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

 

 

 

 

A European Green Deal

The European Commission has finally, and historically, placed the European Green Deal as a core strategy on their 2019-2024 political guidelines. Ursula von Der Leyen, the new Commission President, should be commended for finally putting forward as a key priority the foundations of a plan to tackle climate change. We, of course, were not expecting a detailed plan after two weeks in office – although such a plan is direly needed. Now is the time to take this outline of a green deal and make it into a credible and tangible reality.

From a European Greens/EFA perspective, the group’s key overall messages will be the major criteria against which the group are going to evaluate the Commission’s proposals:

  1. The objectives of the Green Deal must not only be in line with the 1.5°C global warming target; it must be about respecting all planetary boundaries;
  2. The Green Deal must ensure policy coherence. There should be climate/biodiversity/resource-proofing of all policies, including with the CAP and trade policies;
  3. Climate action must go hand-in-hand with the reduction of inequalities;
  4. GND needs a green financial system, rather than just some greening of parts of finance.

The line of thinking is the right one, although of course, these points are just a general thematic overview that should underwrite our approach to the Green Deal. The practical reality must ensure our transition to a more sustainable society with some concrete measures that will rapidly propel us to a zero-carbon, nature-friendly economy, create thousands of jobs, improve health and tackle inequality.

These ideas were included in my report The Green New Deal in the North West, and in concrete terms, we identified areas where a Green New Deal can force much-needed change. The report addresses five key areas:

  1. Renewable energy supply
  2. Energy-efficient buildings
  3. Sustainable transport
  4. A zero-carbon, circular economy
  5. Land use, food and biodiversity

So how do we help the European Commission maintain a focus on these areas? We need to provide tangible solutions with frameworks like The Green New Deal in the North West, that prioritise human and environmental sustainability at the local level, and make them a success story. This model can be replicated on the international stage in institutions like the EU to give our solutions the widest reach.

There is no doubt that some issues will require local solutions, and others will need coordinated efforts with our European partners. The difficulty lies in finding the right balance between local, bottom-up solutions and international standards that need to be regulated for the greater good.

In the EU, energy production and use, including the energy used in transport, account for some 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The five key areas covered in my report would allow us to tackle the bulk of emissions in the EU, as well as in North West England.

Let’s take energy, for example. We urgently need a rapid transition to a smart, zero-carbon energy system and halt all future fossil fuel developments. It is also a reality that many communities rely on the jobs provided by the energy sector. The focus in the Green Deal should be on investing in these people, rather than leaving them behind, and give them the opportunity to re-train in green industries or work in environmental restoration schemes – a policy already implemented by the Spanish government in 2018.

By keeping the focus on people, policies such as improving the energy efficiency of building stock can be a strong way of tackling the climate emergency, while at the same time delivering social justice for those who are affected by fuel poverty. Furthermore, improving energy efficiency can help our public institutions make substantial financial savings as well as in the case of hospitals, speed up patient recovery times. These kinds of societal changes will benefit our communities and leave no one behind.

Policies to be implemented at the EU level, are also needed.

The most important of which is the reform of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). Firstly, decreasing the number of free allowances in the ETS and secondly, increase the pace of removing emission allowances from the system (which will lead to a higher price on emissions and a faster decrease in emissions).

Secondly, we need to introduce a Border Carbon Adjustment mechanism (in other words, a carbon border tariff) to avoid carbon leakages with companies who manage to avoid climate regulation and paying for their emissions.

And lastly, introducing a kerosene tax. Airlines should pay energy and fuel taxes like everyone else, and we have to tackle airline emissions, a sector where emissions are still growing significantly.

The Green Deal needs to not aim only 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. For example, making it easy for people to choose public transport over their car, expanding cycling infrastructure to make cycling less dangerous and more accessible. In other words, policies should also aim to encourage new, positive types of behaviour.

That is where we will be able to test the real ambition of political leaders.

Going forward as Greens, we should take a demanding but constructive approach. At this early stage, simply criticising the Commission for not being bold or concrete enough will prove to be counterproductive. We need to ensure that a firm but collaborative approach is what will get the key Greens/EFA demands for the European Green Deal on the table.

These are baby steps, but adequate ones if we want to act and save the future of young people and the planet.

 

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

 

 

Death Penalty, Thomas Cook & Honeybees

The clock is ticking (albeit an hour earlier than last week) and the stress is showing in UK politics. The bigger picture globally and the requirement for action on climate chaos is so much more than Brexit, and I fear that today’s news of a general election will not bring us closer to a democratic way forward for action on what matters. Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, earlier last week, issues on the plenary agenda for MEPs included Uganda’s threat to impose the death penalty on homosexuals; the demise of Thomas Cook and the need to protect workers’ rights; the protection of honeybees; and addressing clamp-downs on the right to protest.

Uganda

On Thursday, the European Parliament strongly condemned the recent developments in Uganda concerning the rights of LGBTI people. The Parliament adopted a strongly-worded resolution that followed on the Ugandan government’s announcement to introduce a bill that would impose the death penalty on homosexuals in the country. The resolution:

“…stresses that discrimination against LGBTI people undermines the most basic of human rights principles and sexual orientation and gender identity are matters that fall within the scope of an individual’s right to privacy, as guaranteed by international law and national constitutions.

“We reject the use of the death penalty under any circumstances, including any legislation that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality and call on the EU and its Member States to further engage the Government of Uganda to reconsider its position on the death penalty.

“EU institutions will continue to support civil society organisations that work with the defence and promotion of human rights in Uganda, and the EU will pressure the Ugandan government to decriminalise homosexuality.

Known as the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, it was nullified five years ago on a technicality and Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said on 10 October, it planned to resurrect it later this year. African countries have some of the world’s most prohibitive laws governing homosexuality. Same-sex relationships are considered taboo and gay sex is a crime across most of the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.

Since the announcement on reintroducing the bill, the Ugandan government has experienced a global backlash. Following condemnations by many international donors, the government has since backtracked. On 14 October, a spokesperson for Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni denied plans by the government “to introduce a law like that”.

Thomas Cook

An oral question by an MEP prompted a debate into the liquidation of the Thomas Cook Group in the plenary. My colleague Catherine Rowett MEP spoke in the debate, which then proceeded to a vote on a ‘Joint Motion of Resolution’ on Thursday, covering the key issues from the EU perspective. The Thomas Cook fiasco has put 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, of which 9000 are located in the UK, 2,500 in Spain, and more than 1000 in Greece. The fate of these jobs is still uncertain, but it’s likely to have considerable knock-on effects, not only on the tourism industry and on the transport sector, but on the economy as a whole.

Tourism employs an estimated 12.3 million workers and provides at least 5% of all jobs (more than 27 million workers when considering its links to other sectors) and Europe is the number one destination in the world.

The resolution notes that the crisis borne out of the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook Group is not an isolated event and may well happen again in the future. It included calls, therefore, on the Commission to evaluate the feasibility of adopting specific actions and/or measures to prevent situations of this kind from happening again in order to further boost consumer protection and passenger rights.

The Greens also proposed and voted on an amendment which pointed out how unnecessary the recent chaos was and how easily Thomas Cook could have catered for this; the need for provisions on worker protection; calling on the European Commission to study causes and future remedies (also to enforce the provisions of  the package travel directive) and to consider state aid only as a very last resort. Importantly, the Greens reiterated the importance of establishing an EU Strategy for Sustainable Tourism.

Egypt Protests

Discontent, fear and the abuse of power are behind uprisings that it seems are everywhere; from Chile to London, Hong Kong to Egypt and many more. Uprisings against oppression and for the environment; just individuals screaming out for their rights, the safety of their families and the future. This week, the EU Parliament condemned the crackdown on protests in Egypt and adopted a resolution strongly condemning the Egyptian government’s recent crackdown on peaceful protesters and the ongoing restrictions on fundamental rights in the country. We called for:

“…an end to all acts of violence, incitement, hate speech, harassment, intimidation, enforced disappearances and censorship.”

As well as for an “independent and transparent investigation into all human rights violations and for those responsible to be held to account.” The resolution also demands the immediate release of all human rights defenders detained or sentenced during the recent protests.

Debrief with Michel Barnier

I attended two meetings with Michel Barnier as he explained his role in the recent negotiations to bring about Johnson’s Brexit deal. In short, it is clear that the EU have to work with the Prime Minister of the UK regardless of his shrinking mandate. My gut feeling about all of this is we shouldn’t underestimate what horrors lie ahead for the UK as corporate interests step in (those who rub their hands in glee at the prospect of lower regulations and standards) if we step out of Europe.

Meanwhile this week

Good

As a block, the European Parliament has the power and influence and to stand up ‘for the little guy’ – in this case – the honeybee, and our work this week was vital. The EP voted positively on a Green/EFA resolution to ensure there will be no relaxation of regulations on pesticide use so that honeybees can be protected.

Bad

Manipulation, disorder, disorganisation in the UK Parliament that continues to drain and exhaust MPs, staff and resources. Right now, I am very sorry to see that other parties who were previously supporting a People’s Vote, now veering towards calling for a General Election. Disappointing indeed. Nearly all political commentators and politicians in their hearts – know that a General Election will not serve to find a clear way forward nor heal divisions.

Where hope lies

This week I am launching my report: The Green New Deal for the North West – and we have had a brilliant take-up of places from a range of agencies and strategic players, so much so that we weren’t able to publicise more widely. However, with an extension in my role as MEP in sight, I will be able to continue to communicate our ideas of how a radical transformation of how we do business, and a decarbonisation of the economy can address the climate emergency, create meaningful jobs and bring about a better quality of life for all.

Onwards

 

Hearings, Conference & Welcomes

Following a week’s break in my Long Reads due to a busy Green Party Conference and Greens/EFA in London conference, there’s a lot to catch up on and I hardly know where to start! My week in Brussels before the GP conference was improved immensely by having 18 young women from the North West visit the parliament. The Green Party Conference was action-packed and wonderfully hosted by the Welsh Greens in Newport and followed again by the hugely demanding but very satisfying exercise in EU democracy that is the ‘Hearings’. Meanwhile, Brexit talks continue, UK politics continues to unravel and Extinction Rebels take to the streets in days of action to get the environment to be the priority that really should matter most. Rochdale and Manchester though were the best opportunities this week to engage with communities about their feelings on the current climate – in every sense!

Hearings in Brussels

The process of democracy in the European Parliament is fascinating to be a part of and these past two weeks the #EPhearings2019 provided the chance to question incoming Commissioners before their positions are confirmed. My question to the Commissioner-in-waiting for Innovation and Youth, concerned gaining clarity on her commitment to ensuring EU research and innovation funding properly meets the 35% guaranteed for climate-related research and came during a mammoth hearing that was nearly three hours long!

In the absence of our Green working group coordinator, I represented him in the cross-party deliberations before a formal meeting the following day. In effect, there is a now a question hanging over Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s top team. As members of all 18 committees in the European Parliament have now completed the grilling of her nominees for the European Commission. The entire process ended with what was essentially a veto by the parliamentarians of three commissioners-designate, due to actual or potential conflict of interests or lack of suitability. This is the first time this has happened and how it is resolved remains to be seen in Strasbourg next week.

Green Party Conference Wales

During the conference, the Green Party committed to its member-driven updating of policy, including this time, our drugs policy. Broad support is gathering among police authorities for decriminalising the use of cannabis in order for the police to focus on much bigger drug-related issues such as the problem of county lines trafficking.

I personally attended two plenary sessions on agriculture food and farming policy. And it was great to see a member of the National Farmers Union warmly and good-humouredly agreeing with much of Green Party policy. At last! The Greens and farmers should be natural allies in taking policies forward that prioritise stewardship of the land. There is now common agreement that the ‘agri-business’ model designed around large-scale corporate businesses isn’t working for people nor planet and we need to move instead towards an agro-ecological model which supports smaller farmers, biodiversity and moves subsidies towards those public goods that benefit everyone.

On Saturday evening, I was honoured to co-host the Green Party Awards Ceremony giving recognition to our members for amazing achievements. People and local groups nominated to the final three from the North West included newly-elected Councillor Judy Filmore from Ulverston; Liverpool and Trafford Green Parties and our wonderful anti-fracking sisters in Lancashire, Julie and Tina, nominated as Green Heroes for their amazing anti-fracking work. I love this part of the conference, when we take time to celebrate all that we achieve as a Green Party given our limited resources and despite the first-past-the-post electoral system.

#NotLeavingQuietly

As light relief between meetings, my colleague Ellie Chowns MEP for the West Midlands had organised the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Folk Ensemble to play in Brussels. This huge gathering of professional musicians created two hours of music attended by many staff and MEPs which turned into joyous sounds and dancing for staying in the EU. I don’t think the European Parliament has ever seen anything quite like it before!

Back in the NW

A packed Saturday started with a return visit to the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester for a discussion on Faith and the Environment (inspired by a conversation I had back in July) with among others, founder Nassar Mahmood and Bishop David of Manchester. We recognise that all three Abrahamic faith traditions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam – accounting for nearly half of all the world’s populations – share the common values of reverence and respect of the natural world and the role of man and woman’s responsibility as stewards of it.

Good discussion among attendees followed for taking forward some joint actions in the locality, for example in tree protection, as well as further afield. We agreed to send a message from us all welcoming and thanking the peaceful protests of Extinction Rebellion in London.

Then for a delightful meeting in Rochdale where I spoke on a panel which included local Vicar Mark Coleman, who had been arrested that week in London as part of the Extinction Rebellion actions and some very concerning thoughts from Sami Mir about the situation in Kashmir and the potentially horrendous implications of any further escalation of tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations Pakistan and India.

4th Largest Party in EU in London this week

Genuinely excited to welcome the European Greens/EFA in London this week – makes a change to bring the whole party here! All 75 MEPs agreed to come to show solidarity with British Greens and to celebrate the incredible efforts of environmental activists. Speakers at events included George Monbiot, Natalie Bennett, Green Party Member of the House of Lords Jenny Jones plus a video link to speak to Youth Climate Strikers.

Meanwhile this week

Good

The #GreenSurge in Europe continues to rise with the recent win in Austrian elections, this from Politico:

“The Green Party, which will return to parliament swinging with about 14% of the votes. The Social Democrats came second, but fell to a historic low of under 22 per cent of the votes. Still, Social Democrat leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner conceded that at least one goal was achieved, whether that was her party’s doing or otherwise: Another coalition between the ÖVP and the far-right FPÖ doesn’t look particularly likely. The latest mood in the wider European Peoples’ Party network, to which Kurz will soon return as a leading figure, is all about hugging green voters and courting Green parties, offering them a way into executive power at the national level. Green leader Werner Kogler has, of course, requested “signs of conversion.”

Bad

Rude, ineffective and detrimental to decent politics; during the plenary session, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party voted against stronger EU measures aimed at countering “highly dangerous” Russian disinformation. The resolution also criticised Facebook, accusing the social media company of not following up on most of the parliament’s demands to prevent a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where at least 87 million people had their data harvested without permission for use in targeted advertising campaigns in the 2016 US presidential election. The Brexit MEPs cast their votes against a European Parliament resolution calling for an upgrade of the EU’s anti-propaganda unit East StratCom, as well as support for public service media. Thankfully their action made no impact and the text passed comfortably with the support of the largest political groups in the European parliament – the centre-right European People’s Party, Socialists, Liberals and Greens.

Where hope lies

Visit by Aspiring Young Women leaders of fabulous young women from all parts of the constituency to the European Parliament. My team had arranged for them to attend sessions on women in leadership and politics, and they were very inspired by the women leading them. Hearing personal stories and tips from Alice Bah Kuhne, one of our two Swedish Green MEPs and her personal story and again from our South East England Green MEP Alex Phillips, added to sessions with women in NGOs amongst others. Like the young climate strikers on the trip before, there is a passion, honesty and a genuine desire to work for a greater good. As one woman noted: “Even the seating arrangements in Europe promote better discussion via the ‘hemicycle’ rather than as oppositional benches face-to-face”.

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Onwards