There is much to process about the results of the UK general election…but life in Europe will go on with or without the UK MEPs. We are still there for another month. I will share more thoughts another day.
Last week, I luckily managed to get to and from EU Parliament in Brussels, in spite of the ongoing travel disruption from the SNCF signallers strikes which impacts the Eurostar service in France. The strikes began on the 5 December and it is unknown how long they will go on for. This week, I’m in Strasbourg with the UK Green delegation of MEPs.
EU budget cuts endanger tens of thousands of UK jobs
Two weeks ago, EU Member States announced their first negotiating position on the Union’s long-term budget. In short, they propose to cut back on almost everything that the EU does. From infrastructure investments to humanitarian aid and support to farmers. I wrote briefly about this in last week’s Sunday Long Read.
Among the cuts is a proposal to decrease EU research funding by almost a third until 2027, from £100 billion to £71 billion. This is completely unacceptable. We are facing a climate crisis. To tackle that challenge we need a stronger commitment to research and innovation, not a weaker one.
Therefore, on Tuesday last week, the MEPs responsible for negotiating the EU’s next research funding programme met to discuss these recent developments and the way forward. I participated in the meeting as the Greens’ representative.
It was an encouraging meeting, with all political groups agreeing that we have to fight the Council on this. A rare moment of unity among Conservatives, Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens. In the coming negotiations, we will put up a unified front to secure an increased research budget.
A large EU research budget will be hugely beneficial to the UK, at least if we stay in the European Union. As a world leader in innovation, the UK will be able to attract billions of pounds of research funding. Money that will support the careers of many UK researchers and scientists, and help UK businesses innovate to remain successful. Tens of thousands of jobs will to be created, directly and indirectly, through EU research funding.
However, Brexit endangers our access to these funds. If we are no longer a member of the EU, we will not be able to receive from the EU budget as easily, and UK researchers and businesses will have a hard time participating in projects. I am currently preparing a report explaining more on this subject, to be published in January. Follow me here, Twitter or Facebook to get updates about the report.
European Green Deal
Last week, I wrote a blog on the European Green Deal, which is a core pillar of the 2019-2024 strategy of the new EU Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen.
My message was simple: the centrality of the Green Deal is already a big win for us Greens, but we need to be constructive allies to the Commission, and ensure some of our key demands are included in the process.
In my blog I argue that the Commission needs to show ambition by not only aiming at ‘hard policies’ that incentivise the rollout of renewable energy systems and increase the cost of emissions, we also need ‘soft policies’ that change the way we consume, live and travel without putting the responsibility of those changes on individuals – particularly the poorest.
The European Green Deal is a positive step and can bring many solutions to our communities’ problems. Now is the time to act.
After the extraordinary plenary session, I sat down with four other UK Green MEPs to discuss the European Green Deal announcement. MEP for Yorkshire and Humber, Magid Magid, chaired the session, and along with my fellow MEPs – Alexandra Philips, Catherine Rowett and Scott Ainslie MEP – we chatted, laughed and shared some great contributions on our visions for the European Green Deal. You can watch it here.
Last week I met more NGO representatives from Israel and Palestine. What is clear is that civil society in Palestine looks to Europe for help in fighting against injustice and human rights abuses.
The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), is an initiative by the World Council of Churches that sees volunteers undertake a three-month fieldwork placement as human rights observers. They do not take sides in the conflict, and their only mission is achieving peace in the region. I had previously met volunteers there in August, during my fact-finding visit.
The three women told me accounts of the systemic, structural and symbolic violence occurring in the region. Expanding settlements for Israeli Jews only in the occupied West Bank, means a lack of access to basic resources such as land for agriculture or water for Palestinians. For example, while Israelis have access to around 240 litres of water per person per day, and settlers over 300, Palestinians in the West Bank only have access to 73 litres.
The EAPPI representatives also witnessed the destruction of EU-funded buildings by Israeli settlers. In 2019, 50 schools in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, became under threat of demolition, many of them had been provided with support from the EU.
This year particularly, has seen a high level of demolished structures, with 582 documented cases by EAPPI. This poses serious questions for the EU and its external funding: should we continue the EU-Israel Association Agreement, let alone upgrade it, without Israel’s commitment to the peace process and respect for international humanitarian law?
Finding the good has been difficult this last few days! But as I write, I am now back on the train to Strasbourg, albeit with a different emotion to my usual excitement and anticipation.
However, there are some achievements that we can celebrate: the Green Party ran a very clean and positive election, forcing the first-ever climate debate among political party leaders. And throughout, we promoted our positive vision and policies to deal with the climate crisis.
It took 850,000 votes to get just one Green MP re-elected – Caroline Lucas MP! The devastating results of the general election within our continued broken First-Past-The-Post (FTPT) system means the Conservative Party win is described as a ‘landslide win’, despite only increasing the actual vote by 1% – the same as the Green Party. But with their massive majority of 80 seats, this sadly leaves them comfortable to push forward with any parliamentary business, with minimal scrutiny or opposition. Our antiquated electoral system is a colossal failure, giving power to the rich and influential and side-lining a generation of voices. We absolutely must push for proportional representation if we are to be represented properly in a democracy.
Where hope lies
There is no doubt that people want change and now the actual election is over, Greens across the country are ready to work with local communities to reduce carbon emissions in energy and local transport, bringing services closer to home. I have mentioned my Green New Deal for the North West many times before, but I am getting such positive feedback. I do I hope you will read it, if you haven’t already, and if please share with other people. We can still ensure we empower local people to work together to get change for the better, across-the-board.
It was great to see people fighting back immediately for a change in the voting system – do sign this petition here.