Some of the most interesting sessions at last week’s Greening Europe seminar focused on the many challenges currently facing the EU.
Participants expressed a level of optimism in the future prospects of the European project that seemed at odds with media representations (in the UK at least), but were in no doubt that there is work to be done.
Unsurprisingly, a considerable amount of time was devoted to the current economic position of the EU. Philippe Lamberts MEP made a very persuasive case that the big problem is not public debt, which is considerably smaller in Europe than in the United States or Japan, but a lack of solidarity among leaders and citizens alike – resulting from the ‘every man for himself’ logic of the neoliberal project of the last 30 years.
Lamberts argues that even apparently successful countries like Germany will struggle in the future if they do not support their potential customers in their fellow member states now. He also calls for new taxation powers at EU level – a common corporation tax to prevent a damaging ‘race to the bottom’ and a financial transaction tax to raise funds for a new deposit insurance scheme and to discourage the worst kinds of financial speculation.
Both Lamberts and Green European Foundation co-president Pierre Jonckheer see crisis as an engine of deeper integration that can pave the way to a stronger EU, if leaders respond correctly. However, Jonckheer warns that this can only happen if citizens feel that the common institutions both work in their interests and belong to them.
Strengthening the connection between the EU and its citizens is a key Green goal and participants took part in a lively discussion with Pablo Sanchez (European Federation of Public Services Unions) about how petitions to the European Parliament and the new European Citizens’ Initiative, a complex but potentially powerful tool for influencing the Commission, could make policy more responsive to grassroots views.
The group also heard of an interesting Green proposal for the election of some MEPs from a pan-European list, to ensure that a section of the Parliament acts as a voice for people across the continent and not just their co-nationals.
With a common manifesto in development for all member states, the Greens will be seeking to act as such a voice following the next election in 2014; Jacqueline Cremers, secretary general of the European Green Party, outlined an ambitious plan to repeat the success of the 2009 poll, in which the Greens gained more seats than any other group in the European Parliament.
A simulation exercise on reform of the EU’s common agricultural policy provided an insight into how national and party interests can collide to obstruct the legislative process. Agriculture is fundamental to the EU, accounting for close to 50% of its budget, and it is vital that Council, Commission and Parliament work together to get reform right.
The new policy needs to ensure food security without the massive overproduction of the past, enable European farmers to prosper without harming developing world producers, achieve compatibility between agriculture and environmental protection, bring transparency about the current state of agricultural land and reduce the age profile of farming – ideally by encouraging more women to consider a career in agriculture – without a further spiralling of costs.
Not an easy task, but success would demonstrate that the EU can respond to urgent issues and act in the interests of its citizens.