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January 13, 2010

Potocnik's new love

The European Parliament’s hearings of the proposed candidates for the incoming Commission are well under way, and Janez Potocnik, the former research commissioner, faced a grilling from MEPs today.

Potocnik, who has been proposed to head the environment portfolio in the next European Commission, had to face three hours of tough questioning from members of the environment committee of the European Parliament. The hearing, after which the committee will send a recommendation to other MEPs based on Potocnik’s performance, is crucial to his ascension to the environment directorate general, a post he takes great personal interest in.

MEPs questioned Potocnik about his attitude towards the environment, his vision for the portfolio’s future and what strategies and actions he plans to introduce. Potocnik’s passion and interest in the environment was praised by some MEPs, as well as his proposals to keep the portfolio visible on the political landscape after the controversial topic of climate change has been branched off into an extra directorate general. He is exoected to work closely with the future climate change commissioner, a post for which Connie Hedegaard, the Danish environment minister, has been recommended.

However, some MEPs criticised Potocnik for presenting grand visions, but lacking detailed plans on how to achieve this. Potocnik was questioned on how he would ensure the environmental agency, which, according to MEPs, lacks profile and has lost much of its impact in the past years, becomes more visible again. Potocnik referred to his past experience in setting up similar agencies, such as the European Research Council’s executive agency, in his answer, and promised that the issue would be high on his agenda. But some MEPs said this was not enough, and that concrete plans were needed to rescue the agency from obscurity.

A final question gave listeners a glimpse into Potocnik’s home life. Asked about how he was personally contributing to environmental protection, the prospective environment commissioner said that, apart from a low-emission car, he had “lots of baskets” in his house to sort waste. He even invited “all those present” to his house to convince themselves of his dedication to waste reduction and recycling. With a round 250 attendants at the hearing, Potocnik made at least one promise that he will struggle to keep.

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