10 September 2014 by Michael Holder

‘Surprise’ appointment as Environment Commissioner

Maltese politician Karmenu Vella has been chosen as the new European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, in what is seen as a surprise appointment by Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker today (September 10).

Relative unknown Mr Vella, a member of the Maltese Labour Party, takes over responsibility for the environment from Janez Potocnik – a portfolio that will merge with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries under Mr Vella.

Karmenu Vella - the new EU Environment Commissioner

Karmenu Vella – the new EU Environment Commissioner

Another merger of portfolios has also resulted in Spanish politician Miguel Arias Canete being appointed Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Policy.

Slovenian politician Mr Potocnik will step down after four years as Environment Commissioner. He has championed a number of environmental issues and recently put forward a number of resource efficiency proposals for adoption, including the move to a 70% recycling rate target in the EU for municipal waste by 2030 (see letsrecycle.com story).

According to his official biography, 64-year-old Mr Vella appears to have little clear previous involvement with environmental issues, having previously held a number of business managerial and directorship posts.

Sheffield Hallam

A graduate in Architecture and Civil Engineering from the University of Malta, Mr Vella also obtained a Master of Science in Tourism Management from Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. After starting his own private practice, Mr Vella then went on to serve as a director or chairman at a number of different companies, including Corinthia Hotels International, Mediterranean Construction Co., the Vodafone Malta Foundation and Betfair Group Ltd.

In Malta, Mr Vella has previously served in the government as Minister for Public Works, Minister for Industry and Minister for Tourism. He is married with two children and two grandchildren.

Migratory birds

Ecological issues have been raised in Malta over the controversial mass shooting of migratory birds by hunters.

The government has come in for criticism from the international community as a result, with the RSPB running a campaign against the practice and BBC naturalist Chris Packham previously describing the country as a “bird hell”.

Speaking to letsrecycle.com, senior journalist at the Times of Malta newspaper, Caroline Muscat, described Mr Vella’s appointment as a “big surprise”. She suggested that Mr Vella’s links with “big interest groups” for fisheries and bird hunting meant that his appointment represented a “black day for the environment”.

Ms Muscat said: “He has no experience that we know of in the sector at all, so it is a surprise from that point of view. It is therefore hard to say what he will bring to the role. “There are two major environmental issues currently in Malta – fisheries and the hunting of birds. When it comes to hunting, Malta has defied the Directives for a number of years. There are also a lot of big interest groups in fisheries. His [Mr Vella’s] approach is similar to the current Malta government – it is not really about environmental protection.”

She added: “It comes as a surprise to us. I would like to see someone with experience in the sector and some activism in terms of ecological issues.”

"I have given portfolios to people – not to countries. I am putting 27 players in the field, each of whom has a specific role to play – this is my winning team.”

EU President-elect, Jean-Claude Juncker

The appointment comes as part of a team of 27 Commissioners chosen by European Commission President-elect Juncker, with each EU Member State nominating a candidate. These appointments will now need to be ratified following European Parliament hearings.

Winning team

President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker said: “In these unprecedented times, Europe’s citizens expect us to deliver. After years of economic hardship and often painful reforms, Europeans expect a performing economy, sustainable jobs, more social protection, safer borders, energy security and digital opportunities. Today I am presenting the team that will put Europe back on the path to jobs and growth.

“In the new European Commission, form follows function. We have to be open to change. We have to show that the Commission can change. What I present to you today is a political, dynamic and effective European Commission, geared to give Europe its new start. I have given portfolios to people – not to countries. I am putting 27 players in the field, each of whom has a specific role to play – this is my winning team.”

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