Sunday

18th Aug 2019

Former EU climate chief defends VW post

  • Connie Hedegaard, the former climate commissioner, said it was necessary to talk to business if the green transition should happen. (Photo: Jakob Dall)

Former climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard has defended her new post at Volkswagen, while also saying that she stuck to EU rules when taking another post with refrigerator and air-conditioning company Danfoss.

The German carmaker, whose reputation has been tainted by the Dieselgate scandal, announced on Wednesday (28 September) that Hedegaard would sit on its new "sustainability council".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

”It’s an unpaid position with no strings attached," Hedegaard told EUobserver.

”We will meet once or twice a year and give advice to a company that did things in a bad way on how to become more environment-friendly and sustainable,” she said,

The Danish conservative politician was responsible for the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen 2009 when she was a minister. She was also EU commissioner for climate action from 2010 to 2014.

She currently holds a number of board positions in climate foundations, the public sector, and Danfoss.

Hedegaard was elected to Danfoss' board on 29 April, one day before the end of an 18-month transition under which ex-commissioners must ask for permission before they take up a job.

She said that she had tried to join Danfoss already during the cooling-off period but that the commission had advised her to withdraw the request.

”I think it makes sense that these transition rules exist,” Hedegaard said. ”I respect them, and Danfoss was willing to wait until the end of the ban.”

NGO complaints

The Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a transparency watch group, accused Hedegaard of greenwashing Volkswagen.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (Alter-EU), a coalition gathering CEO and some 200 other public interest groups, earlier that day filed a maladministration complaint to the commission over its handling of cases related to two other ex-commissioners.

Alter-EU said the EU executive should have done more about Neelie Kroes, a Dutch politician, and Karel De Gucht, from Belgium, taking up sensitive jobs just days after the cooling-off period ended.

Kroes, formerly in charge of the digital agenda, joined the boards of US tech companies Uber and Salesforce. She was a vocal defender of Uber and even launched the hashtag #UberisWelcome after the car-ride service was banned in Brussels during her time in office.

De Gucht, the former EU trade boss, joined French-Indian steelmaker ArcelorMittal, just as the EU is passing measures to protect its market from Chinese steel.

Alter-EU said ex-top officials violated their obligations, as laid down in article 245 of the EU treaty, to act with integrity and discretion also after their term in office.

The group was also ”strongly critical” of the current president, Jean-Claude Juncker, for his reaction to the news that his predecessor, Jose Manuel Barroso, had landed a top job with US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

It took Juncker two months to refer the case to the commission’s advisory ethical committee and to ask Barroso for explanations.

”In our view, this action is insufficient and comes too late for it to be an adequate response,” Alter-EU said in a statement.

Tighter rules?

Hedegaard told EUobserver that the length of the cooling-off period is open to discussion.

”But where do you set the boundary? The commission is already a frontrunner with this rule, there are no limits on government member,” she told this website.

”I never had Danfoss visiting me in my office," she added, "and I respected the rules in place."

"A lot of things happen in 18 months. I don't see why, almost two years after leaving office, it wouldn’t be in order that I work with Danfoss on such an important topic as climate change," she continued.

"If climate and environment friendly people only talk to those who are already green, how do we then make the global green transition?”, she said.

She confirmed that her tasks with the Danish company included lobbying.

Earlier this week, Juncker told the France 24 broadcaster that he was not responsible for what the former college was doing and that the commission was "by far more stricter and more severe when it comes to these issues" than any other EU institution or national government.

He added, though, that the commission was mulling a change to the rules governing current and future commissioners’ behaviour.

"We are considering if … we should amend the code of conduct”, he said.

“We have to make sure and clear that the interrelations, the interlinks between politics and business are transparent. But this is not only applying to the former commission - this is applying to all the governments in the EU," he said.

Barroso had deeper ties to Goldman Sachs

The US bank made "confidential" suggestions on changes to EU policy changes during the former Commission chief's time in office, newly released documents reveal.

Exclusive

Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings

The German former secretary-general of the European Commission held some 21 meetings which were registered in the lobby register. But no documents appeared to exist summarising what was said.

News in Brief

  1. Trump turned down: Greenland not for sale
  2. UK Libdems would back Clarke or Harman as new PM
  3. Six countries agree to take 'Open Arms' ship migrants
  4. Gibraltar judge: Iranian ship should be released
  5. Increasing fears of a global recession
  6. Far-right hate crimes on the rise in Germany
  7. EU steel tariffs have 'worked well' so far
  8. Italian court: Migrant rescue ship can enter Italian waters

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  2. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  3. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'
  4. EU has 'zero incentive' to break open 'trilogue' deals
  5. Denmark plans import ban on EU-approved pesticide
  6. US offers Johnson helping hand on Brexit
  7. Italy: New government without Salvini in the making
  8. Brexit row delays financial products transparency review

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us