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  • Commission’s cure won’t treat its own diagnosis

    The Juncker Commission has been in office for a month now. I can’t resist a bit of early stocktaking, but I will also look ahead.

    Let me start with a positive. It was about time someone sorted the Commission out. As anyone who has ever managed teams knows, it is impossible to have 27 direct reports, yet that is exactly how the Commission was organised under Barroso – one president, 27 commissioners, in theory all equal. All too often, chaos reigned. Biofuel policy is an example of a bad compromise emerging from two commissioners who could not agree. Juncker has installed seven vice-presidents overseeing the work of 20 commissioners. That’s better management.
    So far, managerial theory. Now the practice on the work floor. Unfortunately, this seems much less pretty. 
    A couple of months ago I wrote that I thought that the Commission made the wrong diagnosis for Europe’s problems. Unfortunately that blog did not change much. Juncker has 10 official priorities, of which only one is environmental – climate – and that is only as the second part of his ‘energy union’ priority.
    Totally consistent with that philosophy, he has stripped the mandate of the environment commissioner – who handles non-climate green issues part-time since he also has to do fisheries – to almost exactly nothing. Stagnation at best, rollback at worst.
    He has also nominated a super-vice-president, Frans Timmermans, from my home country, to take care of red tape. Sustainability was added to his portfolio after loud complaints from environmental organisations and MEPs. Since only 0.6% of the EU’s red tape comes from legislation on sustainability (most of it comes from financial laws), you would think he would set out to protect the environment and streamline financial laws. Nothing of the sort so far. He has spent considerable political energy trying to undo a deal on plastic bags (he failed), on air quality and on waste (result yet unknown). To add insult to injury, he has poured scorn over the ecodesign directive, a series of energy-efficiency standards for appliances. This has been one of the most effective tools to reduce energy use and emissions and protect Europe’s technically advanced industries from cheap imports. As such it should be a key pillar of any Energy Union initiative. Not so apparently.
    And here is where an even bigger worry comes in. Not only does this Commission share few priorities with ours, it even does not seem willing to deliver on its proclaimed priorities on energy and climate that we do share. 
    Commissioner Cañete has promised a big debate in the first half of 2015 on what to do in the transport and energy field. This is a big chance to inject energy inro a rather lethargic debate. In 2013 Europe imported €300 billion worth of oil, most of it for transport. Compared with that, the €85 billion the EU paid for gas imports seems like pocket change. The press is full of stories about cheap oil of only $70/bbl. May we remind people that a couple of years ago the rise of oil prices to $60/bbl sparked the Commission into an emergency five-point action plan? And that action to reduce demand is the best recipe to keep prices at moderate levels? In a future article I will write what we think Commissioner Cañete’s plan should contain.