Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, this week announced the names of his candidates for EU commissioners. The nominations will only be confirmed after hearings organized by the European Parliament for all the appointees.
Slow Food is concerned about the very low profile for the environment and the sustainability of the food system in the work program and the Commission proposed by Juncker.
Sustainable environmental development and policies relating to food are not covered by the seven Vice-Presidents (who have the task of guiding and coordinating the commissioners’ work), whose policy areas suggest a structuring of the Commission based on an out-of-date paradigm of economic growth, prioritizing the development of industry without taking natural limits into consideration.
There will no longer be a Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries nor a Commissioner for Environment. These two fundamental policy areas will be joined together under the leadership of a single Commissioner. The Commission’s logic is to support both “green” and “blue” growth, linking environment and maritime conservation policies, with the objective of preserving these resources, stimulating growth and creating new jobs. However, if environmental and maritime issues are united into a single portfolio, individual problems risk not being given enough attention.
A new unified portfolio has also been created for climate change and energy. The Commission’s press release explains that strengthening the share of renewable energies is not only a matter of responsible climate change policy, but also an industrial policy imperative. However, the Climate Action and Energy Commissioner will answer to the Vice-President for Energy Union, suggesting that climate change is considered secondary to the needs of the energy market.
Phil Hogan will succeed Dacian Cioloş as the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. We would like to emphasize our concern over the positions taken by Hogan in his role as Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in Ireland in regards to environmental protection, as shown by the derogations put into place to allow more nitrates to be released into the environment.
Another new development concerns the Health and Food Safety portfolio. We hope that this new title is not an indicator of an approach to food based only on food safety, involving the application of rigid hygiene rules that are often out of proportion with the reality of artisanal food production.
Slow Food works closely with the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers to guarantee flexibility in the application of hygiene rules, for example within the ESSEDRA project. Overly strict rules risk producing the opposite effect from the one intended: they do not significantly improve public health and they push traditional producers out of the market, reducing the availability of quality products. For this reason, we invite the European Commission to make sure its bills include clear and obligatory provisions that guarantee the application of simplified regulations, proportional to small-scale producers and local food production chains.
Juncker has named the Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans as his “right hand”, the First Vice President. His program will involve improving the organization of the Commission’s operations. The hope is that this role will also guarantee greater coherence for policies relating to food, which are currently the responsibility of a number of different directorates-general.
Slow Food hopes that this new Commission does not move backwards in regards to commitments made regarding biodiversity protection, sustainable development and the environment and that it works towards a greater coherence in food policies to ensure a transition towards a sustainable food system.
We hope that these points are also raised during the parliamentary hearings, reflecting the interest of European citizens in a Europe that respects the environment. Despite the economic crisis, a Eurobarometro poll released on September 8, 2014, revealed that 95% of the 28,000 citizens polled expressed a strong interest in environmental protection and wanted Europe to do more on this front.