Miguel Arias Cañete – EU’s new climate and energy commissioner?

(Dutch translation by Marco Ploeger HERE)

A couple of days ago, Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, sent Miguel Arias Cañete a mission statement:

Dear Miguel,

… blah blah blah… Following our recent discussions, I would like you to be the “Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy”… blah blah blah… I strongly believe in the potential of “Green Growth” and I want the EU to become the world number one in renewable energies… etc…

There is basically a storm brewing over this appointment, which is being discussed and scrutinized in the European Parliament these days. An online petition has already seen more than 286,000 signatures  against this appointment. Why all this?

Why all this? Well, because in his declaration of interest, Mr Cañete has claimed to hold shares from two oil companies, Petrolifera Ducar and Petrologis Canaris, with a net worth of roughly 326,000 euros. Though he sold these shares several days ago, there is evidence that “his wife, son and brother in law remain shareholders or even sit on boards of the companies.”
Is this necessarily bad? Well, there are points in his favor:
However, in his previous function as a Spanish minister of environment, Cañete was also calling for more ambitious greenhouse gas cuts in the EU by at least 40% by 2030, and he was also playing an active role at former climate negotiations in Doha and Warsaw. So he certainly has shown concern for and competence in climate issues.
Also, he has some experience in political issues of the environment. Between 2011 and 2014 he was the Spanish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Environment.
 arias-canete-entrevista--644x362

In addition, there are other claims, mostly about his personal attitudes or beliefs:

“Earlier this year, Cañete was reported as saying that “holding a debate with a woman is complicated, because showing intellectual superiority could be seen as sexist”. A debate between a man and a woman is “very complicated”, because if the man makes proof of “intellectual superiority or whatever”, he would give a “sexist impression” in front of a “defenceless woman”, he said.”

Though these attitudes seem to become (unfortunately) standard practise for politicians across the world, see HERE  or HERE,they should definitely not be further supported.

So, this is going to be a difficult choice for the European Commission. What else can we say or find about his potential performance then? One could look at the evolution of some of the energy and environment statistics in Spain when he was the Spanish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Environment. After all, he held that position for three years, roughly the time he will hold that position at the EC. However, the problem with using this data is that Spain is basically in crisis since 2007, and the statistics will be unrepresentative of “normal” time. It is also likely that his budget during his time as a minister has been reduced as a result of the crisis. Also, comparing e.g. data like the evolution of energy intensity with other EU countries is difficult due to the milder climate for Spain.
Keeping those reservations in mind, let’s look at the data for the shares of different sources of electricity generation in Spain, for the period 2000-2013. The data is from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014.
spainWe can see that until 2010 the share of oil used in electricity generation basically continuously decreased, but from 2010 onwards continuously increased. Oh oh, any alarm bells ringing there? Well, it was during this period that Mr. Cañete was the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and held stocks of those two Spanish oil companies that produce (at least part of) the oil for Spanish electricity generation, and remember his family members are somewhere high up on the boards of those companies, too. Though this is only a correlation, it smells fishy… Something like old, rotten fish, but maybe not yet fully decomposed fish. Let’s look deeper into what is going on. The share of nuclear and hydro in energy generation decreased, too. So maybe oil had to take over their shares. Maybe…
While it is not clear what really happened and for what reason by simply looking at this data, it shows that if financial concerns pick up, as it was the case in Spain during the time that Mr. Cañete was the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Environment, then it seems that at least Mr. Cañete does not prevent oil companies to step in. Whether this is out of general concerns or own profit concerns is impossible to say, but the main lesson to take away is that it seems unlikely that under Mr. Cañete we will see the Green Growth Revolution that Jean-Claude Juncker demanded from him in his mission statement. Unless Mr. Cañete can surprise us!

Addendum (2. October 2014)
There is a personal note that I would like to add. In my opinion, someone who may hold such an important position should also be personally inspired by the topic at hand. For example, it seems unthinkable to have a European Commissioner for Economic Growth if that commissioner at the same time is a full-fletched communist. Or it seems somewhat strange to place someone as a European Commissioner for Health if that person played the lonesome cowboy in the Marlboro advertisement. Similar, it seems strange to want to make someone a European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy if that person supports the oil industry or at least benefits from it. It is just simply doubtful to have an inspired green growth innovation in that case.
I have a somewhat hard time believing that there are no other qualified people out there that have their heart and soul poured into climate action, know the topic inside out and would spent 100% of their energy on achieving the green growth target that Juncker set. However, incumbent politicians may prefer to choose among their own clan since they know the status quo then. This is a somewhat unfortunate picture of the European Commission in my opinion and shows a lack of willingness for innovation. If the EC only hand-picks those as their politicians and commissioners that have gone through a life-long process in the political field, and thus have changed their political and minister positions more often than their suits, then it is very doubtful in my opinion that this inbreeding will lead to serious policy implications. Are there seriously no field experts out there that would be better suited for this?
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