Kadri Simson faces tough climate questions at commission hearing
Incoming European Commissioner Kadri Simson (Centre) spoke before the European Parliament's hearing in Brussels on Thursday. Simson and other commissioners have been or will be speaking before the parliament ahead of formally taking on the role on Nov. 1. Topics Simson covered included the financing of EU climate goals, energy security and the Estonian oil shale industry.
Simson has been allocated the Commissioner for Energy role, as announced by incoming commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Her performance, which included a question and answer session, is to be assessed by representatives of the parliament's various political groupings, within the relevant body, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE).
The ITRE mainly looks at how to finance the EU's goals in this area, as well as ways to increase the use and efficiency of renewable energy, plus ensuring European energy security.
Simson requires a two-thirds majority to get the green-light for the role. Simultaneous to Simson's session in Brussels, the Estonian government green-lighted the 2050 target for climate neutrality, which whether by design or not, would have supported her position.
Ursula von der Leyen has said she hopes for all individual commissioners to be approved by mid-October, and the commission as a whole passing the European Parliament vote on Oct. 23, aiming for the Nov. 1 start date.
Simson's hearing happened concurrently with that of Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, who is being tasked with the economic affairs portfolio.
Significant aspects of Simson's presentation related to energy security, including Russian natural gas imports and the situation with Estonian oil shale.
Jerzy Busek, a Polish MEP from the European People's Party (EPP) grouping, enquired of Simson whether she, as commissioner, would be clearly following the EU's gas directive, relating to Russian gas and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Nord Stream 2, has been opposed by the U.S. and several Central and Eastern European nations, including EU member states, due to concerns with rising Russian influence in the region.
Simson did not make a clear commitment to comply with the directive due to time constraints, ERR's online news in Estonian reports, but she outlined the need to diversify sources of gas imports.
Ville Niinistö (Greens, Finland) pointed out Simson had been economic affairs minister at a time when Estonia continues to use oil shale for energy purposes and plans to invest further in this area.
Simson replied that Estonia had developed a long-term plan to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030, with a commitment a hundred percent to achieving climate neutrality by 2050, announced by the Estonian government almost exactly the same time Simson was speaking.
In a supplementary question, Niinistö noted that Simson had not, however, answered his question directly, by not explaining Estonia's continued investments in oil shale energy.
Simson then responded that oil shale production is still declining and will continue to do so due to the diversification of energy sources.
Another sceptic, German MEP Peter Liese (EPP) said that since in June, the Estonian government had not supported climate neutrality by 2050, would Simson in fact do the same herself. Simson's response that she was no longer a minister at the time, arguing that Estonia had needed more time to assess the issue, reaffirming her own personal support for the goal.
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As noted the Estonian government's simultaneous statement supporting 2050 would have given credence to her statements on the day.
Estonia was one of four member states, along with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which declined to sign up to the 2050 climate neutrality goal in June.
Political journalism portal Politico noted that incoming commission vice-president, Frans Timmermans, also has responsibility for climate policy, which may have been a factor behind Simson's answers – she simply needs to coordinate her line with his in other words.
Live bloggers from Politico noted that Simson, speaking in English, stumbled with her answers in many places, with even a moment of levity arising as she was encouraged to finish a sentence she had started.
Many of the questions put to her had already been presented as written questions which she answered, but seemed at times more hesitant when put on the spot.
However, Politico also pointed out the delicate balancing act Simson had to perform in appeasing Greens and others from the European Parliament, and at the same time not being able to abruptly pull the plug on the oil shale sector in Estonia, given the major economic upheaval that would entail.
Simson was also hampered by the fact that some answers still await the results of analysis, and some division of responsibility between her role and that of Frans Timmermans, the incoming commission vice president, which had not yet been fully coordinated.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte