The change of leadership at the helm of the Environment and Public Health Committee (ENVI) of the European Parliament is by far the move with the greatest direct impact on policy that took place during the reshuffle. As EP insiders know, ENVI is one of the committees that deals with the biggest number of legislative / binding decisions. Moreover, the environment-related subjects are also the most disputed files in the EP: a measurement by VoteWatch Europe indicates that it is on environment where the EPP and the S&D vote against each other the most (about half of the time, compared to only 24% overall).
The Chair of the ENVI has agenda setting powers and, in the absence of an agreement between the big groups, her views are decisive, as she can speed up or slow down legislation. ENVI is also the committee where the most attempts to override European Commission’s decisions are made, ie. MEPs try to reject delegated acts, usually when they disagree with the placement on the European market of various substances or pharmaceuticals.
The politics in the ENVI is very complex: the EPP, which is the largest group overall in the EP, is frequently defeated by a liberal-leftist coalition. EPP has so far been on the losing side in 30% of votes on environmental decisions, while the liberals of ALDE lost less than 7% of votes and the S&D lost only 15% (even the far-left GUE-NGL group has won almost as many votes as EPP on environment). This outcome is possible as environment is one of the areas where ALDE sides with the S&D, the Greens/EFA and GUE-NGL, rather than with the EPP. It will be interesting to follow if this pattern of coalition formation will change at all in light of the fresh EPP-ALDE agreement (which put Tajani in the EP President seat).
Therefore, Adina Valean (EPP, Romania), the new Chair of ENVI, will have one of the most difficult jobs in the EP, as she will have to navigate through an array of very different interests and sensitivities and will face an adverse left-liberal majority. This is probably one of the reasons for which the EPP has chosen her for this key post: Valean is an EP veteran, having served as MEP since 2007, often in key positions, most recently as vice-president of the EP and previously as a preeminent Member of the ITRE committee. An assessment made by VoteWatch Europe in September last year, which aimed at identifying the most influential MEPs, had found Valean as being in top 50 (our influence assessments are aimed, among others, at identifying rising politicians and the kingmakers of political decisions in the EP – we will release an updated version of this assessment in the coming weeks).
Notably, Valean and her national party, the National Liberal Party, switched from ALDE to the EPP after the 2014 European elections, feeling that the EPP represented better their economy-driven policy agenda. A quick look at her votes on key decisions made in the European Parliament in the past years confirms that her views match those of the core EPP parties, even more so than those of the former ENVI Chair Giovanni La Via.
Compared to La Via, Adina Valean is more economically liberal: she favors trade agreements in general (including TTIP, CETA), but also with South African countries (towards which La Via is more reticent). She is less prone to add red tape on businesses through measures such as additional labelling or through the introduction of special taxes for imports of steel from third countries. Among others, Valean is a supporter of gradual CO2 emissions’ reductions, in line with the general EPP position, which places her on a collision course with the left-wing majority in ENVI which is asking for a substantial revision of the current targets. However, Valean, just as La Via and the EPP as a whole, supports the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate and a more cautionary approach on areas such as animal welfare.
The infographic below shows a few examples of positions taken through actual votes cast on EP decisions (not mere statements) by Adina Valean, compared to her predecessor, Giovanni La Via, and the EPP group as a whole (whose position was determined by the votes of the majority of its Members).
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