FERN-The ‘Greenest’ Commission that Europe has ever seen?
From 30 September - 8 October 2019, newly elected Members of the European Parliament grilled the 26 nominees for the European Commission, to evaluate their “general competence and independence, but also their European commitment”. Fern followed the Commissioners’ hearings through the “forest lens”.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Lithuania’s 28-year-old nominee for the Commission’s Environment and Oceans portfolio, put biodiversity, the circular economy, oceans, fisheries and zero pollution on his list of priorities. Yet he forgot to prioritise forests and failed to explain what the EU should do to curb deforestation caused by our consumption of forest-risk commodities.
Asked how he would to tackle deforestation, he replied vaguely that the EU needs deforestation-free supply chains, to be achieved through improved monitoring mechanisms and labelling. He didn’t elaborate on plans to implement the recent EU Communication on stepping up action to address deforestation and restore the world’s forests, which should be a key guide for the new Commission. It remains to be seen whether Sinkevičius will help fulfil the promise that this would be the greenest Commission Europe has ever seen.
The performance of Janusz Wojciechowski, the Polish candidate for the Agriculture portfolio was weak and vague. He claimed to support small farmers who maintain a low density of animals and use feed from their own farm, rather than imports of soy from Brazil or Argentina, yet provided no substance about his plans regarding forests. When concerns were raised about the impact of the Mercosur (FW 248) and Vietnam Free Trade Agreements, he replied that farmers should not be a victim of international trade.
It was unsettling that the Commissioner-designate for Trade Phil Hogan said he did not imagine the bloc would advise Europeans to eat less meat, although meat consumption helps drive forest destruction, and climate experts agree that “drastic change” is needed to combat climate change. He also felt that Europe was not lacking Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIA) despite the SIA for the Mercosur trade deal that was concluded last June still being available (FW 247). More positively, in response to MEP Heidi Hautala’s question about mandatory due diligence regarding deforestation, he said he would support such legislation.
Energy Commissioner-elect Kadri Simson managed to say very little during the energy committee hearing on 3 October. The biggest excitement came when one MEP let Simson know the breaking news that Estonia had changed its mind and decided to back EU carbon neutrality by 2050. Little was said about how the EU would achieve its climate and energy aims, but Simson reiterated that the European Green Deal would be a political priority.