Spain’s Canete to Get EU Merged Climate-Energy Chief Role

Miguel Arias Canete, former Spanish agriculture and environment minister, was nominated as the European Union’s next commissioner for climate and energy, becoming the first single supervisor of those two policy areas.

Canete, 64, was chosen by European Commission President-designate Jean-Claude Juncker to take over from Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger. He will oversee drafting energy and climate policies for the next decade following a political deal on carbon-reduction, energy-efficiency and renewable-energy targets that EU leaders aim to reach in October.

“Climate action and energy policy go hand-in-hand and are now in one pair of hands,” the EU said in a statement today in Brussels.

The new commission will take office as energy policy is moving up the EU agenda amid a crisis in Ukraine, the transit country for around half of Russian natural gas to Europe, and the unrest in Middle East. The 28-nation bloc also aims to lead the fight against climate change as nations worldwide prepare for a global carbon-reduction deal in Paris in 2015.

“Being able to build a bridge between Europe and Latin America may help during climate negotiations in Lima building to Paris next year,” Peter Sweatman, head of Madrid-based consultancy Climate Strategy S.L., said today in a telephone interview. “He may also be able to bring a fresh look at the balance between supply-side and demand-side policies within Europe’s energy strategy.”

Separate Entities

A lawyer by training, Canete was a member of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government from 2011 until 2014, when he was elected to the EU Parliament in May. He previously served as a member of the EU assembly from 1986 until 1999. In his new role, he will oversee EU directorates general for climate and energy, which will remain two separate entities.

Canete will also be responsible for the planned introduction of an overhaul of the EU emissions-trading system, the world’s biggest cap-and-trade program. EU lawmakers expect a deal on the proposal to introduce a carbon-market stability reserve in the first half of next year.

Canete is “an acute politician” and and his experience in the Parliament should be an additional asset in brokering difficult compromises between governments and members of the EU assembly, Laurent Donceel, director at Brussels-based consultancy G+Europe, said in an interview today.

‘Fragmented Policies’

“His number one challenge will be to bring coherence into very fragmented policies, reflecting the commission’s recent proposal to put the ETS back in the center of EU energy and climate policy,” Donceel said.

The term of the current commission expires on Oct. 31. The new EU executive needs to be approved by the European Parliament, which is set to start hearings of commissioner candidates toward the end of this month.

“Canete would be a dependable nominee who should not face significant problems in a hearing at the European Parliament, although references to a chauvinistic remark made during the campaign may cause discomfort,” according to the Europe Decides website launched by Burson-Marsteller EU consultancy.

Canete could also come under pressure because of his links to the oil industry, according to environmental lobby Greenpeace. His declaration of financial interests, dated June 10 and published on the European Parliament’s website, shows he has a 2.5 percent holding in Petrolifera Ducar S.L and a 2.5 percent holding in Petrologis Canarias S.L. oil companies.

‘Surprising Choice’

“Canete is a surprising choice, given his connections to the oil industry,” Greenpeace EU managing director Mahi Sideridou said in e-mailed statement. “To prove he is the right man for the job, he’ll have to resolve conflicts of interests and improve on his environmental record as a minister.”

Canete will work under the guidance of Alenka Bratusek, the new European Commission Vice President for Energy Union. The EU executive has repeatedly called on member states to accelerate the integration of the energy market to boost the security of supply and lower prices.

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