Saturday

7th Dec 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 20 years of archives. 30-day 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.

Von der Leyen warns on EU budget cuts

The new EU Commission president will tell EU leaders next week that they need to put money behind their pledges for border protection, defence policy and fighting climate change.

Analysis

Von der Leyen team voted in by MEPs - amid warnings

The first female commission president and her (almost) gender-balanced team can take office on 1 December. Despite a large majority of MEPs backing the new commission, many warned that their support was not a "blank cheque".

News in Brief

  1. Greece denies access to fair asylum process, report says
  2. Report: Self-regulation of social media 'not working'
  3. Turkey: Greek expulsion of Libyan envoy 'outrageous'
  4. Merkel coalition may survive, says new SPD co-leader
  5. Von der Leyen Ethiopia visit a 'political statement'
  6. Over 5,500 scientists ask EU to protect freshwater life
  7. Iran defies EU and UN on ballistic missiles
  8. Committee of the Regions: bigger budget for Green Deal

This is the (finally) approved European Commission

MEPs gave the green light to the entire new European Commission during the plenary session in Strasbourg - but with the abstention of the Greens and a rejection by the leftist group GUE/NGL.

Magazine

Welcome to the EU engine room

Welcome to the EU engine room: the European Parliament (EP's) 22 committees, which churn out hundreds of new laws and non-binding reports each year and which keep an eye on other European institutions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion
  2. UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK
  3. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  4. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  5. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  6. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  7. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  8. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us