Endings, Visits & Injustice

Mood change

The mood has, of course, changed in Europe now, the sense of an impending end and unclear view of what the next stage of our relationship with the EU will be. There was a feeling of gloom amongst UK MEPs (except of course the Brexit group) that we could see on the faces of our Green colleagues and those of all the parties. It’s absolutely clear that across the Parliament over the last four decades, UK MEPs have been highly valued for their contribution and what they bring to the Parliament. And I would say amongst those, the Greens are held in particularly high esteem.

The demands of the job, however, go on, and the vital work of the European Parliament continues. This week, a group of visitors from the North West (the fourth visit I’ve arranged) went to Strasbourg. Discussions touched on the UK elections, but much of the time, my work was around international affairs.

Speaking on Brexit

In the European Parliament plenary, I was given speaking time to discuss the UK general election result and Brexit. My speech is below but I also want to quote first, the remarks of European President, Ursula von der Leyen:

She warned that a cliff-edge Brexit at the end of 2020 will hurt the UK more than the EU as she laid out her intentions to “make the most” out of the “extremely challenging” 11 months available to strike a trade deal.

“In case we cannot conclude an agreement by the end of 2020 we will face again a cliff-edge situation and this would clearly harm our interests but it will impact the UK more than us as the EU will continue benefiting from its single market its customs union and the 70 international agreements we signed with our partners – but it’s clearly not in our interest.”

Von der Leyen said she would not miss the Brexit party MEPs, as they heckled her speech, but she offered her condolence to those parties who had campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU.

“If I look at our very brave remain MEPs I can only say, I’m sorry, we will miss you. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for having been at our side. We will never miss those who scream and yell.”

My speech:

Thank you Madam Chair,

Sadly, for all of us who think the European Union offers the best future for the UK and the rest of Europe, we now have to face the reality of Brexit.

Last week the European Council reiterated its commitment to a level playing field in standards and regulations in trade between the EU and the UK, but the new UK government already threatens to break its commitments.

We now have a serious risk to workers’ rights and environmental protections, to parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, and therefore, a risk again of the possibility of a no-deal Brexit at the end of next year.

This parliament, elected on proportional representation, demonstrates of all that can be achieved by nations working together in co-operation, representing citizens against global corporate business interests; and in confronting the global challenges of climate change, social injustice and the ecological crisis.

Citizens of Europe look to their governments to protect them against the vested interest of financial and property millionaires, and corporate power.

Many of us in the UK will continue to look to the best in the EU to overcome those challenges.

Visitors to EU Parliament from the North West

We are trying to make sure that more North West constituents get the chance to experience the EU institutions, albeit at a very sad time, as we know we are leaving. This is the fourth visit my team and I have arranged since taking office and every visit has been such an amazing experience.

On Wednesday, we welcomed a sponsored visitor group from the North-West region to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. We originally were due to host around 25 visitors, but due to strike action in France, the final number of participants was 12. The ones who made it had to endure a tough journey to get there, and we hope the ones who could not make it will have a chance in January before we leave.

The day began with an opportunity for the visitors to meet some Green MEPs, hear a bit about their work and ask them questions. We were lucky to have MEPs Molly Scott Cato, Terry Reintke and Ellie Chowns, who took time out of their busy schedule to meet the visitor group of Green and Remain activists.

All the MEPs spoke of their profound sadness at the prospect of the UK leaving the EU. Molly outlined her disappointment in not being able to continue her work on important projects going forward, such as Green financing and the European Green Deal. Terry, who is a German MEP, gave a passionate account of her love for the UK and her difficulty in coming to terms with the UK leaving. She told visitors that after the election result on Friday, she moved fast to set up a Friends of Britain group in the Parliament, made up of MEPs willing to continue their relationship with the UK going forward. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with a huge number of MEPs from all over Europe having already signed up. Ellie, in explaining how she went from a university lecturer to MEP, was also able to uplift the mood by encouraging people to get involved in Green politics at the local level because it is possible to make a difference. I would like to wholeheartedly thank all of my amazing and inspirational colleagues for taking the time to meet our visitors.

After the session, the group went inside the Plenary, where they watched my speech in the hemicycle on Brexit. I was pleased they got a chance to see the plenary in action, although sadly, Nigel Farage spoke shortly after myself so visitors were unable to see first-hand, the carry-on pantomime that is usually performed by the Brexit Party MEPs at every plenary session. Afterwards, I was able to speak to our visitors, where I outlined my work in Parliament and answered questions.

To conclude, there was also a talk by the visitor centre staff on the history of the EU and the Parliament.

When I spoke to the visitors at the end of the day, you could feel a general sadness they felt in leaving behind an institution that they firmly believe can offer them the best future.

However, there were also little moments of hope – particularly the sense of solidarity from our European friends and the confirmation that there will be a collaborative relationship in the future between the UK and the EU. If there is anything we should not do, is lose hope.

We are not alone!

Palestine & Israel

This week, I attended a meeting of both delegations for relations with Israel and relations with Palestine.

The focus at the Palestine meeting centred around how to ensure that the EU member states only import correctly labelled products from the illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. And while the Greens are calling for a total ban on these products, the EU position, recently reinforced by the European Court of Justice decision, is that products should be labelled so that the consumer knows the province.

We heard from specialist speakers that a recent survey showed only 10 per cent of wines sold by online sales from EU outlets and produced within illegal settlements, are correctly labelled as such. Wines are the one sector that is relatively easy to monitor, so these findings understate the problem. Ethical issues are clear: a third of settlement vineyards are based on private Palestinian land (confiscated land). Palestinian agricultural areas have decreased by one third in recent years.

Meanwhile this week…

Good

Although we will be leaving on the 31 of January, I aim to do and achieve as much as I can until then. There has been much interest in the future role of hydrogen and in my role on the Industry, Research and Energy Committee. I am planning a workshop in the European Parliament to make an impact on both the Green groups and Parliament’s views on hydrogen. In our report on The Green New Deal in the North West, we highlighted the potential role hydrogen technology will play a key role in the transition of some sectors, but it is essential we underline that it must be fully renewables-based hydrogen.

Bad

The European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning a new Russian law this week. This new law forces an individual who distributes information on the internet and receives money from any foreign source, to brand him or herself as a “foreign agent”.

This is the latest attempt of the Russian government to prevent journalists from doing their job; hindering independent and investigative journalism from scrutinising those in power.

Russia’s efforts to interfere with the media also concerns the UK. Propaganda and disinformation is a serious threat to our democracy and it’s becoming clear how systemic Russian efforts to influence democracies are.

After last week’s elections, Putin and his cronies have a new ally in Downing Street. Until recently, Boris Johnson blocked the publication of the report into Russian interference in UK politics; only clearing it for release after voters can no longer hold him accountable.

The Tories also deceived voters through online ads featuring outright lies and disinformation, while also setting up accounts such as “Factcheck UK” to mislead voters.

Like Putin, this is just another way of preventing journalists from scrutinising those in power. Another way of withholding information from the public to mislead voters. Another way to gain supporters and demonise opposition by spreading lies.

With the Tory party cosying up to Russian methods of misleading voters, it is becoming clear that Boris Johnson is a threat to our democracy. Spreading hate and lies to gain and keep political power and pulling our country apart in the process.

In the coming years, we will have to fight the government’s lies. We will have to hold them and the media accountable. Fighting for independent and critical journalism that is not a mouthpiece for the Downing Street spin machine. That is the only way to fix our broken democracy.

Where hope lies

It’s a mixed ‘where hope lies’ this week, tinged with optimism in a sad situation. This week saw the awarding of the Sakharov Prize to Ilham Tohti. His daughter, Jewher Ilam, received the prize in his stead, due to his imprisonment. She hasn’t heard from her father since 2017 and has no information from authorities about him whatsoever.

Ilham is a renowned Uyghur human rights defender, economics professor and advocate of the rights of China’s Uyghur ‘minority’ population. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison for his activism following a two-day show trial in 2014. Millions of Uyghur are forced into and held in so-called ‘re-education centres.’, which are huge concentration camps in China.

This prize though is so valued by human rights defenders as it helps shine a much needed international light on their plights and protect them for further human rights abuses. Ilham’s daughter works tirelessly on his behalf, in fear also for her freedom and that of her family but carrying on because to raise the profile of the Uyghur people, is their only hope.

Our Greens/EFA coordinator of foreign affairs in the European Parliament, one of the proposers for this years prize, said:

“The Uyghur are suffering from the worst police state that exists in the globe today.”

It was humbling to meet Jewher and witness her bravery and honour; she is an example of the importance of citizens continuing to fight injustice whether that’s against authoritarian governments or the interests of corporate big business. The hope is in those who fight on regardless of the risks they personally face or the sacrifices.

Onwards

 

 

 

 

Budgets, EU Green Deal & Making Votes Matter

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.

GreenWave TV

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.

Palestine

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?

Good

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.

Bad 

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.

Onwards

 

Cuts, Climate & CSOs

It’s been a busy week in Europe, with so much covered from challenging budget cuts that would impact the essential work on the climate crisis, preventing big business from hijacking research programmes to ensuring the safety of Civil Society Organisations and their staff is upheld in the Middle East. We also stood strong with others against harassment and through a media outlet, we got a leaked preview of the upcoming Green Deal for Europe. The coming week though is likely to be even more action-packed!

Budget cuts will not solve the climate crisis

On Monday this week, the European Council released its first negotiating position on the EU’s long-term budget. The so-called “negotiating box” represents the collective EU Member States’ view on what the EU should spend money on during 2021-2027 period. This opening position will now constitute the basis for negotiations between the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission.

In short, the Member States want to cut back on almost everything that the EU does. For us Greens, this does not make sense. We are facing a climate crisis. Dealing with that crisis requires a considerable transformation of our society and such a transformation does not come cheap. We need significant public investment and focused efforts to help businesses, local councils and individuals achieve climate neutrality. The European Council’s position takes us down the wrong path.

For example, the proposed cutbacks also affect one of the EU programmes that I am working on, the EU’s next research programme, Horizon Europe. The Council wants to decrease the EU’s research budget proposal by almost a third, from £100 billion to £71 billion. This is not what we need. Research and innovation will be key in tackling the climate crisis. As Greens have already secured a commitment that 35 per cent of the EU research budget will be spent on climate-related actions until 2027, these proposed budget cuts mean billions of pounds less to climate-relevant research. And as the UK strives to be a part of the EU research programme even in the case of Brexit, this will also greatly affect the opportunities and funding available to UK researchers.

Scrutinising the influence of big business

I attended an ‘exchange of views’ with Jean-Eric Paquet, head of the European Commission’s research department. He is currently leading the EU’s work in setting the priorities in some parts of the Horizon Europe research programme. Priorities that will guide the projects on which taxpayers’ money will be spent.

In determining these priorities, the Commission is gathering input from different stakeholders. As Greens, our main fight here is to ensure this involves a wide-reaching range of players and not only big corporations. Too often, big business hijacks public programmes to serve their own interests. That’s why I pressured Mr Paquet on how he aims to increase the participation of civil society in the process. EU expenditure must serve the public interest, not only the interests of big business.

Omar Shakir – deported for his human rights work

On Tuesday, I attended an exchange of views with the Human Rights Watch Director for Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, who was recently deported from Israel for simply doing his job. His deportation was the result of a landmark Supreme Court ruling, and Mr Shakir spoke at length of the sustained assault on human rights and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Reports of travel bans, criminal charges and arrests on CSO workers are now rife in the region. This Supreme Court ruling, however, amounts to a dangerous escalation, Mr Shakir claims. My intervention was focussed on a similar point, stating that CSOs are a foundation of any true democracy, and should be protected at all costs.

Sadly, Mr Shakir’s situation is symbolic of a globally shrinking space for human rights defenders, that is fuelled in this case, by the Israeli political agenda. This agenda shows no sign of improvement with the prospect of a new government. It continues to actively and freely disregard the human rights of Palestinians as well as, by definition, the peace process. The EU and the international community need to rethink their approach to the issue, while in parallel support all civil society workers on the ground.

Meanwhile this week…

Good

There are training and awareness initiatives that promote transparency and action, which is always a welcome opportunity. On Wednesday afternoon, I finally had the chance to attend a training course on Preventing Psychological and Sexual Harassment at the European Parliament – something the Green group has pushed for in light of the #MeToo movement. It’s a training course aimed solely at MEPs – and before being elected, all candidates were encouraged by the campaign to sign the MeToo pledge to prevent, combat and report sexual harassment and sexism in the European Parliament and beyond, and to support the victims. The website sheds light on the stories of harassment of staff within Parliament. Enough is enough, let’s eliminate harassment of all kinds from our lives.

Bad

What makes it even harder for parties that act with integrity like the Greens, is that the system is so open to manipulation by those with lower standards. An article in DeSmog this week makes clear the cracks that let the bad in.

“The Tories have received millions from the richest of the rich with vested interests in fossil fuels. And – as we today revealed – they’ve also received millions from the aviation industry.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data shows surges in giving around the time of key government decisions on aviation, such as the approval of Heathrow Terminal 5 in 2001 and debates around Heathrow expansion in 2009 and 2018.

“With such huge sums being donated, perhaps it’s no surprise that none of the parties made tackling the industry’s massive emissions a core part of their campaign.”

Where hope lies

The European Green Deal – like the ‘Green New Deal’ being adopted elsewhere, is a roadmap that can get us out of the chaos that the climate crisis threatens. Nothing is perfect, but a Green Deal that addresses the climate across all sectors and includes social as well as environmental justice at its core, is a great start. We do have concerns here though.

This coming week there will be an extraordinary plenary for all MEPs to hear the European Commission’s proposal for the European Green Deal. Unfortunately, it’s looking very unlikely I will be able to attend due to the French public sector strike which includes the rail workers and heavily affects the Eurostar service.

A summary of the draft proposal to be presented was leaked last week, and it appears that although there are few concrete proposals, it’s more of a Commission ‘wish-list’. Two significant areas covered in the leaked document are the Commission’s stated aspiration of how quickly they will begin to reduce carbon emissions and what they will achieve by 2030, and the proposal to enshrine the ambition for climate neutrality by 2050 into law. This “climate law” could have a huge impact depending on what it contains. More on this next week.

Onwards

 

 

Women, Europe & Planet

Most of this week was spent in Strasbourg, on a diverse range of important issues. From the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, consumer standards and how they’re impacted by big business, to the Green New Deal for Europe, a well deserved human rights award, holding the EU Commission to account with a ‘yellow card’, issues in the Middle East and the EU declaration of a climate emergency. These weekly summaries grow more difficult on weeks like this!

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The European Parliament adopted a resolution by our Greens/EFA group for ratification of the Istanbul Convention: to add gender-based violence to the list of EU crimes and a directive to combat gender-based violence. We used the opportunity of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to urge the Council to stop blocking EU ratification and denounce this massive violation of human rights which is still very present in the EU. One in three women in Europe has experienced physical or sexual acts of violence at least once since the age of 15; 55% of women have been confronted with one or more forms of sexual harassment and in many Member States, over half of all female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner, relative or family member.

A Green New Deal for Europe

I am delighted to be involved in the Greens’ Climate Core Group discussion on the Green New Deal and European Climate Law. As the Commission begins to draft its proposal for a European Green Deal, Green MEPs are hard at work defining our demands on the contents of that proposal. Any Green New Deal has to recognise the scale of the challenge, and set out sufficiently ambitious proposals to meet those challenges.

As I showed in my report, The Green New Deal for the North West, the main sectors that constitute the bulk of the challenge and from which the vast majority of our carbon emissions come, are energy supply, industry, buildings and land use (farming and transport). In addition, at a European level, these sectors must be looked at through the lens of our trade and foreign policies. The role of an MEP presents a powerful opportunity to challenge proposals, to scrutinise and criticise anything that fails to meet the required standards until we get this right.

Greens Give Yellow Card to New Commission

A major vote took place this week and as Greens in Europe, we chose to abstain, effectively giving the new European Commission a ‘yellow card’. The new Commission, led by President Ursula von der Leyen, was voted through but our abstention was seen to be a sign of goodwill as well as an acknowledgement of serious criticisms including: the profound lack of will to seriously reform the EU’s trade and agricultural policies, the decision to link migration policy to the notion of “promoting our European way of life”, and putting a right-wing Commissioner in charge of EU enlargement.

However, we do recognise that the Commission has moved in a better direction concerning the climate. Announcing their intention to increase the emissions reduction target for 2030 to 55 per cent (previously 45 per cent) and pushing EU Member States to adopt a target of climate neutrality by 2050. This is not enough, of course, but it does represent progress. As the Greens/EFA group in Europe, our targets would be an emissions reduction of 65 per cent by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2040.

Greens are ready to work with the new Commission in designing an ambitious European Green New Deal, and raising our climate targets so we meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement. There is no time to waste and options are diminishing, so although we will work constructively with others, we will not shy away from criticism when it’s due.

Palestine debate

The Local Palestine Solidarity Group in Alsace was hosting two wonderful women from Palestine, Sahar Abbassi the Director of the MADA association in Silwan and Rania Mohjareb from Al-Haq, a human rights organisation based in the West Bank. I had met different representatives of both these organisations during my recent visit to Palestine and Israel in August. The situation following last week’s announcement from the US administration that ‘settlements are not illegal ‘ is serious and the statement from the US is a clear breach of international law. By contrast, in the EU last week, the Court of Justice said that products from illegal settlements must be labelled as such when sold in the European market. Rania also called for the publication of an existing report by the UN Human Rights Council that lists companies operating in the illegal settlements.

 

Palestine event

As part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, an event was arranged to encourage an exchange of views on the situation for women in Palestine and I had the opportunity to speak:

“It is time for the EU to step up as the neutral peace broker in Israel and Palestine. That requires an unwavering commitment to international law.

“Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.

“That is why last week’s ruling by our Court of Justice is so important. Products from illegal Israeli settlements must now be labelled as such. We now need to take concrete steps to enforce the court’s judgement.

“This is the first step. Going forward, the EU needs to impose a ban on all imports of settlement products into the EU. Similar measures have been taken with products from Crimea and Northern Cyprus. Why not from the settlements?

“The UN should urgently release the database of companies operating in Israeli settlements that are profiting from their construction and growth.

“It will send a clear message to the world: any attempts to legitimise annexation, and contravene international law, will have concrete repercussions.

“Finally, I would like to ask the High Representative: what concrete steps will the EU take to ensure international law remain a respected point of reference for the Middle East Peace Process?”

European Parliament Declares Climate Emergency

Another high point of the week was witnessing the European Parliament adopt the resolution declaring a climate emergency and urging EU member states to take immediate action to address the climate crisis. The flip-side of this though was the disappointment that the resolution itself did not contain the concrete actions the Greens are demanding.

This declaration is a step but not enough and will ring hollow if it is not followed by determined climate action. Therefore, the Greens have called on the Commission to present concrete measures before the climate summit in Madrid (COP25).

I was asked for comment:

“Today, the European Parliament declared a climate emergency. This is significant. The world’s second-largest economy now recognises the climate crisis.

“In the UK, meanwhile, we now know that the Tories are planning to sell out our NHS to Donald Trump. In that deal, Boris Johnson and President Trump are making sure to ban any mention of climate change.

“While the EU takes a firm stance on climate action, our Prime Minister is trying to silence the climate debate. He won’t succeed.

“We Greens won’t stay silent. And we will take every opportunity to give climate change the attention it needs.

“Because we are in a climate emergency. Silencing the debate won’t help us. Only ambitious climate action will.”

Meanwhile this week

Good

Ukrainian film-maker, Oleg Sentsov, has finally collected his human rights prize after five years in a Russian prison. Oleg received the (belated) 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought this week, finally having the opportunity to collect it. He had been arrested by Russian authorities following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for “plotting terrorist acts”. The conviction has been described by a host of international organisations as being fabricated.
Oleg was finally freed due to a Ukrainian-Russian prisoner swap and able to come to Europe. He was keen to emphasise that Russian atrocities toward opposition figures and minorities in Crimea have not ceased since his arrest. At the same time, the war in Eastern Ukraine continues to rage. That Oleg Sentsov was finally able to collect his prize is a powerful symbol. In the face of aggression and injustice, The European Union continues to stand up for human rights, international law and justice.

Bad

As a representative on the European Union’s Horizon Research and Innovation Programme, I find it a fascinating and positive group which really tackles the issues. This week, the group published a report on ‘the innovation principle’ that’s been touted by major companies in the oil and chemical sectors. They’ve pushed for ’the innovation principle’ to be more widely accepted and given the same legal weight as the ‘precautionary principle’; an aim considered by many consumer rights organisations as a ‘Trojan horse’ that would enable businesses to undermine EU environmental and health regulations.

The precautionary principle should not be undermined. The recently released report was published by the Centre for European Policy Studies CEPS. CEPS has 14 companies on its corporate members’ list that lobby for this and they are the ones who stand to gain.

Asked for my view as the Greens representative on the Horizon programme working group, I said that this was nothing more than trying to give the same status to what amounts to an ’anti-regulation principle’ and a way for businesses to buy influence and weaken the precautionary principle. Innovation doesn’t need protecting by big business, but the precautionary principle is there to protect environmental public health and consumer standards. Yet again big business influence is trying to reach further into places it shouldn’t go.

Where hope lies

This week, 74 European students and teachers came to Strasbourg to present a ‘Declaration for the Planet’ which was contributed to by 310 students and 27 teachers: ‘The first European declaration of the rights for the planet and the living.’

It all started with Anaïs Willocq, a teacher at Montaigne’s school in 2017, raising awareness among her fifth-grade students of the threats facing them on the planet and went on to register them in the Children’s Parliament. The Lobby of Poissy laid the ground-work with educational projects, actions with the town hall, meetings of deputies in the National Assembly, demonstrations, meetings with experts and getting well-known personalities on board with the project: Hubert Reeves, François Hollande and Nicolas Hulot, who agreed to sponsor them and to write the ‘rights for the planet and the living’. Supported by the European Commission, this unique approach places the school at the heart of citizenship.

“It is natural that the Commission is associated with this initiative because it is a true example of what Europe must be: the meeting of Europeans from several countries who think together about solutions to build a better future.”

For Baudouin Baudru, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in France.

You can see a quick bit of my meeting with the children below.

Onwards

 

Safety, Occupation & Netpol

It was good to join with Kevin Blowe, Baroness Jenny Jones – a Green member of the House of Lords – and many others, to celebrate 10 years of Netpol; the police monitoring group. It was, I suppose, a bitter-sweet occasion, with a realisation that we actually need a police monitoring service to keep activists and campaigners safe and ensure justice stands a chance. Following my recent trip to Israel and Palestine, I feel even more acutely for those living under daily oppression and I am keenly aware of how US announcements on the settlements in the occupied territories must affect the morale of Palestinians in the West Bank.

On a more positive note, I was invited along with others, to examine issues of road safety. And I am delighted to conclude that the Green Party’s Green New Deal – and our own report: The Green New Deal in the North West – offer the very best solutions, with positive impacts being very quickly realised.

Netpol 10th Anniversary

Last week passing through London via my usual Eurostar journey back from Brussels, it was a treat to attend a fantastic event to honour the 10th anniversary of Netpol. This is an organisation founded to monitor police responses to public order, protest and street policing, and to also provide challenge when policing is excessive, discriminatory or threatens civil rights. Green Party peer, Baroness Jenny Jones, has worked hard to support Netpol as they’ve become ever-more important –mainly as political and environmental street campaigning increases.

Working in partnership with anti-fracking community groups and Extinction Rebellion, Netpol’s work is vital, but they are in need of funding. See the launch of their ‘Protecting Freedom to Protest Fund.

I like these words by Hannah Chutzpah, who is on Netpol’s Steering Group:

 “I’m fascinated by how successful activist campaigns and movements get absorbed into the historical narrative – with people forgetting that there ever was an opposition. Suffragettes and the Civil Rights campaigners were opposed – violently – at the time. LGSM  (Lesbian and Gays Support for Miners) have a feel-good movie now, and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign is finally getting a proper hearing: but for both, it took decades of fighting, while they were smeared by both politicians and the press. Doreen Lawrence (mother of Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager who was murdered in a racist attack in South East London in 1993) is now a dame – but before that, she had police spies infiltrating her grieving family’s campaign for justice.”

Road Safety Week

It’s been Road Safety Week throughout Europe this week. The problems on our roads are far more serious than most realise, with pedestrians and cyclists most at risk. A report out this week by Brake, stated that one in three adults were involved in a collision or near-miss on a UK road last year.

In the European Parliament, within the newly formed cross-party group for Sustainable and Safe Active Travel, we want to focus on the “entirely avoidable” deaths of young people due to road traffic collisions. In the UK, five people lose their lives every day on the roads. A ‘modal shift’ to cycling and walking, with an investment in decent cycling infrastructure for short journeys, could drastically reduce air pollution in our major cities.

Poor air quality is responsible for over 4000 death each year in the North West. Our recent The Green New Deal in the North West focussed on some of the key policy changes required, including a commitment to put public spending on walking and cycling to at least £10 per capita, per year – on par with leading cycle-friendly countries. The future can be positive and bright.

Israel/Palestine

I was due to co-host a meeting this week in the European Parliament with two prominent and respected peace advocates: Former Israeli Ambassador and negotiator, Ilan Baruch, and Ashraf Al-Ajrami, member of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with the Israeli Society. Sadly I was unable to attend due to illness, but the meeting, chaired by my colleague Margrete Auken, Danish Green MEP, was very informative.

Mr Ilan Baruch, after 36 years of diplomatic career including postings in Asia, Europe and Africa, resigned from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2011 on grounds of principle and since his early retirement, he has been devoting time and experience to projects in public diplomacy. He is currently chairperson of a team of activists promoting the Middle East peace process based on the two-state solution.

Ashraf Al-Ajrami, former Minister in the Palestine National Authority, is together with Mr Baruch a director of a new cultural centre called the Palestine House in Tel Aviv.

Mr Al-Ajrami stated that sadly a majority of Palestinians no longer believe in the feasibility of the two-state solution, which had 70-80 % support after the signing of the Oslo Accords, now due to the Israeli Government’s actions. Many Palestinians believe that the de facto annexation has become the reality on the ground in the West Bank. He warned that the peace process is thus losing momentum.

Mr Baruch underlined the importance of the EU in speaking up and affirming its commitment to ending the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and to the two state-solution and particularly and significantly this week when the US unilaterally decided to ‘normalise’ and legitimise the illegal settlements.

Mr Baruch also highlighted the recent ruling on labelling of products with origin in the illegal settlements as important EU action to keep the peace process alive. The EU is by far Israel’s most important trading partner and has the potential to use that leverage.

Mr Baruch saw this visit to the European Parliament as the first in many to come, and I hope to meet him in the near future.

This week’s decision by the US administration to overturn 40 years of USA policy, to declare that the illegal occupation of Israeli settlements in Palestine is in fact, not illegal as far as America is concerned, has attracted widespread condemnation and goes against international law. I wrote a piece on this grave situation for Middle East Eye.

Meanwhile this week…

Good

The seasonal festivities this Saturday (23 November) start with friends and community at the Green Christmas fair in Lancaster. I’ve been a Councillor in this area for more than two decades now and The GCF has become an annual institution. If you’re in the area, the fair is Saturday 23 November 10 – 4 at the Friends Meeting House, next to Lancaster train station. There will be all of the usual wonders with two floors of stalls selling locally-produced art, crafts, games, clothing, gifts, and much more (e.g. hundreds of second-hand books/DVDs and the ever-popular Fairfield Association calendars!) plus live music all day, Santa’s grotto and a wonderful café and all for just 50p (free for children). For the first time in 25 years, I will miss due to illness. But I have booked a delivery of a cake from a friend!

Bad

The ultimate insult to voters and democracy in the blatant use of spin and manipulation of truth by the Conservatives this week, when they set up their social media Twitter account to ‘appear’ to be a fact-checking account. Adding insult to injury, Nicky Morgan MP went on to respond that: “This is a total Westminster bubble story,” suggesting that nobody outside of political London is bothered by the lies and lack of integrity. This was then compounded by her colleague, Dominic Raab MP, who claimed “No one gives a toss” about the “social media cut and thrust” after the Tories changed their social media account. This is an appalling attitude to take in the run up to the election.

I do despair at what the  Conservative Party consider to be our new normal. As we are entering the most important final three weeks of the general election, what voters need and want is clarity and truth. The lies on buses and in print during the referendum caused a huge divide in our country and we must learn from this.

Where hope lies

The Green Manifesto launch is for me exactly where hope lies. If you’ve not had the chance to see how brilliant the future could be in the hands of a political party that genuinely cares, please do click here

 

Onwards