End Times, Determination and Fresh Hope

Last week saw the final Strasbourg plenary session before Brexit. The last time that UK MEPs travelled to this small town on the Franco-German border for late-night political discussions, negotiations and votes on proposals aimed at improving the lives of European citizens. A sombre backdrop to the many good news stories that came out of the week’s plenary proceedings, not least around the climate.

Strasbourg & Green Victories

The big thing that happened last week, was the European Parliament’s resolution on the European Green Deal. As I’ve previously written, the European Green Deal is the new Commission’s flagship programme: a huge package of political reforms aimed at making the EU carbon-neutral by 2050 at the latest.

After the Commission published its first communication on the reform package in December, it was now Parliament’s turn to say its piece on what the Green Deal should contain. I’m happy to say that we managed to secure a hugely ambitious text, significantly improving on the Commission’s proposal. Among our Green victories were:

  • Strong text on the urgent need for ambitious climate action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
  • EU Member States should adopt intermediate and long-term targets for both renewables and energy efficiency.
  • Underlining the need for the green transition to be a just one, and to focus support programmes on especially vulnerable localities, such as coal-mining regions.
  • Calls for EU industrial strategy to be inextricably linked to a circular economy action plan, and for the elimination of planned obsolescence.
  • An amendment on the necessity of nuclear energy to tackle the climate crisis was voted down.

Us Greens managed to include many of our amendments in the resolution and I’m going to miss this when we’re gone – the power and purpose of a large Green presence in Parliament. The outcome really shows that a strong green voice in European politics has a concrete impact.

I also managed to do some personal lobbying on climate action this week. On Tuesday, I had a meeting with the Commissioner responsible for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans. Apart from discussing the reforms needed to tackle the climate crisis, I also gave him a copy of my report on The Green New Deal in the North West, to help inform his work.

Australia Bushfires

On Monday, the Parliament debated the devastating and tragic bushfires in Australia. The link between climate change and extreme weather events like this was clear in many statements made by Commission representatives and MEPs. It’s commendable that even Conservative politicians on the EU level seem to be waking up to the fact that we are in a climate crisis. We can only hope that our UK Conservative government will follow the example of our European colleagues in this regard. Or at least that we must continue to lobby and push for policy to match reality.

Citizens’ Rights Post-Brexit

There are over three-and-a-half-million EU citizens living in the UK, and around one-and-a-half million UK citizens living in the EU. After Brexit, we have to ensure that citizens’ rights of both these groups are properly protected and that they are treated fairly and lawfully.

These issues were the subject in Parliament for Tuesday’s debate. I spoke about the difficulties that many EU citizens in the UK are already facing when it comes to applying for settled status.

The UK government claims that the process should take one-to-four days, but many people have to wait for far longer than that. The uncertainty, stress and difficulties that waiting months for a decision on settlement status brings, is unacceptable. Leaving people without essential documentation and rendering them unable to get jobs or rent a home.

The UK government must uphold its commitments to protect citizens’ rights. We must ensure that everyone is treated fairly and that the quagmire of Brexit does not contribute to more uncertainty and anxiety for EU and UK citizens than it already has.

If you want to see my speech, it is available here.

Palestine: Stopping EU Complicity in War Crimes

This week I also published an opinion piece in Middle East Eye, on how the EU is funnelling millions of euros of taxpayers’ money to Israeli weapons manufacturers. A new report shows that the EU’s current research programme has handed out around nine million euros to Israeli defence companies Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.

In the article, I argue that the EU is putting its reputation as a credible and trustworthy partner to both parties of the Israel-Palestine conflict at risk by financing these companies.

The EU also counteracts its own policies towards Israel by funding companies that provide the Israeli military with much of its hardware. Arguably making the EU complicit in the oppression of Palestinians and the undermining of international law.

Meanwhile this week…

Good:

Despite a sense of sadness at leaving, I am so very grateful to have had this incredible experience of being the Green MEP for the North West; it’s been an honour and an inspiration. I am particularly proud of our The Green New Deal for the North West report that can be used as a framework after we leave the EU and I am looking forward to launching our Sustainable and Active Transport for the North West report this coming Friday – both have ideas that I will continue to champion in my work as a Councillor. Armed with the research and experience, we can continue to make clear just how much our region could benefit from a green future with quality jobs and improvements in all aspects of our lives:

Bad:

After our final visit to Strasbourg this week as UK MEPs, I’m more disappointed than ever that we are deliberately breaking away from collaboration and cooperation with this huge block of our nearest neighbours. This is not just about quality trade in goods and services with an underpinning agreement to protect the environment and working standards, but also a relationship in a whole range of other endeavours that EU countries together undertake: to deal with global problems from the climate crisis, to social inequality to addressing the challenges of the digitisation of the economy. Such a desperate shame.

Where hope lies:

Soil getting the attention it deserves. I wrote recently for the Ecologist that:

“The North of England has experienced the largest increase in flooding in Europe – flood levels have increased by 11 per cent, per decade, since 1960. Promoting and increasing healthy woodlands and restoration of peat bogs will help to ’slow the flow’ of water up-stream, reducing the risks of flooding to our towns and cities.”

And this week we see in the UK media, some reasons to believe this is finally being taken seriously:

“The commitment will be part of the biggest shake-up of British agriculture in 40 years and requires a regular report to MPs outlining supply sources and household expenditure on food, as well as consumer confidence in food safety.

“Other changes include a stronger emphasis on the soil, at risk from overuse, erosion and nutrient loss; farmers are to receive help maintaining healthy soils, as well as with improvements to the tracing of livestock movements between farms. There will be powers to regulate fertiliser use and organic farming after Brexit.”

Onwards

 

Letter to Stephen Barclay Regarding Citizens’ Rights

Department for Exiting the EU
Rt. Hon. Stephen Barclay MP
9 Downing Street London
SW1A 2AS, United Kingdom 

Brussels, 10/01/2020

Dear Mr Barclay

We are writing on behalf of EU citizens who have experienced anxiety due to changes to their protections because of the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill

As MEPs, we have been receiving letters from distraught citizens from the EU27 since the 2016 referendum. They are seeing their lives torn apart and plans they made on the basis of an existing legal situation being undermined in a way that causes them considerable distress. In this context, the least we can do is to provide them with the maximum level of reassurance and protection

We are concerned by the weakening of the Independent Monitoring Authority, established to defend the rights of EU27 citizens, and in particular that the British government has reserved the unilateral right to abolish this body. The government committed to the IMA in the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement and to renege on this agreement so soon and to split the role of the IMA between different existing bodies is totally unacceptable

Alongside this raised level of anxiety, it is crass and damaging for Security Minister Brandon Lewis to threaten those EU citizens, who fail to navigate the Settled Status registration scheme sufficiently rapidly, with deportation. We have all met people who have lived in our communities for decades but for reasons of limited language skills, difficulty in locating documents, or lack of facility with digital technology are facing problems with registration. Others simply feel themselves to be British and do not understand that they need to register for something that they already possess. The duty of the government is to offer them support in availing themselves of the rights that are legally theirs, rather than threatening them

While the current concerns are raised by nonUK EU citizens living in the UK, it is clear that whatever treatment they receive is likely to be reciprocated in the by EU member countries. Hence, treating these people who have chosen to be part of our communities with the dignity and respect they deserve also provides protection for British citizens who will continue to live in the EU27 countries

Best regards

Molly Scott Cato MEP, Scott Ainslie MEP, Alexandra Phillips MEP, Ellie Chowns MEP, Catherine Rowett MEP, Gina Dowding MEP

 

New Year, Green Projects & EU Citizens

Happy New Year greetings to everyone. I won’t pretend that it’s not a little difficult to be happy about the UK leaving the EU at the end of this month or the general state of our politics. More another time about the dire need for proportional representation to ensure a fairer democracy, something which I will be looking to campaign on. For now though, I am coming to the end of what has been a wonderful and productive experience as Green MEP for the North West. However, I have a lot to complete both in the NW region and in EU Parliament – with the help of my fantastic staff, as we ensure we maximise our impact before the end of January and try to leave a positive legacy.

Looking Ahead

Transport

We will launch our detailed report on sustainable and active transport in the North West on Friday 24 January in Lancaster. This report follows up on the Green New Deal in the North West report, with more detail about the challenges and mechanisms for ensuring investment in transforming our public and active transport systems in the region.

Research and Innovation

The future of research and innovation funding…particularly as we will now no longer be a full member of the Horizon Europe research funding programme within the EU.

We have a report coming out imminently on this and I will also be following this up with an event in the European Parliament on Wednesday 22 January about the importance of research and innovation in meeting our climate targets and the policies described in the European Green Deal – the European commission’s first attempt to introduce such a concept (good news). With a range of policies across the board, as Greens we are not totally convinced that the proposals are deep enough or bold enough.

The Occupied Palestinian Territories

During my last week, not only will I finally publish a report on the occupied Palestinian territories using some of the information I gathered during my visit there in August and the numerous initiatives within the European Parliament, I will also be hosting an event in the Parliament looking at how trade in goods from the occupied Palestinian territories can be properly regulated according to the principles of international law.

The Green New Deal Presentation at Steady State Manchester

Just three days after the election, one of my MEP office team members, Laurence Adams, who was the key researcher behind our Green New Deal for the North West report spoke at a ‘Green New Deals and Greater Manchester’ event hosted by Steady State Manchester, a group working to promote alternative approaches to economic development that respects planetary limits.

Laurence gave a short presentation of our report, outlining what the challenges are in our region and how a Green New Deal of the kind put forward by the Green Party could be transformational. In particular, we made the point that we must work hard to retain ownership of the principles of a ‘Green New Deal’, which are at risk of becoming watered-down. It is fundamental to the Greens’ model that any Green New Deal worthy of the term must meet the six key principles we set out in our report:

-Recognising the Emergency
-Making a Fair Contribution
-Ensuring a Just Transition
-Investing Public Money for Public Goods
-Localising Democracy
-Rethinking Measures of Success.

 A local member of Labour for a Green New Deal was also due to attend and put forward Labour’s position, but after the dire election result, was still too crestfallen to attend. 

EU Citizenship

As the true impacts of Brexit unfold, one bad news story at a time, it is important that we pay close attention to what’s being offered. We’ve had much correspondence about the issue of ‘Associate EU Citizenship’ and my fellow MEP, Ellie Chowns has put together the following important information:

We continue to believe that the UK is best placed within the EU in terms of our economic interests, strong environmental and social standards and, of course, the benefits of freedom of movement. The proposal of associate EU citizenship is, therefore, at first glance, an undeniably attractive proposal for those of us who wish to stay a part of the European project and retain the rights we have long enjoyed as its citizens.

Associate citizenship isn’t a formal proposal. Charles Goerens, a Luxembourgish MEP, first proposed this amendment to a report on possible future changes to the EU treaties by the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) in the European Parliament. This was not a legislative report and could not create the status of associate citizenship by itself, and the proposal was ultimately withdrawn prior to the vote with Mr Goerens issuing this explanation on social media.

So far it has been agreed amongst legal experts that to achieve associate citizenship for the UK would require a treaty amendment agreed to by all remaining 27 EU member countries, and then ratified by their national parliaments or by referendum. Unfortunately, this would take a long period of time and is unlikely to happen, and while we support freedom of movement, this right must be reciprocal and enshrined for both Britons and Europeans. In this respect, associate citizenship would discriminate against Europeans.

My Greens/EFA colleague, Jill Evans, commissioned researchers at Swansea University to explore this associate citizenship question and the House of Commons library published legal opinions on EU citizenship that is online here.

Despite the strict legal issues, remaining open to the idea of an associate citizenship, if anything, sends a clear message to the UK government that citizens want to be empowered and remain part of the EU.

I’m keeping a watching eye on this – among all the other Brexit-related developments!

Here’s a link to the GreenWave Voxbox, where we discuss citizen rights post-Brexit with other MEPs.

Meanwhile this week

Good

It is good to see this progressing and to have to opportunity to sign the declaration before my role here ends:

“The Intergroup on Welfare and Conservation of Animals launched DECLARATION ON A TRANSITION TO NON-ANIMAL SCIENCE calling on the EU Commission to establish a concrete strategy to phase out the use of animals in areas of research, education and testing.”

With more than 200,000 animals used each year in the EU for the primary purpose of education and training, this initiative will have a huge impact for good.

The link to the declaration can be found here.

Bad

You couldn’t make it up, but then again:

“Counter-terrorism police placed the non-violent group Extinction Rebellion (XR) on a list of extremist ideologies that should be reported to the authorities running the Prevent programme, which aims to catch those at risk of committing atrocities.

“XR featured alongside threats to national security such as neo-Nazi terrorism and a pro-terrorist Islamist group. The guide, aimed at police officers, government organisations and teachers who by law have to report concerns about radicalisation, was dated last November.”

This article, discovered by The Guardian, is dark and threatening to those who are simply campaigning to protect the life, nature and the environment and I am certain will be challenged. I agree with my colleague Molly Scott Cato MEP who said this is:

“A sign of a state out of control and failing democratic standards.”

Where hope lies

Localism!

I am being asked a lot about what I will do after the end of January.

I have of course kept both of my local councillor roles on at Lancaster City and Lancashire County Council during the last seven months, and will return to them with renewed determination (and I believe, support) to ensure local action by our councils on the climate emergency. As the MEP office, we will be producing a short report on good practice so far in the regions – and I have no doubt that people support local low and zero-carbon initiatives which can also transform our local economies, adding to the quality of daily life. Better public transport and support for active travel, more local services, expanding and promoting biodiversity in our public green spaces and supporting community initiatives just as a start.

I am sure many of us will be turning to the well established Green truism for creating a better future: “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

But first, this coming week will be my last visit to Strasbourg and the formal plenary of the Parliament and there is lots on the agenda I will be participating in.

Onwards