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18th Mar 2019

How has controversial climate commissioner Canete done so far?

  • Canete was the only commission candidate that was controversial enough to incite a protest at the Luxembourg square in front of the European Parliament (Photo: Valentina Pop)

He was the only candidate that was controversial enough to incite a protest at the Luxembourg square in front of the European Parliament, a manifesto signed by 85 MEPs, a petition signed by 400,000 citizens in one day, and his own hashtag on social media: #stopcanete.

Half a year later that fierce opposition to Spanish centre-right politician Miguel Arias Canete seems to belong to the distant past.

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  • Canete's hearing last autumn (Photo: European Commission)

On Wednesday it is exactly six months since Canete was questioned by members of the European Parliament at a confirmation hearing to become the EU's energy and climate action commissioner.

This website spoke to five of them who expressed criticism at the time. Has Canete been able to convince them that he is passionate about fighting climate change, and that there are no conflicts of interest arising from his past as an investor in oil companies?

Not all of them.

Far-left MEP Marina Albiol Guzman, a fellow Spaniard, was opposed to “the oil candidate” then, and she is now.

“For us the situation absolutely hasn't changed”, she told this website. “Canete has a clear conflict of interest. Because of his shares in oil companies, he should not have been energy commissioner.”

The commission needs to propose more climate-friendly legislation before Albiol will change her mind, she said.

“If Mr Canete proposes policies to prevent fracking in Europe, and to limit the proliferation of oil in Europe, then we can begin to talk.”

Green MEP Bas Eickhout from the Netherlands noted that it would be difficult to show Canete has favoured the oil industry in his first five months in office (he took up the post on 1 November).

“You can't say: there is arguably a lobby which made him do something, but you also can't say: this is a climate commissioner that is tackling fossil fuels hard.”

“The suspicion is still there”, added Eickhout.

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, also a Dutch MEP but from the Liberal group, was never very worried about Canete's oil ties. It was more a question of whether Canete knows the subject matter well enough.

When Gerbrandy spoke to this website last November, he noted that Canete still needed his notes to speak about climate in the parliament's plenary.

“He is more than capable of doing that without his notes now”, Gerbrandy now said, adding: “He is very well-informed now. He's on top of it.”

British MEP Seb Dance was also impressed.

“I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. … So far I think he's done a good job”, said Dance, a member of the centre-left socialist group, the second largest group in the parliament.

A compromise deal between the socialist group and the centre-right EPP ultimately allowed Canete to get the commissioner position.

Part of the deal was that Canete would be supervised by commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, who had 'sustainability' added to his portfolio.

But according to Eickhout, that was mainly political rhetoric.

“In practice I don't have the feeling that Canete is restricted by his mandate. I think he's doing what he would have done otherwise”, Eickhout said.

Most of the MEPs find it too early for a definitive judgement of Canete's performance. The commissioner has not yet made many concrete proposals in the energy and climate area.

“He hasn't made any mistakes, and it's not that he is not credible, it's just that I haven't seen that much”, said Kathleen Van Brempt, a Belgian socialist MEP.

“The most tangible is the Energy Union”, she said, referring to a strategy paper published by the commission last February, under the leadership of commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.

“I have no indication that Canete has stepped on the brake” in the drafting of the Energy Union strategy.

But she added that while Canete does his job well, “the passion is missing”.

Nevertheless, for most of the MEPs, the past is the past.

“I didn't think it was wise to put a politician with such a past on that portfolio, but what's done is done. Now I want to work with him and build a relationship so that we can work on policy together,” said Eickhout.

Exchange during the hearing between MEP Kathleen Van Brempt and commissioner-designate Miguel Arias Canete, 1 October 2014
Spain's Canete entangled in EP political battle

A stormy EP hearing with Spain’s Canete on Wednesday ended with the Socialists seeking a delay on his approval, as part of a bigger confrontation between political groups.

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