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Leading European environmental NGOs question Vella’s EC nomination

Malta Independent Friday, 12 September 2014, 08:30 Last update: about 11 years ago

Ten leading European environmental NGOs have expressed “grave concerns” in an open letter to the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, “over the direction the EU seems to be taking with the announcement of his new team.” The NGOs expressed concern over two of of Mr Juncker’s nominations, including Karmenu Vella, who has been nominated as Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner.

The ‘Green10’ group is made up of ten heavyweight environmental groups, including WWF, Greenpeace, Birdlife International and Friends of the Earth Europe.

The coalition said “the structure of the new Commission, the mission letters, and the choice of Commissioners all reveal a serious downgrading of environment and a roll back of EU commitments to sustainable development, resource efficiency, air quality, biodiversity protection and climate action.”

The Green10 criticised the fact that the environment portfolio is now shared with other demanding dossiers. “This represesents a clear relegation of environmental issues in the order of political priorities.”

On Mr Vella’s nomination the coalition also said that his mandate “seems entirely centred on deregulation, asking a review of all current major initiatives underway. It does not mention the need to achieve any EU objectives, let alone take new initiatives.”

The hunting issue was also mentioned in the Green10’s open letter to Juncker, with the coalition asking whether it was a good move to give the relevant portfolio to a Commissioner from a country with serious issues on the subject matter. “The inclusion in the mandate of orders to consider changing the EU Nature protection legislation, pre-empting the results of the ongoing fitness check, suggests a high level decision to weaken biodiversity protection in the EU. This is even more troubling as the Environment portfolio is given to a Commissioner whose government is under intense international criticism for failing to implement EU bird conservation legislation, which the Commissioner will now be in position to amend.”
The coalition also questioned Mr Juncker’s decision to merge the climate and energy portfolios, which were handed to Spain's former environment minister Miguel Arias Cañete.


Big-business links make Vella ‘inappropriate’ candidate

In the meantime, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a European research and campaign group, has argued that Karmenu Vella’s “recent outside business interests” make him unsuitable to be a commissioner.

CEO says Mr Vella has been a Member of Parliament since 1976 “but that has not prevented him from also holding a variety of external business roles at the same time including within the gambling industry.”

The Corporate European Observatory said Mr Vella served as executive chairman of Corinthia Hotels International and Mediterranean Construction Co. Ltd and he was also a founding chairman of the Maltese Turkish Business Council. It says that, “according to his most recent declaration of interests, Vella retains a 50 per cent share in his old architecture firm and with his wife he co-owns a company called Multi Joint Projects Co Ltd which he has told CEO he uses in a few property projects. He has an extensive property portfolio and large bank assets, boosted by recent property sales.”

CEO said, however, that Mr Vella’s “recent” private sector roles “will raise eyebrows most.” It notes that the former MP had an “extensive relationship” with the Betfair group and was chairman of Orange Travel Group although it noted that the commissioner designate resigned his posts once appointed Tourism Minister. Mr Vella told CEO: “My Chairmanship with Orange Travel Group and Directorship with Betfair were before my being appointed Minister for Tourism and none of these companies had or have any business related to government.”

However, CEO argues that it is “inappropriate” to nominate as a European commissioner a serving politician who has had such recent links to big business. “As a very minimum we hope that MEPs who will shortly grill him on his appointment will seek the following commitments from Vella: a commitment to have no professional or private contacts with any of the companies with which he has been involved and / or their lobby representatives, and a promise to refuse all professional and private contacts with the gambling and tourism industries.”

Mr Vella could not be reached for comment on Wednesday and Thursday by The Malta Independent.

Government reaction

In reaction to media reports on Mr Vella, a government spokesman said that a European Commissioner represents the European Commission, not his country. The choice of portfolio for Karmenu Vella confirms the President’s trust in Malta’s nominee for Commissioner.

The Government is confident in Karmenu Vella’s ability to steer the portfolio in the right direction confirming European values of sustainability in all the areas entrusted to the Commissioner-designate.

The Government is also confident that Karmenu Vella will have the good sense and ability to put European values at the core of his duties when dealing with issues which concern individual member states, including Malta’s.

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