they are shocked by the omission of the Seventh Environmental Action Programme (7EAP) (CW 21 November 2014) from the mission letter written by Mr Juncker for the environment and fisheries commissioner-designate Karmenu Vella. “It does not mention the need to actually achieve any already agreed EU objectives, let alone take new initiatives. This reads as a mandate for inaction and erosion of current levels of environmental protection,” the Green10 say in their plea to the European Parliament. The NGOs add that this is a “betrayal of the interests of EU citizens”, who, according to a recent EU survey, say that protecting the environment is important to them (CW 9 September 2014).

Green10 calls on Mr Juncker to establish a vice-president for sustainability in the new structure of the European Commission, to oversee the environment, agriculture and regional policy portfolios. At the moment the vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness is set to have oversight on environmental policy issues in the European Commission.

Sustainability seems to have disappeared from the EU executive’s priorities under Mr Juncker’s restructuring of the institution, with barely any mention of it in its mission letters for the future commissioners and vice-presidents, according to the NGOs. “This implies a Commission that will be operating on the basis of an outdated paradigm of economic growth, one that benefits the industries and jobs of the past over those of the future, and detached from real world constraints and limits and in many cases with huge external environmental and healthcare costs,” the NGOs say.

The European Parliament is set to interview all of the commissioners designate between 29 September – 7 October in Brussels. Mr Vella will appear before the Parliament’s environment, health and food safety committee on 29 September.

While the European Parliament cannot formally reject one particular candidate, or one particular change proposed by the European Commission’s president-elect, their informal position on controversial areas could pressure Mr Juncker into making concessions.

Forty six MEPs have already written to Mr Juncker asking for a reassessment of the mission letters taking into account sustainability and good management of natural resources. They also want the 7EAP included in the letters and the designation of a vice-president for sustainable development. Former chairs of the Parliament’s environment committee Matthias Groote and Jo Leinen, the Green MEPs Margrete Auken and Bas Eickhout, as well as Dutch liberal-democrat Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, are among the signatories.

Carmen Paun in Brussels