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Growing Aquamarine Dreams: The European Union’s final push for growth

3 years ago, Written by , Posted in Articles, Civil Society

On the 11th of September, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced his team of Commissioners – the new Juncker Commission. According to Jean-Claude Juncker, the main goals of the new European Commission is to deliver change in order to tackle the political challenges evident in Europe and focus on “getting people back to work in decent jobs, triggering more investment, making sure banks lend to the real economy again, creating a connected digital market, a credible foreign policy and ensuring Europe stands on its own feet when it comes to energy security“. Looking at the choice of Commissioners and the reasoning behind the reshaping of the team makes an uncomfortable read to say the least. For example, the creation of a Commissioner specifically for Migration (under the Greek Dimitris Avramopoulos) aims to “to prioritise a new policy on migration that will robustly tackle irregular migration, whilst at the same time making Europe an attractive destination for top talent”. Also, the Spanish Miguel Arias Cañete, has been assigned to be the Commissioner in charge of both Climate Action and Energy policy. This is a very controversial move, as Cañete has well-known links to the fossil fuel industry.

But let me know focus for a bit on the new Directorates-General (DG) for Environment and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, which was reshaped by merging DG ENVI and DG MARE together, something which was for many a surprising move. It should not be. In an ideal, post-capitalist world, one could say that the combination of the two DGs could assist the maritime and fisheries affairs people to implement coherent policies focusing on the socio-ecological aspect of the marine environment. However, we are still in a growth-driven Europe, and the aim was clear and was highlighted by President Juncker himself; this merge was materialized in order “to reflect the twin logic of the Blue and Green Growth” agendas. This new portfolio will be led by Commissioner Karmenu Vella, a Maltese Politician who has been a member of the Maltese parliament since 1976. According to the Corporate European Observatory however, that “hasn’t prevented him from also holding a variety of external business roles at the same time including within the gambling industry”, arguing that his recent outside interests make him unsuitable to be a commissioner.

Commissioner Karmenu Vella will be the Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. He will contribute to projects steered and coordinated by the Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and the Vice-President for Energy Union. So this is a scary thought; the Commissioner who is meant to be the face of Europe on the front line for the Environment and our Seas, is now under the orders and priorities of a portfolio which for the last years has been creating more inequality, and has been tramping over people’s social and environmental rights.

In his appointing letter to Commissioner Vella, Juncker stated:

The EU has a well-developed environment policy with a rather complete and mature legal framework. Protecting the environment and maintaining our competitiveness can go hand-in-hand, and environment policy also plays a key role in creating jobs and stimulating investment. This is why the “Green Growth” approach to environmental policy should be further developed as a way to promote a sustainable environmental framework, with environmental innovations which our industries can successfully implement and export. Likewise, the “Blue Growth” approach in the field of maritime affairs and fisheries should be further developed by mobilising emerging and innovative industries“.

Already. a number of e-NGOs have expressed their concerns regarding the new teamJuncker. The Green 10, in their open letter pointed out:

“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”. At the same time, Juncker’s motivations such as the mandate he put forward which includes the ‘modernisation of the Birds and Habitat Directive’, point towards an agenda for environmental deregulation, a lack of implementation policies such as that of the Common Fisheries Policy and a failure to achieve Directives such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (reference: Bruna Campos).

“Reform means change”, states President Juncker. However, this change does not seem to be going towards the right direction. With the new Commissioner for the Environmental Maritime Affairs and Fisheries being under the agenda for jobs and competitiveness, any hope for the right kind of change, one rooted in a path towards a socio-ecological transformation fades away. Both the environment and the citizens will be once again become fuel for the growth machine which spits cement and accumulates profit for the few.

We have seen the environmental degradation and social injustice that unfolded as a result of the ‘Green growth’ agenda in the name of ‘sustainable development’, jobs and growth. Transposing this idea to the oceans just confirms the failure to learn from our mistakes. The new team Juncker is expected to be approved or not by the European Parliament  with hearings starting on 29 September and a final vote on 26 October. Can this elected institution take up its role to protect the social and environmental rights of the people in Europe (and beyond)? In either case, environmentalists and social rights activists should keep on their toes. Team Juncker might have a massive painting brush ready to paint Europe with their Aquamarine dreams, but we can all continue painting our own, each one of us with our toothbrushes; because the problem is not in the colour, but in the dream itself. 

Maria Hadjimichael

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