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…
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.
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.