October 3, 2019 / 11:32 AM / 18 days ago

Estonia's EU energy candidate questioned on climate credentials

European Energy Commissioner-designate Kadri Simson of Estonia attends her hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Estonia’s candidate for European energy commissioner, Kadri Simson, insisted on Thursday she is committed to climate goals as she was pressed by EU lawmakers over her country’s reluctance to back the bloc’s ambitions for zero emissions by 2050.

Questioned about her policy on fossil fuels as Estonia’s former energy minister, Simson backed incoming EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen’s pledge to propose legislation to make the European Union carbon neutral by mid-century. Simson was speaking during her confirmation hearing.

Von der Leyen’s team is facing more headwinds than any of its predecessors, amid concerns about possible conflicts of interest, corruption or financial irregularities among several candidates for commissioner.

The EU executive, which has the sole right to propose European laws and is the guardian of the bloc’s treaty, is made up of one commissioner per member state, nominated by his or her government for the next five years.

Estonia, which relies on fossil fuels, including high-polluting oil shale, for over three quarters of its power generation, was one of four EU states refusing to back the 2050 targets at an EU summit earlier this year.

It is home to the two largest oil shale-fueled power plants in the world - making the tiny nation the EU’s most carbon intensive economy in the bloc - as it has sought to break reliance on energy imports from Russia.

That has made the choice of the Estonian as energy commissioner the target of criticism from climate campaigners.

Reporting by Jonas Ekblom; Editing by Frances Kerry

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