Council of the European Green Party begins

As the 31st Council of the European Green Party (EGP) begins today (10 June), former Green Party MEP and member of the committee of the European Green Party Jean Lambert explains how the Council works and what can be expected this time around.

European Greens logo
European Greens logo
Jean Lambert

Would you be able to give a brief explanation to Green World readers what the Council of the European Green Party is and what it does? 

The Council of the European Green Party (EGP) is the decision-making body of the EGP and brings together all of the member parties, not just in the EU, but beyond. The EGP is made up of nearly 40 Green parties, and a number of associates as well. 

The Council meets twice a year to make resolutions on policy and procedural matters, with this meeting taking place on 10-13 June originally scheduled to be taking place in Skopje, Northern Macedonia. Then Covid-19 hit, so that's totally changed the nature of the event, which will now take place online.

How will participation work for this EGP Council?

There is a two-tiered system for participation. One is effectively for the delegates themselves – the Green Party of England and Wales has sent over six delegates. Each party sends its own delegates who vote – we've got a voting session on the Saturday morning – and are also involved in the negotiations and can table amendments on behalf of their parties. These delegates will pay a nominal fee to attend and they then have access to the whole conference and have speaking rights and so on. Parties can ask for additional representation within that, but we're trying to keep that to maybe 4-500 people.

Then there's the Restart Europe Conference, which are the two big plenaries, which will still be there for the delegates, but will also be free to view for anybody else. The first plenary looks at global scene-setting, looking at international relations, our relationship with nature, global efforts to combat climate change and democracy. 

The second part looks more at Europe and what the global implications mean for Europe. We have a European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, speaking, along with the Co-president of the Green Group in the European Parliament, Phillip Lamberts, the German Greens and the Finnish Greens, and the Polish Green MP. 

As you mentioned, the Council will be taking place online for the first time. While this poses difficulties, are there also opportunities for a different way of working?

Clearly there’s the travel side of it and you’re cutting that out, which is a benefit. But in another way by holding the Council online you’re not supporting the party that was meant to be hosting it. One of the questions is how do you get the same impact from an online event? I think that's something that a lot of organisations, and political parties in particular, are asking. There’s no national press coverage for a start – if we were meeting in Skopje, for the national press there this would be a huge event, but now we have this sort of meeting in the ether.

We’ve tried to find a platform [] that would at least allow the possibility of setting up informal meetings for parties to be able to find ways to network a bit. We've put training in place for the delegates so that they have a better idea about what the event is, how the online platform works, how do you table amendments, all of this to try and make it run as smoothly as possible. We've done our best so we'll see how it works.

How will resolutions be made by the Council?

This time there are only three resolutions as we have tried to strip it back as much as possible to make it easier since we are now totally online. Two of these resolutions – one on Covid-19 recovery and one on climate neutrality – have been put together by the committee of the EGP, a nine-member body of which I’m a part. And we've already undertaken a big discussion and background process on the resolution about recovery and Covid-19 with the Green group in the European Parliament, but also with other Green parties in two or three high-level online meetings. 

The Federation of Young European Greens had a number they wanted to bring forward, but they’ve stripped it back to one on the gig economy, though the delegation from our own party think there’s still quite a lot of work to be done on that.

Normally, it's a wider process and parties can put forward resolutions and look for support from other parties, both at the Council and beforehand, but this time we asked parties to keep it simple. The same goes for emergency resolutions. Parties have been asked to find support for these beforehand, rather than lobbying at the Council due to the restrictions of the online event.

There's also an amendment process and discussions are already going on around that. Ellie Chowns has been involved as one of the GPEW’s delegates on the Covid-19 and recovery resolution. So that has been going on online, the amendments have now been tabled online with a particular system that we're using. 

For the voting, we’ve got a bespoke voting system based on the one we usually use at Council meetings, which is an electronic system, and we’re using that when voting takes place on Saturday morning. So it’s only the delegates that have to get up early!

What happens to the resolutions once passed?

As a committee we have been asking ourselves how we can give these resolutions a bit more life, rather than a statement that just sits. The two resolutions we have put forward at this Council will go forward to create an action base so that national parties can press to get these policies included in their national recovery plans.

These resolutions provide a public action base and to provide a policy platform for newer parties that are maybe not as strong politically, using the experience of parties present in government or parliaments across Europe, to support parties that don’t have that same policy opportunity.

Clearly events have overtaken this Council and Covid-19 will be the main topic of discussion. What does the resolution on Covid-19 and recovery propose?

It's a mega resolution that's been tabled, which is looking not just at the Covid-19 itself, but also general principles about global cooperation.

One of the things the resolution is critical of from an EU perspective is when this started up every member state looked at what they could do themselves rather than what they could do together. That has gradually improved, so there’s quite a lot in there about lessons learned and structures we might want in the future. 

But the biggest part of it is how to come out of this hit to our economies in a way that moves us in the direction of a Green New Deal and addressing the climate crisis, while also dealing with social inequities. So we’ve put in quite a lot about conditionalities, that you don’t use fiscal stimulus to prop up the fossil fuel industry, you don’t use it to prop up companies based in tax havens. If you are going to support particular sectors what are they going to give you back in terms of how they will use that money to move towards meeting the Paris climate targets?

So it’s a very significant resolution because the EU has already committed to a Green Deal as its policy goal for the next five years, building on the work of Green parties beforehand. We need to ask how do we make sure we don’t lose momentum.

You mention maintaining momentum. The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the climate movement lose some momentum. How do we re-energise climate efforts and what role can international coordinating efforts like this play?

We're obviously determined to try and keep that momentum going as much as we can, because the climate crisis won’t wait for us. You've got the Council, you've got the resolution. If you look at some of the speakers, [Indian environmental activist] Vandana Shiva is there as the keynote speaker, [author and environmentalist] Bill McKibben is also speaking. This is one of the pluses about doing it online. I don't think we necessarily would have got Bill McKibben to travel halfway across the world for a 10-minute speaking slot. So this helps to make this part of the Council a bigger, more public, event. 

We also want to talk about how we need more connection with civil society organisations, the business community and trade unions. If we’re looking for the kind of change we want in transitioning to low-carbon industries, we have to bring the workforce along with us, through investment in training alongside investment in these low-carbon industries. 

What are some of the main aims of the climate neutrality resolution being put before Council?

Net zero is obviously an important one because that really needs the background policy work to go with it for each different country. There will be arguments about dates and ambition but the point of it is the action that lies behind it, which fits with the resolution on green recovery. We wanted to try and make it so solutions dovetailed. The recovery resolution is presenting some of the mechanisms and priorities that we can use to really invest in a green future and to carry on momentum to move out of the fossil age. 

How important are these kinds of meetings for British Greens in maintaining European ties once we leave the EU?

They are really important. Since we got involved with the growth of the Green movement across Europe – and we were a party that helped initiate the EGP – it’s always been very important for a sense of your own support, you are not alone, you have partners. Particularly in terms of events we are holding in the UK, such as COP 26 and the G7 next year. But we’re also a really important link for Green parties elsewhere into those events and into the politics there. I think that partnership working is enormously important for us.

We’re a global movement, and we draw strength and inspiration from each other. One of the things I've always said is that you can usually find not only a party that’s doing better than you that you can learn from, but also a party that’s going through a tough time that gives you a sense of perspective. It gives you a great sense of balance and something I’ve always found inspirational.

You can register for the public sessions of the EGP Council on the event’s website, where you can find further info about resolutions and the programme for this year’s event.