May’s European elections saw the Greens achieve their best results since 1989, securing 12 per cent of the national vote, with six new MEPs – Gina Dowding, Alexandra Phillips, Ellie Chowns, Catherine Rowett, Scott Ainslie and Magid Magid – joining Molly Scott Cato to represent the UK in the European Parliament.
Just eight months later, the curtain is falling on the UK’s membership of the EU – 31 January will forever be a sad day for our seven Green MEPs, whose tireless efforts and dedicated campaigning have left an indelible mark on European politics.
Emotions ran high as the European Parliament came together for a moment of solidarity on Wednesday (29 January), standing hand-in-hand to sing Auld Lang Syne as the withdrawal agreement was granted its final approval, with MEPs asking the EU to ‘Leave a light on’ for Britain.
For our Green MEPs, the European Parliament has been a symbol of international peace and cooperation. “It’s an extraordinary achievement, 28 countries working together so closely,” said Ellie Chowns, the first-ever Green representative for the West Midlands.
“The EU is at heart a peace project,” explained Molly Scott Cato, who was re-elected to the European Parliament in May’s elections, having represented the South West of England since 2014. “After centuries of war, it is a deeply impressive achievement and one we take for granted at our peril. As a Quaker I know that we need to actively make peace while countering the causes of war; the EU does both of those things consciously and actively.”
“It’s not perfect,” Chowns admitted. “The Common Agricultural Policy is one big example of what needs to change – but on balance it’s undoubtedly a force for good.”
Championing Green policies
Earlier this year, the Greens celebrated 20 years since former MEPs Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas first stepped into the European Parliament, and since then, the Green Party’s European influence has grown from strength to strength.
Whilst the Green Party is heavily under-represented in UK politics, held back by the first-past-the-post electoral system, in Europe, the Green voice has been heard loud and clear. Until today, the Green/European Free Alliance Group stood strong as the Parliament’s fourth-largest group, bringing together MEPs from across the continent with a common goal to tackle the climate crisis. It will now fall to the fifth largest behind the far-right Identity and Democracy Group after losing 11 MEPs, including four Welsh and Scottish nationalists.
The European Green Deal, which was passed earlier this month, is a testament to the success of the Green Group, committing the EU to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, with a European Climate Law set to be introduced by March 2020. Aiming to continue the legacy of our Green MEPs, Alexandra Phillips has recently launched a Green New Deal Intergroup to influence the EU Commission on the policies of the Green Deal.
As well as their commitment to environmental policies, the Greens have also taken action to address social injustices, with former Green MEP’s Jean Lambert’s work on the Working Time Directive providing support for temporary agency workers by setting limits on how long employers can make employees work for.
Commenting on the achievements of the Greens, Chowns said: “One of the things I am most proud of is the way that our strongest-ever Green Group of MEPs has shifted the agenda so clearly, pushing stronger climate commitment and action from other parties and from the Commission. We saw that just last week when the Parliament’s motion on the Green Deal was passed with such a strong majority.”
“I am first and foremost a European,” said Alexandra Phillips, MEP for the South East of England. “I’m devastated that at the end of this week, we will no longer formally be part of such a great union of nations. I have enjoyed its freedoms to live, study and work in France and Belgium, and am so sad that my son will not be able to have the same opportunities as me.”
Not only providing an opportunity for the Greens to influence international politics, the European Parliament has also been the cornerstone of numerous cross-border – and cross-party – friendships.
“I’ll miss my colleagues!” said Chowns. “There are many brilliant MEPs – Greens of course, but some from other political groups too! I’ve loved working in such a multilingual environment, and in a political system that incentivises people to build consensus and look for common ground.
“I think on both sides we’re going to have to make a real commitment to maintain and strengthen UK-EU friendship. I’m certainly determined to do that personally – I’m already planning to go interrailing later in the year and pop in to see some of my old colleagues in their home countries!”
On a local level, the Greens have worked hard to improve the lives of their constituents, with Gina Dowding and Alexandra Phillips producing Green New Deal reports for the North West and South East of England.
Dowding explained: “I’m delighted to have produced a tangible contribution to the European Parliament in the form of research reports with actionable solutions. For example, our report on exploring the Green New Deal in the North West looked at best practice case studies locally in our region, and how we could use these examples to take climate action on a larger scale. Whilst I have indeed worked hard in Europe on committees –Transport, and Industry, Energy and Research, I also wanted to translate all of the initiatives to a more local level.”
The MEPs have also committed much of their time to community engagement and outreach work, with Chowns explaining: “One of the things I’m individually proud of is doing so much outreach work – I’ve reached out to literally thousands of people in the West Midlands, and brought well over a hundred young people to Brussels to learn more about the EU. On 9 October last year I organised the biggest concert the Parliament has ever hosted, with a 50-piece band from Birmingham – that was quite a night!”
What comes next?
Looking to the future, Scott Cato believes that the younger generations will ensure the UK’s return. “Brexit is an undemocratic process: a decision taken as a result of misleading propaganda and that a majority did not support even before we left. Because younger generations feel themselves to be European much more than older generations, our return is inevitable.
“We will be back.”
Phillips, too, is determined that this is not the end. “In the words of the SNP’s Alyn Smith, ‘Leave a light on for us’, so we can find our way home to the EU.”