Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Unelected leaders?

The European Parliament winds up for a short summer recess (its only vacation period apart from a week at Christmas) at the end of this week. For us in the UK, this won't be a holiday, but an urgent opportunity to double our efforts, and fight against the insanity of our current political leaders in the UK. Happily released for four weeks from the requirement to go to Brussels or Strasbourg every week, we can now do some work at home.

This week we are reeling at the fact that our own country is being hauled yet further to the right, by a take-over in the Conservative party. The people who were on the lunatic fringe of the right of that party have seized the control, and the consequences are not going to be pretty. Some people have suggested that the appointment of leadership positions in the EU is not fully democratic, because it is sorted out by a negotiation between the parties, and then parliament just gets to vote on the proposed candidates (for President of the Parliament in the first Strasbourg session of this Parliament, and for President of the Commission in the second one, which took place in the third week of July). But at least the whole of parliament got to vote for it, and the candidate has to win more than 50% of the votes, so there is real power on the part of parliament if the candidate is not acceptable to a majority of the members. If that had happened in the UK parliament, if the new Prime Minister had had to win a majority of votes in Parliament, we would not be where we now are. (Of course, he must now form a government with a majority of MPs willing to support his policies, and that is indeed a test—but there's a danger that there are too many dishonest and power-hungry conservative MPs who would prefer not to face a General Election and will bite their tongues and support their new leader in order to avoid bringing the government down).

So in the event, in the vote for our new President of the Commission, the fact that the Greens voted against Ursula von der Leyen did have a significant effect. She won the required majority (over 50% of the votes cast being votes in favour, not against nor abstentions) by only 9 votes. It wouldn't have taken many more dissenters to bring her down. And this means that she will need to keep those who did support her on side (including members from both the right and the left politically) and/or recruit the votes of those such as the Green Group who did not support her in that election. It means that she will need to honour some of the good promises in her manifesto speech, and not propose some of the more controversial things that may have won over the far right but would alienate members of the Socialist group.

Once the controversial election of the new President of the Commission was over, the Parliament turned its attention to debates and broader issues. Several of the new Green MEPs from the UK got a chance to make brief speeches in some of these debates. There was a particularly fine performance from Magid Magid in the debate on the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean. I was placed as first author and lead speaker on a resolution relating to oppression of opposition politicians and environmental activists in Russia, which was presented as a cross-party resolution for debate on Thursday morning. I made a one minute speech on the topic, but the really interesting part was the negotiation that took place in advance of the debate to get an agreed set of proposals and statements in the resolution that was approved by all the Groups who were involved in supporting the resolution. I am pleased to say that the resolution passed.

This week we have been back in Brussels. There has been a heap of urgent paperwork to complete and hand in before the parliament closes down (papers to ensure that the new staff in my new office get paid at the next pay day, for instance). We've also had committee meetings at which we have been able to meet and ask questions from key people. Most interestingly in that respect, I was able to attend a session of the Foreign Affairs committee that included experts and diplomats reporting on the situation in Iran, and in Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan and so on. I've also met a number of representatives of organisations concerned with human rights, and also with the situation relating to Brexit and how it will affect business and freight transport and security and so on. There are many things to worry about, but as I travel home from Brussels (at least 41ºC) to London where they say it was 39º (but it felt rather similar to Brussels), I'd say the thing we need to worry about most urgently is actually the fact that we have not succeeded in doing anything to change the way Western society consumes fossil fuels. And our news media is completely unaware of what they need to do to bring home the urgency of the situation. This is not about a lovely day to go to the beach. It's about cooking our children. We need to react with horror, not with glee. Breaking records for the hottest day ever is not funny. It's scary.

No comments: