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.
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.
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
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.
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.