Karmenu Vella expected to become EU Environment Commissioner despite objections


The new European Commission is likely to see former Maltese tourism minister Karmenu Vella (pictured) become its Environment Commissioner.

Despite calls from green groups that his nomination should be blocked by MEPs, reports suggest that his candidature will not be used as a reason to block the entire Commission when it reports later in October.


MEPs are currently conducting hearings with the designated commissioners and following each session, the chairs of each European Parliament committee report back on the suitability of the candidate.

But under the rules, MEPs can only block the entire nominated Commission rather than individual candidates and so it is expected that Karmenu Vella will not be used as a reason to block the Commission when it is revealed on 22 October. 

Following his hearing on 29 September in front of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, the two largest groups in the European Parliament – the European People’s Party and the Socialists & Democrats – both backed Karmenu Vella to take the role as Commissioner.

Socialists & Democrats environmental policy spokesman Matthias Groote MEP said: “Commissioner-delegate Vella was convincing in today’s hearing by committing to an agenda which addresses the key priority issues of sustainability, resource efficiency and the green economy…

“…I am glad that environmental policy will not take a back seat, although we call on [European Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker to appoint a Vice President responsible for environment. We are looking forward to putting these commitments to work, to ensure that our goals lead not only to the protection of the environment, but to new jobs linked to the idea of a green economy.”

In his letter to Karmenu Vella outlining his areas of responsibility, Jean-Claude Juncker said that the Commissioner must review the work on the circular economy to assess its impact on jobs and growth. While sustainability was only mentioned in relation to energy security in the Commission President’s aims for his term. 

But environmental and green groups were critical of Karmenu Vella’s performance in the hearings and were sceptical that he would take on the progress made in developing policy on resource efficiency and the circular economy. As such, some were arguing that his candidacy should be blocked.

European Environmental Bureau EU policy director Pieter Depous said: “Either Vella was not allowed to make any commitments during his hearing or he did not have sufficient knowledge to do so. Either way the conclusions for the Environment Committee should be crystal clear. They cannot let him pass if they want the European Commission to be taken seriously in the next five years.”

Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss added: “The Commission started off on the wrong foot. Despite President Juncker’s commitment to put the environment at the top of his Commission’s political agenda, what we heard today raises more concerns than it addresses.

“Vella did not display a firm grasp of the dossiers he is meant to take responsibility for. In today’s performance, he failed to convince that he is up to the job of environment, maritime affairs and fisheries commissioner.

“He did not show understanding of the complexity of environmental issues, ranging from nature and health protection to circular economy, dodging many specific questions and giving vague and general answers.

“Today’s hearing raises serious doubts not only about the candidate, but also about President Juncker’s commitment to make environmental protection and sustainability central to the new Commission’s work.”

As reported by Resource Efficient Business yesterday, industry leaders from companies such as Unilever, Kingfisher and KPMG as well as MEPs and Ellen MacArthur had written to Jean-Claude Juncker over concerns that resource efficiency had a “lower priority” in his Commission. See here