PM, Pride & Priorities

No one can have got through this week with much of a sense of joy or optimism; the newly appointed Prime Minister and his Cabinet peppered with lobbyists and apologists have seen to that. Thankfully by the week’s end, I’d been lifted by news from Brussels that the European Investment Bank has proposed cutting support for energy infrastructure projects (fossil fuels). And then there was the glorious colour and solidarity on the streets of Liverpool at ‘Pride in Liverpool’ to refresh and renew for the week ahead.

Brussels

I took time to pause this week when I recorded a 50-second video of my priorities to go along with the 750 other MEPs who represent the 500 million people in Europe. Just outside the European Parliament in Brussels is the ‘Parlamentarium’, a visitor centre (a little like a planetarium or an aquarium but about the activities of the Parliament) and it has an interactive wall, with details about MEPs. From local councillor to being part of a European-wide visitor attraction in a matter of weeks is quite a strange feeling.

Also this week in Brussels, there was definitely a feeling of winding down: the parliament doesn’t exactly close, but there are no formal meetings during the next month and obviously many staff have their holidays.

I attended formal meetings of the Transport and Tourism committee. The committee is not yet dealing with any legislative business but instead is really in a kind of end-of-term-report period. There are what’s easiest to describe as ‘hearings’ taking place. I witnessed one with the outgoing Commissioners, and one looking forwards with the representatives of the new European Council. For the next six months Finland takes that role in the European Council, with Romania just finishing.

Yes it’s confusing for newcomers. I guess in a Union of 28 countries it’s bound to be but there’s certainly lots of chance to challenge!

Along with a number of MEPs (and not just from the Green MEPs group) we emphasised the need in transport for all interventions now to look to reduce emissions; and to look towards the earliest implementation of a kerosene tax on aviation industry. The latter is essential for reducing flights. Let’s not forget that 70% of all flights are made by just 15% of the population!

I am so pleased that I have been able to appoint a good team of staff. One of our first jobs is to get a website up and running for updates and easy contact. Until the site is live, please do find and share updates on one of these channels:

Twitter

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LinkedIn

I made a big commitment this week; to attend a cross-party delegation to Palestine and Israel. More on that soon.

 

Back in the North West – Love is Love

Fantastic, well organised and thoroughly enjoyed event – Pride in Liverpool; albeit a bit damp! There was rightly a party atmosphere and it was great to meet LGBT+ staff from the British Veterinary Association, the Home Office and organisers.

Although the focus was clearly on solidarity and celebration, PRIDE is a necessary protest still and there is awareness that with the changes in government and potential for Brexit, there comes a serious risk of losing hard won rights and freedoms for our LGBT+ communities.

When the European court of human rights ruled that gay men and lesbians could not be dismissed simply because of their sexual orientation, Ian Duncan Smith announced that once returned to power, if the Ministry of Defence wanted to retain the ban; a Conservative government would re-introduce it. Full article here.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

Always good to think that some news has sent a shiver down the spine of the fossil fuel industry. This week the EU’s lending arm (European Investment Bank) drafted plans which propose cutting support for energy infrastructure projects which rely on oil, gas or coal by barring companies from applying for loans beyond the end of 2020.

From the media report:

“The EIB said its focus on long-term investments means that it must align with the Paris Agreement which aims to cap global heating at 1.5C above 1990 levels by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“This transition will be profound. Solidarity is required to ensure that potentially vulnerable groups or regions are supported,” the EIB report said.

“The lender said it will set up an energy transitions fund to support projects which help EU member states to transition to a cleaner economy.”

Full article here.

Bad:

Leading with typical bluster and bustle, Johnson has hit the ground out of step with reality and leading the country to a cliff edge clearly sign-posted ‘No Deal Brexit’. The new Leader of the Conservative Party and UK Prime Minister has shown outright contempt for the EU laws that protect us as consumers and workers, and his reckless threat to leave the EU without any arrangements in place, just demonstrates how irresponsible he is prepared to be.

It’s known that Johnson has a poor record on climate change (one of the most serious threats facing humanity) with his predisposition for fracking and having previously voted against setting a target for UK decarbonisation.

*I chatted with Scott Ainslie MEP in European Parliament about the former London Mayor becoming the new Prime Minister and how that might look: “Like a bad idea gone nationwide.”

Full video here

Where hope lies:

Hard to find this week but our Green MP Caroline Lucas always quick off the mark pointed out from Westminster: “…new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet is the most right wing in years but Parliament is sovereign, he has no majority and we will fight his ‘No Deal Brexit’.”

If you’re not a member of the Green Party of England and Wales – please join and show where you stand on the environment and getting a say on our place in the EU.

Onwards 💚

 

Speeches, Motions & Marching

From making my first speech in the European Parliament plenary on clean air on Wednesday, to trying to get a motion again through Lancashire County Council calling for maintaining the current seismic limits at the fracking site, and ending the week in London at the REMAIN rally…it’s been a roller-coaster of a week: from first-time-highs to deep disappointments and anger, to being re-energised by the power and determination of those fighting to remain part of Europe.

Starting in Strasbourg, I spoke in a plenary session on the need for action on clean air; it was as daunting as it sounds -the space is so huge- but good to do. In the North West, over 2000 deaths per year are attributable to air pollution. I stressed the need for a shift to a truly green travel system with support for sustainable urban mobility plans; investment in cycling infrastructure, walking-friendly streets and public transport.

“With attractive sustainable transport and polluting vehicles off our streets, we can improve quality of life and save the lives of citizens across all of Europe.”

I watched a lot of the other speeches too and am in awe of the breadth of interests and strength of commitment by all the Greens; especially fellow UK MEPs. People might have noticed empty seats on the film-clips, as you would in any Parliament where people come for their specific interests rather than all the debates.

A lot was shared and discussed this week about Ursula von der Leyen as she successfully sought election to the role of President of the EU Commission, but with a margin of 9 votes; the Greens voted against her. Molly Scott Cato MEP sums up best why we did:

“The prospect of the first woman president of the EU Commission is a reason to welcome the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen. We are also encouraged by her comments on Brexit, particularly her willingness to grant the UK a further extension and so prevent a disastrous crash out of the EU. However, we find ourselves unable to vote for her.

“The appointments process used to select her was a back-room deal cobbled together to appease the far right in countries of Central Europe where the rule of law is under threat and democratic standards at risk. And on a wide range of issues, from tax and trade to climate and protecting life in our countryside, there is clearly a gulf between her views and the Green agenda for change.

“Had she chosen to set some targets for radical change that millions of Green voters demand, we could see the EU transformed over the next 5 years. We would tackle inequality and poverty, defend people from corporate power, fix our broken tax system and properly address the climate emergency.”

I came back to continue the debate in Lancashire County Council about fracking; particularly Cuadrilla’s shale gas site near Blackpool. I was left angered by the exchanges and the outcome. Drill or Drop reported:

“Conservative councillors in Lancashire have been accused of using a “wrecking amendment” for a second time to block support for their government’s policy on the rules on seismic activity induced by fracking.”

Conservatives councillors amended my motion, thus removing all reference to the traffic light system (that monitors seismic activity and forces a halt to fracking operations when seismicity goes above 0.5 on the local magnitude scale).

It’s very frustrating that local Tories are playing games with words: they have undermined an opportunity to strengthen the safety and protection for local people, and our calls for the fracking industry to be properly regulated when it comes to seismic limits.

The vote was 42 in favour of Conservative amendment, 34 against & one abstention.

I was atop a soapbox on Saturday and amongst an inspiring crowd as we took to the (London) streets to join the ‘March for Change’ alongside the ‘Another Europe is Possible’ contingent. I used the opportunity to call for people to visit the shale gas site near Blackpool and lend support to the residents who have been protesting there since 5th January 2017. I ended with:

I’ve got a message for the Tory no-dealers and fat cat fossil fuel industry:

This is our world

This is our Europe

This is our home

We will not be divided

We will work together

And together we will win climate and social justice

 

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

I went to the Electricity North West – Stakeholder Engagement Workshop and it proved very informative. Electricity North West (ENW) is the electricity distribution network operator for most of the North West. It owns and operates the network infrastructure (overhead lines, underground cables, substations etc) that transports electricity from the national grid to homes and businesses, and vice versa when energy is produced by domestic solar panels. And they’re vital to the low carbon transition. Unlike energy suppliers, network operators have an incentive to encourage consumers to use less energy (if we use less electricity, fewer infrastructure upgrades are needed!) and ENW plans to spend £63.5 million over the next four years to help businesses, customers and colleagues to decarbonise – check here for further information. It was good to hear their focus on protecting vulnerable customers from fuel poverty, which is a very real issue in the North West. In some wards, more than one in three households are in fuel poverty.

Bad:

Worrying news throughout the week as tensions are escalating in international waters with oil tankers being seized. The word COBRA sends shivers down my spine; this is the government’s alternate war cabinet when things get really serious. Such a shame it doesn’t meet regularly to deal with the climate emergency rather than focusing on the delivery of oil being transported around the world. The situation is deeply concerning but not unexpected after the ramped-up rhetoric and aggressive sanctions against Iran by the White House and the Trump withdrawal from Iran peace deal that was always going to have consequences.

Where hope lies:

An uplifting visit on Friday to the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester and meeting with the Chair, Nasar Mahmood OBE and Chief Executive, Maqsood Ahmad OBE. The commitment and ambition of the staff and Trustees to providing open, welcoming facilities not only for the Muslim community, but for a whole range of diverse communities to work and learn together was inspiring. The venue itself is in a beautiful setting. There are two exhibition spaces: House of Wisdom, and Stories of Sacrifice, which is dedicated to the bravery and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers who fought for Britain in World War One, provide such good information on the contribution Muslim communities have made to science, technology and culture. The conference space, which is being expanded, is open for all groups to hire, creating jobs and community cohesion. Gracious hosts, a warm welcome and a real highlight of the week.

Onwards 💚

 

New President of European Commission

She won with 383. She needed 374.

Both the LibDem grouping (Renew Europe) and some of the Socialist and Democrat grouping voted for her. We’ve also been told that UK Labour MEPs voted for her – with such a small margin, they clinched it.

Ursula von der Leyen is now President of the European Commission. UK Green MEPs of Greens/EFA in the European Parliament made our statement about why we voted against her:

“The prospect of the first woman president of the EU Commission is a reason to welcome the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen. We are also encouraged by her comments on Brexit, particularly her willingness to grant the UK a further extension and so prevent a disastrous crash out of the EU.

“However, we find ourselves unable to vote for her. The appointments process used to select her was a backroom deal cobbled together to appease the far right in countries of Central Europe where the rule of law is under threat and democratic standards at risk.

“Also, on a wide range of issues, from tax and trade to climate and protecting life in our countryside, there is clearly a gulf between the views of von der Leyen and the Green agenda for change.

“If she becomes president, it will be thanks to the votes of the far right, rather than those of the strong pro-European majority. Had she chosen the radical change that millions of Green voters demand we could see the EU transformed over the next 5 years. We would tackle inequality and poverty, defend people from corporate power, fix our broken tax system and properly address the climate emergency.

“Improving the lives of citizens and restoring confidence in the EU is also the best way to crush the voices of nationalism, extremism & fascism that are gaining ground across the continent.”

 

Firsts, Perks & Purpose

A week with pause to reflect on my time so far in the European Parliament; how it treats MEPs, why it treats us this way and the tools and systems at our disposal – some flawed, some vital.

There have been lots of firsts for me these past few weeks. It’s the first time that I have been elected as a Green to a level of Government higher than local council level. It’s the first time that I have travelled five separate times beyond the borders of Britain in seven weeks; thank goodness for the ease and speed of the Eurostar. It’s the first time I have had a budget to appoint staff to help with my duties as an elected representative; a huge relief to have researchers, administrative support and media help.

Last week’s first was an invitation to give an after dinner speech. This was to the Cumbria and North Lancashire ‘Forward in Europe’ group in Kendal. This group sprung from The European Movement, which has been in existence since 1947, founded after the end of the second world war and centred on fostering peace and cooperation with our European neighbours and partners. Never has there been a greater need for such an organisation. But since the 2016 referendum and before cross-party groups, grass-roots groups like theirs have sprung up all over the country. Ironically, the UK is now probably the most pro-EU country in Europe, with the greatest number of grass-roots groups striving to Remain.

I can’t begin to express my personal and professional excitement and joy at another first: being with so many senior elected representatives from the Green Party in one room. My first day in Brussels involved a meeting of the Green group of over 60 committed, competent, capable and experienced Green MEPs from all over Europe. One of my initial conversations was with Ville Niinistö, a new Finnish Green MEP, who until recently was Government Minister for the Environment in Finland.

In the UK we have Caroline Lucas who as an MP has set the bar high for what can be achieved through parliamentary and campaigning dedication. But due to fairer voting systems in nearly all other European countries, people are used to having Green representation in their national parliaments and indeed in Government.

During preparation for that after dinner speech, I had cause to reflect again about my first impressions of the European Parliament, and some of my first actions as an MEP:

The European Parliament building is modern; maybe some would describe it as post modern. It has masses of space huge ceilings, plenty of light, and a somewhat complicated architectural design internally making it quite difficult to get around. It took a couple of visits until I understood that there is no way to get from one end of the building to the other on all of the floors; there are 12 or more. It’s counter-intuitive to go up to come down but the best place to start is always the third floor!

There is huge a welcome given to MEPs; offices and allowances, assistance and services. This compares interestingly with the experience of Caroline Lucas as she has noted in various books that the welcome for a new MP in Westminster is a dreary office-cum-cupboard if you’re lucky, in a long dark corridor in the bowels of Westminster. Very little is provided: maybe a stack of of old letter-headed papers but above all, the pink ribbon for which MPs can hang their sword.

There is no doubt that MEPs however are treated as VIPs. This was a shock to the system for me, and although it’s something I’m adapting to because it’s the reality and I’m getting on with the work, the trappings and treatment do not sit easy. But as an elected representative of millions of people it’s important to take the role seriously and perform the duties assiduously. The perks, like an in-house medical service, are often more about ensuring MEPs time is used as as effectively as possible.

In Europe, there’s a sense of looking outward. The European Parliament expects and welcomes its activities to be scrutinised. There are media and recording facilities for all to use; the Vox Box corners that MEPs can book in order to film and publicise their activities, are where you will have seen some of my impromptu interviews with other MEPs. The tools available to us are excellent and it’s good to be able to reveal and hopefully demystify the work that goes on here. Last week the film makers said probably less than half MEPs are using the facility.

Much has been said about the cost of the European Parliament and there is definitely scope for efficiencies to be made. Like many other European countries where MPs are paid well, respected and provided with access to resources that enable greater efficiency, the European Parliament similarly offers a good working environment. The awareness of the stark disparity between optimal working conditions and typical ones, is uncomfortable but brings to light another issue that needs addressing.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

Another interesting and ultimately satisfying process in the European Parliament worth highlighting: the commitment to gender equality enshrined already in some parts of the institutions. My first ‘constitutive’ meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee, (that’s the first meeting whose business is only to appoint the Chair and the four Vice Chairs) was suspended when it became apparent that the political groups nominating people to specific roles (based across the board on proportional representation relative to size of the groups) had all nominated men to those five positions. After the election of the Chair and the first Vice Chair, the meeting was abandoned and those three groups now have to come up with at least one female nominee between them. The commitment to gender equality only goes so far that one of the five posts has to be a woman/man but still it’s there. I’m pleased to report that at the first constitutive meeting of the Transport Committee no such suspension was required. This is the committee for which the Greens get to nominate the chair and Karima Delli, Green MEP from Northern France is in the chair. She will be working with four Vice Chairs from other groups…all men.

Bad:

Despite the Government’s declaration of a Climate Emergency, they’ve done nothing to halt the progress of yet another fossil fuel source, shale gas. The Environment Agency this week put the health, well-being and future of a Lancashire community, in the hands of fracking firm Cuadrilla when they approved a second round of fracking near Blackpool. Operations had been stalled since October following 57 seismic events. This is the site I took direct action at, along with so many others since the protests started on 5th January 2017. Please do visit and lend support to those at Preston New Road if you can.

Where hope lies:

With climate emergencies declared this week in Burnley as well as Manchester, the message IS getting through; now for the hard work and scrutiny as we hold the Councils and Government to this commitment. It’s about getting started now; reinstating good public transport and halting the building of energy-inefficient homes. Green Party Councillor in Burnley, Andy Fewings who proposed the motion said: “This is not about paying lip service to protecting the environment. We need to see meaningful change in the council’s policies including supplementary planning guidance as lots of housing is not fit for purpose which is exacerbating fuel poverty.”

Onwards 💚

 

Imperfections, Elections & Emergencies

Well, it’s certainly never dull or slow! An informative, somewhat disappointing but productive week that started with three days in Strasbourg and ended here in the North West with another Climate Emergency declaration on the cards, this time in Burnley (well done to Burnley Greens working cross-party to push this through). Back amongst friends and family and reflecting on this past week that has proved (if nothing else) that the fight for a genuine, representative democracy in the UK and in Europe, has quite a way to go.

Although we Greens believe that cross-border co-operation is more than just welcome, it’s essential if we’re to stand a chance of stopping the climate emergency, this isn’t to say the European Parliament is perfect. When we fight for Remain, we are also striving to Reform. This first week of the new European Parliament term in Strasbourg, the primary focus of the debate was about who gets the top jobs; it was somewhat confusing (and disappointingly narrow) even for those of us in the midst of it. I come away knowing that although the EU appointments system clearly remains more democratic than our UK system, it too is subject to manipulation, cronyism and vested interests.

Fellow Green Molly Scott Cato MEP summed up the current situation well and I share her perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

“We have always also been strong supporters of the Spitzenkandidat (the lead candidates) system, where each political family puts forward a candidate (during the European elections) who then engages in public debate to establish a profile so that we are not presented with unknown faces in leadership roles. None of these lead candidates has ended up in any of the top jobs, threatening a further distancing of European leadership from European citizens.

“There are many things about the European Union institutions that I am proud of. The way the top jobs are distributed in a stitch-up behind closed doors is not one of them. This time around it meant that the Parliament’s President became an after-thought in a game of four-dimensional chess where the good of the citizens of our continent was barely considered. This is not good enough.

“You may have seen some complaints by Brexiteers that they didn’t get to vote for these top jobs. This is either disinformation or ignorance since we elect our own Parliament President and have a veto over the Commission presidency. As Greens, we will not accept the nominations without a fight. Next week hearings will begin with Ursula von der Leyen who has already reached out for our support. Every MEP will get a chance to vote for or against her, unlike our own Prime Minister who is chosen only by one party. As for the head of the Central Bank, she will be scrutinised by the economics committee where I sit, unlike the governor of the Bank of England who is appointed behind closed doors by the chancellor. Here we see a familiar pattern with Brexit MEPs either not understanding, or spreading lies, or refusing to acknowledge how EU appointment systems are more democratic than those in our own system.”

This week The Green/EFA group will continue to wrestle with how best to re-shape the focus back onto climate action and our other key priority content we want to I’ll keep you posted.

Back home in the North West, I want to sincerely thank the volunteers, the Fairfield AssociationAldcliffe Road Triangle Summer Fair supporters, local residents and Green city councillor Dave Brookes for making a little corner of Lancaster, a hub for the community and adding to biodiversity.

And more thanks for the invitation to speak in Burnley ahead of the motion next week to declare a climate emergency. Good to see Green and Labour Councillors working co-operatively on this focused goal. Plenty of discussion, practical ideas and excellent food.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

There’s a few:

– It was totally possible to take a photo of all those standing for the European welcome anthem without even looking at the few at the back who rudely turned their backs. (Ha I genuinely didn’t notice!).

– Utilising an electronic voting panel made such sense; democracy made simple. Are you listening, Westminster?

– Translators we work with are darned impressive!

– I have an office now as well as a full team of staff.

– I realised that the plenary room in Strasbourg is the biggest meeting space I’ve ever been in where I’ve had a right to speak.

Bad:

Brexit MEPs; embarrassing, insulting to the electorate. rude and a huge waste of money.

Where hope lies:

“In order to defend Europe, we need to show the courage to change it for the better. As the only directly elected institution, the European Parliament has a key role in doing this leap forward,” says our co-president Ska Keller. For the next 5 years, we will fight hard for change and for the European Parliament to open for debates with citizens.

Onwards 💚

 

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