Later today, the Spanish nomination for the new EU Energy and Climate Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, will answer questions from Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) about taking up his new influential role.
He certainly has questions to answer. Before his appearance, a petition by Avaaz will be handed to MEPs to try and prevent the man dubbed “Señor Petrolhead” becoming the new Commissioner, who will oversee the EU’s climate policy over the next few crucial years.
So far over 155,000 have signed the petition trying to block the Cañete from becoming commissioner, a position he is due to commence on 1st November 2014.
So why all the fuss?
Over the last few weeks, increasing evidence has emerged of close links between Cañete and the oil industry.
Much of this evidence has been compiled by the EU-lobbying watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) which has been digging into the former Spanish Environment Minister’s background.
Their recent profile on Cañete makes painful reading for anyone concerned about climate change and the ethics of the European Commission.
CEO records how throughout his career Arias Cañete has “often been accused of mingling business interests with public office, leading the Spanish newspaper El Pais to describe him as always being on the edge of a conflict of interest.”
Following the publication of some of these conflicts of interests, on the 16th September, Cañete announced he was selling €326,000 worth of shares in the two oil companies he had interests in – Petrolífera Ducar and Petrologis Canarias – both of which he used to be chairman of.
In his statement, Cañete explained his actions were aimed “to avoid even the slightest notion of potential conflict of interest”.
Case closed, perhaps. No.
Yesterday Friends of the Earth Europe, published further evidence of his close family connections to the oil businesses in question which FoE Europe argues means that “his conflict of interest is far from resolved.”
FoE argues that Cañete’s divestment does not address the vast majority of the well-documented conflicts of interests of the Commissioner-designate, outlined by CEO and others.
In the case of the two oil companies at the centre of the conflict of interest scandal, despite disinvesting his shares, Cañete maintains very close family ties with the owners and management of these companies.
His son Miguel Arias Domecq is a board member of both of them and his brother-in-law Miguel Domecq Solís replaced him as chairman of both companies.
FoE points out that Cañete’s brother-in-law Miguel Domecq Solís is the second largest shareholder in Petrolífera Dúcar. They also detail more family connections to the oil companies too.
This web of family connections to the oil companies and their shareholders means that potential conflicts remain, they argue.
The environmental group is now calling on the European Parliament to “ensure that any candidate appointed for the job is free of conflicts of interest and demonstrates impartiality and convincing qualifications in the area of his/her appointment.”
It should be an interesting hearing this afternoon.
To sign the Avaaz petition go here.