Spanish EU climate commissioner grilled over oil interests

European Parliament could still veto choice of ex-PP minister Miguel Arias Cañete

Miguel Arias Cañete defended himself from a barrage of criticism.
Miguel Arias Cañete defended himself from a barrage of criticism.OLIVIER HOSLET (EFE)

The European Parliament is ramping up the pressure on Spain’s candidate for the post of climate action and energy commissioner over his alleged conflicts of interest and the sexist comments he has made in recent months.

“You insulted women, quickly sold shares in companies that represented a clear conflict of interest, and made last-minute changes to your declaration of financial interests. Are you morally fit to join the Commission?” asked Spanish Socialist MEP Iratxe García at the parliamentary hearing held to question commissioner-designate Miguel Arias Cañete on Wednesday.

The former agriculture and environment minister, who resigned his post in April to run in the May European elections, has been criticized for owning shares in two small oil companies, Dúcar and Petrologis.

If he is finally vetoed, the problem will be passed on to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

While the Popular Party (PP) politician has sold his stock for €437,000, and his wife and son no longer sit on the company boards, several MEPs noted on Wednesday that his brother-in-law, Miguel Domecq, still controls the companies.

Faced with a barrage of questions from the chamber, which is currently questioning all commissioners-to-be, Arias Cañete avoided giving specific answers.

“Neither my wife, my son, nor myself have any ties to those firms,” he said. Yet Equo, a green party, says that “direct relatives” of the ex-minister, chiefly Domecq, control over 70 percent of Dúcar and Petrologis.

“There is no conflict of interest: the same day I learned that I might become energy commissioner, I gave the order to sell my shares. I went beyond what the law asks,” said Arias Cañete. “In any case, should there be a conflict of interest, the Commission regulations would be enforced.”

In the last 15 years, dozens of politicians have been grilled by the European Parliament before becoming commissioners, and the chamber has the power to send back appointees to the European Commission president.

The chamber has the power to send back appointees to the European Commission president

Besides his business interests, the 64-year-old politician was criticized for making a last-minute rectification to his declaration of financial interests to the European Parliament, to add income he receives from the PP that he had not previously included.

Arias Cañete was also questioned over his policies as a minister for the conservative Spanish party, which included reducing financial support to renewable energies and support for fracking techniques.

He was also reminded of sexist statements he made during his European election campaign, when he said that debating with a woman was difficult because “if you abuse your intellectual superiority, you come across as a chauvinist who is cornering a defenseless woman.” The scandal his remarks created in Spain and across Europe forced him to issue an apology, which he reiterated on Wednesday.

It remains to be seen whether Arias Cañete has managed to convince the European Parliament, especially its green groups. If he is finally vetoed, or if his portfolio is reduced, the problem will be passed on to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who was hoping to obtain a high-profile Spanish presence in the international arena, with a seat on the UN Security Council, the presidency of the Eurogroup, and a good portfolio in Brussels.

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