‘Surprise’ appointment as Environment Commissioner

Maltese politician Karmenu Vella will have responsibility for air quality issues after his appointment as European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

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 this week (September 10).

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

Maltese politician Karmenu Vella has been chosen by President Juncker as the new European Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheris

Maltese politician Karmenu Vella has been chosen by President Juncker as the new European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

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 in December 2013 unveiled a long-awaited package of air quality proposals, including tightening of national limits for six major pollutants for 2020 and 2030 (see 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.


Speaking to, senior journalist at the Times of Malta newspaper, Caroline Muscat, described Mr Vella’s appointment as a “big surprise”.

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.

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.”

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.


Environmental NGO the European Environment Bureau (EEB), which represents 140 environmental organisations, reacted with “deep concern” to the structure of the proposed new European Commission, claiming that in merging the environmental portfolios “crucial responsibilities” are being shifted to other departments.

EEB secretary general, Jeremy Wates, commented: “Instead of putting sustainability central to his new team, Juncker has decided to relegate it to the margins by scrapping the dedicated posts of a climate and an environment commissioner and appointing a deregulation first Vice-President to put a competitiveness filter on all initiatives.”

The EEB added that it was “even more disturbing” that President Juncker has asked the incoming Environment Commissioner to “review recently launched and urgently needed legislative proposals such as the air and circular economy packages in the light of the ‘jobs and growth’ agenda”.

Mr Wates said: “Under a banner of reform, a deeply regressive deregulatory agenda has been put forward here that reads like a wish-list of private sector interest groups hostile to the environment.”

Winning team

However, unveiling the new Commissioners, President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker said: “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.

He added: “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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