It’s wonderful that we have a new European Commission coming in, especially one that is avowedly committed to greater transparency about the revolving door between EU politics and big business.
This is good news especially in light of recent fears about the transparency of arguably the Commission’s greatest task ahead – the negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
However just as you begin to feel the faintest stirrings of hope something comes along which quite simply knocks you down and makes the terms "European Commission" and "transparency" about as likely bedfellows as Nigel Farage and an Afghan kitchen with HIV.
I’m referring to the appointment of former oil baron Miguel Arias Cañete as the new European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy. That’s right, in case you’re worried one of your colleagues spiked your coffee, you did read those words correctly - a former oil baron, dubbed by the The Times ‘Senor Petrolhead’, has been put in charge of sorting out climate change.
Cañete was the president of two companies handling petroleum supply in Spain. He held major shares in both companies until this September and his son was also a board member until recently. His brother-in-law is now the president of both. What was that about the new Commission and a commitment to greater transparency about revolving door politics?
When Cañete became the Spanish minister for agriculture and the environment in 2011, he immediately enacted reforms to the Spanish coastal law. Cañete had links to real estate and construction companies which could benefit from the reforms – he was a former board member of one, his wife the sole representative of another and his brother-in-law was the president of the national cement manufacturer’s association! Don’t check that coffee, this is all still reality.
Cañete’s political path is as littered with potential conflicts of interest as a shark on lifeguard duty. In his time as a member of the European Parliament between 1988 and 1999 Cañete sat on the Agricultural and Rural Development Committee where he fought for the inclusion of bull breeding in the list of agricultural activities that receive payments from the EU. His wife, Micaela Domecq Solís, is the heiress and co-owner of a bull breeding business.
New commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, has been a member of the Maltese parliament since 1976, a period of time which saw UK gambling company, Betfair, granted its first overseas licence in Malta. Vella was a non-executive director on the Betfair Maltese board. He was also chairman of Orange Travel Group, which specialises in cruise ships and outbound travel to Malta or at least he was until 13 March 2013 when he stepped down. It was the same day he was appointed Maltese minister for tourism. More coffee?
These are only two names out of half a dozen new European Commissioners who have been singled out as having potential conflicts of interest by Corporate Europe Observatory, a campaign Group for greater democratic accountability in the EU.
We really shouldn't be surprised. The EU has a long history of revolving door politics, reaching perhaps its hallucinatory peak in 2013 when the Commission re-appointed an ex-EU official turned lawyer for Big Tobacco – someone who had already been through the revolving door – to head its ethical committee advising on… guess what?... that’s right, revolving door reforms.
Or was that the peak? Maybe it’s just the coffee we drink nowadays or maybe we’re peaking right now with a new Commission that is supposedly dedicated to greater transparency but which contains a handful of Commissioners who could just as easily be viewed as insider lobbyists for big business than as disinterested politicians.