New commission has learnt nothing from manifest anger in recent elections.
By Lynn Boylan
So it’s business as usual at the European Commission. At best. Anyone hoping that the European elections would change the eurobureaucrats will be deeply disappointed. Last month Jean-Claude Juncker, the new EU Commission President, having vowed contrition after his role in promoting offshore tax avoidance in his native Luxembourg was exposed by LuxLeaks, outlined his priorities for 2015 in the Commission workplan. It is clear from this that his priorities are to continue to push the anti-environmental and corporate agendas. There isn’t even much sign of his vaunted talent for generating consensus.
On January 15th the European Parliament was asked for its opinion on this workplan but failed to reach a common position. I was part of the negotiating team for the GUE/ NGL Group of which Sinn Féin are a member. What became clear very soon in that negotiating room was that the largest group, the European People’s Party of which the four Fine Gael MEPs are members, was not prepared to allow any criticism of Juncker’s workplan.
This is despite the criticism that came from many quarters once the content of the workplan first became available. Green NGOs and other civic organisations such as Corporate Europe Observatory, which exposes the power of corporate lobbying in the EU, and Alter EU, an organisation that campaigns for greater transparency on lobbying, were quick to point out flaws and glaring omissions in Juncker’s priorities.
His proposals for a lobby register provides one example. It goes nowhere near establishing a mandatory lobby register. In order to have any level of transparency when it comes to lobbying it is essential that any register created is legally binding. Juncker’s proposal will instead continue to allow corporations to ‘play’ the system as it includes no detailed disclosures or sanctions for lobbyists, who are famously influential here, particularly in the earliest stages of the complex Eurolegislative process.
According to AlterEU Goldman Sachs, the ‘vampire squid’, one of the largest and best-connected investment banking firms in the world, claimed it spent just €50,000 on lobbying in the EU in 2013. At the same time in the United States where there is a mandatory lobby register with very precise disclosure, the same firm disclosed that it had spent $3.6 million on lobbying activities. Instead of taking the opportunity to deal with the concerns of transparency in how the EU conducts business, Juncker has instead opted for a ‘nothing to see here’ approach.
Juncker’s workplan for 2015 confirms that his Commission will, like the Barroso Commission before it, continue to place corporate interests before those of social justice and the environment.
For example, Juncker has withdrawn the Maternity Leave Directive which sought to guarantee working women 20 weeks of maternity leave, and protection when they returned to work. One of the intentions of the Commission’s ‘REFIT’ exercise which is withdrawing 80 of the 400 EU legislative proposals currently in train, is to withdraw proposals that do not advance in the legislative process, in order to allow for a fresh start. The Commission claimed that “including this [Maternity Leave] file on the list of withdrawals would open a door for a new beginning, allowing for a more modern directive”.
Juncker has also dropped the Air Quality legislation despite evidence showing that 400,000 premature deaths are attributed to air pollution in the EU. In 2013 in Ireland alone, 3,400 deaths were linked to air pollution. He has also dropped the Waste Management Proposals. These proposals sought to improve recycling and the reuse of raw materials and resources.
It appears that Juncker’s attitude is that environmental protection is an inconvenience rather than a central priority. He failed to give any of his Commissioners a remit for sustainable development. Instead he chose to merge the energy and climate change portfolios and to appoint the controversial Miguel Arias Canete to this merged portfolio. Canete has openly acknowledged his links to the oil industry and he was also a member of a Spanish Government that had a reactionary record of coal promotion, and a lack of interest in renewable energy.
The fact that the European People’s Party in the European Parliament had no criticism whatsoever of Juncker’s workplan speaks volumes of where their interests lie. Every other group that took part in the negotiations to find a joint resolution had one criticism or another.
Juncker could have chosen to invest in green jobs and innovation. He could have chosen to put the needs of society before corporations. He could have ensured that working women were given all the protection they require to realise their potential. Instead he opted to continue the EU policy of protecting big business and the interests of the cosy consensus of elites. •
Lynn Boylan is Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin