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.
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
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.”
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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