Here is the reply from Andrew Lewer (Conservative Spokesman for Culture, Education and Regional Development) about the concerns of the appointment of Karmenu Vella as commissioner-designate for the Environment, Maritime Affairs & Fisheries.
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Many thanks for your email to Andrew Lewer MBE MEP regarding your opposition to the appointment of Karmenu Vella as commissioner-designate for the Environment, Maritime Affairs & Fisheries.
During his opening comments Mr Vella denied any involvement in bird hunting or trapping as well as condemning any illegal hunting. He also explained that he was not here as a Commissioner for Malta and that he expected each and every Member State to implement all the directives. He stated that abuse of the Birds Directive, Habitats Directive or any other directive would not be tolerated in any form and reaffirmed that he was not there to defend Malta.
He agreed that the Birds and Habitats Directives were the cornerstone to safeguard European ecosystems and biodiversity but explained that the Birds Directive was adopted 35 years ago and has not been reviewed since. Mr Vella later proposed an ‘in-depth evaluation of the Birds and Habitats Directives’ aimed at maintaining and, where necessary, improving the protection for our ecosystems and vulnerable species.
He reiterated his opposition to bird hunting when highlighting his past experience as Minister for Tourism in Malta. He explained how tourism constitutes roughly one third of the Maltese economy and that, as a consequence, it depended 100% on the environment. He continued that, as the UK is the number one tourist market in Malta and that the majority of complaints surrounding Maltese finch trapping and bird hunting come from British citizens, when people talked to him about the lack of controls they were “preaching to the converted”. He added that he would not defend anyone with regard to violating any directives.
Andrew himself does not sit on either of the committees involved in Mr Vella’s hearing and so was unable to put a question to Mr Vella himself or approve or reject Mr Vella’s candidacy as commissioner-designate. However, one of Andrew’s ECR colleagues, Mark Demesmaeker, asked for clarification regarding Mr Vella’s stance on the Birds and Habitats Directives and how poor Malta’s record is when it comes to implementing the Directives. He received the following response:
“With regard to the Birds Directive, I will repeat again that, if we agree to review them, obviously there is no idea to deregulate or to demote them. We are not revising, but we are only reviewing. But again, we will have time to discuss this in more detail.”
Other ECR members raised their concerns surrounding Mr Vella’s policies on water management, air pollution and reducing ammonia emissions.
The ENVI coordinators overall conclusion was that the lack of reference to sustainable development in the mission letter of Vice-President Katainen and to the full implementation of the objectives of the 7th Environment Action Programme raised in the letter to President-elect Juncker continued to raise concerns. Although it provided some useful clarifications, the reply by the President-elect was not considered fully satisfactory.
As for Mr Vella’s adequacy for the position, the coordinators felt that he had the necessary professional and political experience to master the challenges the position of a Member of the European Commission bring with it.
In spite of some lack of details in his replies, Mr Vella demonstrated that he had a sufficient grasp of the main issues inherent in the portfolio. He also committed to defending Community interest when dealing with Member States. He showed the intention and need to familiarise himself more with subjects falling within his remit as well as a positive attitude towards the environmental agenda and readiness to cooperate with Parliament.
The general outcome of the hearing was that the Commissioner-designate gave a positive impression of his aptitude to be a member of the College of Commissioners and to carry out the specific tasks assigned to him. In this context, however, coordinators expressed a strong recommendation that a higher profile should be given to environmental sustainability in the work of the future Commission by including this in the title and the portfolio of VP Katainen and that full implementation of the 7th EAP shall be an explicit task in the mission of Commissioner-designate Vella. It is crucial that a clear commitment be made on these matters prior to the plenary vote.
Those members of the ECR group on the Fisheries and Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committees collectively decided to neither endorse nor oppose Mr Vella’s appointment as commissioner.
I hope this information clarifies the current situation and helps ease any fears you may have surrounding Mr Vella’s appointment.
Intern to Andrew Lewer MBE MEP
Conservative Spokesman for Culture, Education and Regional Development
European Parliament Brussels