Presentación del nuevo Comisario de Medio Ambiente de la UE ante el Parlamento

Brussels, 13/01/2010 (Agence Europe) РThe three-hour hearing to which Janez Poto̬nik, the Environment Commissioner designate, was subjected on Wednesday 13 January before the committee on the environment of the Parliament, chaired by Jo Leinen (S&D, Germany) manifestly convinced the MEPs that they had the right person for the job in front of them. His five years of experience as Research Commissioner, which he intends to put to good use to promote an environment policy based on knowledge rather than emotion, was a major asset right from the outset.

Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. This Japanese proverb quoted by Mr Potoènik in his preliminary speech perfectly sums up the impression which was formed from the free and frank exchange with the MEPs.

His vision of the policy to be followed was clearly outlined, even though, out of awareness of the complexity of the task in front of him, Janez Potoènik humbly confessed on several occasions that he was not entirely familiar with the details of the entire environmental legislative arsenal about which he was questioned.

The 21st-century will be a century of fragility. We must make it into a century of sustainability“, said the Commissioner designate.

He is convinced that this fragility will make the environment policy a key policy, that the environment’s contribution to the EU 2020 strategy must be increased and that sustainability can only be achieved by means of active international cooperation. Europe, he said, is right in the middle of a process of “moving from an economy based on the use of resources to an economy based on knowledge” and it must “invest in new sources of growth“. Referring to the rehabilitation of the planet as a “duty“, Mr Potoènik also sees this challenge as an opportunity, because innovation will boost the economy and create jobs.

There may not be a golden solution, but there is a green solution to the recession: an economy which is efficient in its use of resources and which is based on knowledge“, he said.

Promoting a Green economy by means of the efficient use of resources (breaking the link between growth and the use of resources), halting the decline in biodiversity and enforcing environmental legislation already in place are the three priorities he will pursue if he is confirmed in his position (EUROPE10050). José Manuel Barroso‘s decision to “double presence of the environment within the Commission” with the creation of a separate portfolio on Action for the Climate is, in Janez Potoènik’s opinion, a very good thing, as it will make it possible to give environmental issues- which have hitherto been “the poor relation to the climate“- and biodiversity in particular- “the full attention they deserve“.

In any case, he intends to work together very closely with his future climate colleague, and set up joint cabinet meetings.

At the end of his speech, Mr Potoènik summed up his ambitions in a few key points:

-       to work globally for sustainability,

-       encourage international cooperation, because “the environment cannot be tackled any other way than globally“,

-       promote a transversal approach by creating synergies between the various policies of the EU which have an impact on the environment, giving business incentives to convince them that the efforts they make in favour of the environment can be seen as beneficial from an economic point of view,

-       extend the objective of a low-carbon economy to a low-resources economy, ensure that the funding instruments are used to support the sustainability approach.

I am open to all proposals, any requests, any debate“, Janez Potoènik told the European Parliament. And to conclude with a touch of humour, he added: “At 1300 hrs on 13 November, my son had an accident in my Honda Prius. My hearing was at 1300 hrs on 12 January. I need to put an end to this bad karma. I hope that this exchange will be the beginning of a long and very worthwhile cooperation“.

Mr Leinen described the change as “very interesting” and said that “Janez Potoènik did a lot of work over Christmas. We went over a great many questions of considerable importance to us.

“We are all in favour of the environment, science and research, could you be more specific about the effective use of resources, particularly as regards water?“, asked Richard Seeber (EPP, Austria).

Mr Potoènik replied that with 250 legislative acts in this area, it was time for an in-depth examination of the provisions in place and that, by 2012, a project would be put forward on safeguarding river basins, which would lay emphasis on saving water and environmental resistance. “We are not going to throw ourselves into the renewal of legislation, but we will concentrate on its implementation“, by working “hand in hand with agriculture policy and structural funds policy“.

When asked by Linda McAvan (S & D, UK) about the heritage he feels he can hand on after five years in the post, the Commissioner designate, who has a doctorate in economy, said that he felt that he was capable of drawing a link between environmental concerns and the imperatives of growth and employment by means of a holistic procedure, but without needless haste. “I am not the kind of person who will try to present something that needs two years in six months. What counts is results in five years“.

How do you respond to those who claim that after the crisis, the number one priority will be employment? “That by investing in the environment, we are creating jobs and that the first to arrive on the market will make the profit“, said the Commissioner designate.

In answer to Chris Davies (ADLE, UK), who asked him whether he would make do with legislating or whether he intended to be “chef de file in the world to move his values forward“, Janez Potoènik set things straight. “We are not the only ones who understand the world is changing, but maybe others deal with it differently, by focusing more on developing technologies rather than changing behaviour. Both things are vital. We must not underestimate the degree of understanding on the part of others“, he said. And although he added that “we absolutely must not go back on our commitments” after the failure of Copenhagen, he believes that it is vital to “reflect on the best way to rally the others. My role in this will be important.

To Paul Nuttall (EFD, UK) who, expressing his doubts as to the reality of climate change, wished everybody a “happy and cold New Year” and asked whether the EU was not somewhat presumptuous or egotistical, the Commissioner designate replied that scientists would never unanimously agree, but that if there was one area in which there is a common vision shared by an international panel of eminent scientists, that area is climate change. “If you are right and I am wrong, this does not change the fact that it is a good thing to protect the environment. If I am right and you are wrong, we are heading for disaster“.

When asked by Vittorio Prodi (ADLE, Italy) about his intentions on adapting to global warming, Janez Potoènik replied that this subject would come under the jurisdiction of Connie Hedegaard, but that he would “pay it the greatest attention“. However, everything to do with soil, water and biodiversity and with a link to the climate would be dealt with by DG Environment.

In response to concerns expressed by Mr Prodi as to the fact that the prevention of natural disasters will henceforth come under the portfolio of the future Commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, Mr Potoènik took pains to reassure him: “the main thing is the result of the Commission. We will be working together. I am planning joint cabinet meetings.

Anja Weisgerber (EPP, Germany) observed that the unequal application of environmental legislation distorted competition conditions and asked about Mr Potoènik’s plans to remedy this. He pleaded in favour of “intelligent legislation creating identical competition conditions for all” and in favour of the identification of regional differences.

Would you not agree that the national and local levels are the most appropriate to apply regulations on the soils? “I do not wish to use subsidiarity as an excuse not to act“, replied Janez Potoènik, who very much intends to lead from the front with the “proposed soils directive”, by trying to bring a solution to win over the five Member States which are opposed to the text- a response which pleased Vittorio Prodi, because “this directive is very important in combating climate change.

To Sabine Wils (GUE), who asked him whether he would give priority to legislation or to market instruments, the Commissioner designate replied that the efficiency of either would be the best criterion to decide on the right balance between the two tools within a holistic approach. “Legislation is not my priority, it is a tool“, he said.

Holger Krahmer (ALDE, Germany) asked in which areas it would be best to take a legislative break. In Mr Potoènik’s view, the main thing is to take greater account of the environmental component in impact assessments, because “complex legislation which is unwieldy and hard to apply is in nobody’s interest. Protecting the environment is an absolute priority“. The Commissioner designate promised not to present any texts until he had a complete assessment at hand.

Replying to Esther de Lange (EPP, Netherlands), who asked him whether he intended to revise the legislation on biodiversity regarding the Natura 2000 network (habitats and protection of wild birds directives), which does not include climate change and is the subject of 120 infringements for failure to apply or difficult interpretation of the texts, Janez Potoènik said that he favoured guidelines and the exchange of best practice.

What steps is he planning to set in place to achieve the biodiversity objectives by 2015, after the failure of the 2010 objective? The Commissioner designate replied: – to implement the legislation; – to plug any gaps; – to improve knowledge of the value of biodiversity and the cost of losing it; – a holistic approach by including biodiversity and other policies.

To Karin Kadenbach (S&D, Austria), who asked him about the communication strategy he intends to follow in order to get public opinion behind him, the Commissioner designate replied: “the best thing is to take good political decisions and to give the citizens frank and honest information.

In response to a great many questions (notably from Swedish Green Carl Schyter) about the supposed shortcomings in the REACH regulation, the Commissioner designate was not always very precise, but he stated that for the time being, implementation would be the priority and that he would “examine the situation to see whether new measures should be proposed“.

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