It is easy to lament the lack of Green representation at the highest levels of politics. We are naturally drawn to the political theatre of the House of Commons, and can be led to believe it is the be-all and end-all of political influence. There stands a single Green MP, Caroline Lucas, who has often cast a lonely figure in speaking up for environmental issues and urging action on climate change since her election in 2010.
But while Westminster may be the principal stage of our political drama, it is not the only place where influence can be exerted in the pursuit of a better and greener world. Locked out of Westminster by the increasingly moribund first-past-the-post electoral system, Greens have had to look further afield to enact their agenda of change – and on the European stage, their influence has been greater than many at home might realise.
Today (7 March) provides an opportunity to reflect on an active period of influence and change-making for UK Green politicians in the European Parliament, with the publication of a new book titled ‘Greens for a Better Europe: Twenty years of UK Green influence in the European Parliament, 1999-2019’.
Launched at the European Parliament’s UK office at Europe House in London, the book looks back on how the Green Party of England and Wales and its MEPs have worked tirelessly for a better Europe, reflecting on 20 years as an insurgent force for good in the European Parliament.
“This book demonstrates what we can achieve when we work together with our European partners and friends”
The book contains essays by all of the Green Party’s MEPs since 1999 – Jean Lambert (1999-present), Caroline Lucas (1999-2010), Keith Taylor (2010-present) and Molly Scott Cato (2014-present) – as well as contributions from figures such as environmental campaigner and chair of Natural England Tony Juniper and Co-chair of the European Green Party, Reinhard Bütikofer MEP.
Keith Taylor, MEP for South East England since 2010, said of the book: "UK Greens have been making a difference in the EU for two decades now. That we're reflecting on that fact as Britain hurtles towards a catastrophic Brexit is beyond bittersweet.
"Greens for a Better Europe is loaded with success stories that demonstrate what we can achieve when we work together with our European partners and friends to improve the lives of 500 million citizens across Britain and the EU.
"Brexit is a disaster. This book will inevitably put the spotlight on exactly what we have to lose. But it also sets out a vision for how Greens can maintain our internationalist efforts to collaborate with our allies across Europe, and the world, to tackle the biggest crises facing our planet today."
A history of Green successes
The European Parliament has provided the opportunity for elected Green politicians to influence decision-making and advance progressive policies through the institutions and into law – and they have grasped that opportunity with both hands.
Since Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas first stepped into the European Parliament, England’s Green MEPs have brought key Green issues to the forefront of EU policy-making, achieving real change and providing further proof that having Greens in the room makes a tangible difference.
As longest-serving Green MEP, Jean Lambert can look back on a litany of successes and contributions to building a better Europe, providing leadership through her place on the European Parliament’s committees on employment and social affairs, and civil liberties, justice and home affairs. She is also Chair of the official Parliament delegation for relations with South Asia and Vice President of the Parliament’s anti-racism intergroup.
Specialising in protecting the rights of migrants and asylum seekers during her time in Parliament, Lambert brought concerns from the European Network on Statelessness before Parliament, making it a priority for the cross-party group on children’s rights to ensure no child is left stateless. She also worked to achieve more rights for family members to accompany migrants from outside the EU, as well as being a rapporteur on the regulation that set up the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which assists member states and the EU in implementing our asylum system properly.
“The UK’s Green MEPs have led on many issues that other parties have only just begun to recognise”
Not restricting her efforts to asylum and migration, Lambert has also helped to improve and defend the Working Time Directive, helped to negotiate the law on protecting temporary agency workers and was instrumental in the establishment of EHIC cards and the ability to pool state pension rights from different Member States.
“Over the past two decades, the UK’s Green MEPs have led on many issues that other parties have only just begun to recognise, and on which they are still far behind,” said Lambert.
“This book gives an insight into how the Greens have worked with colleagues, across party lines, to make Europe a safer, healthier and greener place. These pages also make it dazzlingly clear that the British political system is broken. The UK’s approach, which treats compromise as a dirty word, now threatens to undermine the rights and protections we have fought so hard for. British politicians have a huge amount to learn from their European neighbours about how politics can, and should, be done.”
Caroline Lucas also chalked up notable successes during her time in the European Parliament, including her work on banning illegally logged timber from being sold in the EU and pushing for aviation to be included in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
She said: “I am proud of the contribution that Green MEPs from the UK made to the European Union in our 20 years there. In an increasingly divided political world, we fought for what was right, and we did so while swimming against the tide more often than not.
“‘Greens for a Better Europe’ highlights what our Party can achieve when the electoral system is not stacked against us, and when we work closely with our European neighbours in pursuit of shared, ambitious, green goals.”
After Lucas stepped down from her role as MEP to contest and win the UK Parliamentary seat of Brighton Pavilion in 2010, becoming the UK’s first Green MP, Keith Taylor stood for and won Lucas’ European Parliament seat for South East England. Taylor has worked tirelessly through his membership of the European Parliament’s committees on transport and tourism, on environment, public health and food safety, on LGBTI rights, the delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council and as Vice Chair of the Parliament's group on animal welfare.
Since his election he has been active in protecting animal rights in Europe, strengthening safeguards for farmed animals, working to end factory farming, fighting for stricter controls on abattoirs and working to improve zoo animal welfare across Europe. He was also key to achieving improvements in puppy and kitten welfare, leading to the creation of Lucy’s Law, which bans pet shops from selling puppies and kittens.
Taylor has also helped craft EU air pollution laws, led on the 2016 victory against multinational corporations that were pushing the EU to increase sugar limits on baby food to 30 per cent and exposed how car companies fiddled their pollution figures.
Molly Scott Cato
Molly Scott Cato, the most recent UK Green to become an MEP, but no less active, has provided vital contributions through her work on the Parliament’s committees on transport and tourism and the committee on environment, public health and food safety.
Scott Cato was the first to raise the issue of Brexit impact studies, working with Jolyon Maugham QC to pressure the government into releasing analyses of the impact of Brexit on. She has also been instrumental in work to achieve greater transparency and sharing of information between tax authorities, legal protection for whistleblowers and preventing EU funding from going to companies that have offshore branches in tax havens.
The spirit of cooperation
It is obviously impossible to avoid the spectre of Brexit. Unless Parliament comes together and rises above this collective game of chicken as we teeter on the edge of the precipice, UK MEPs will soon be bowing out of the European Parliament.
But while the Green Party’s MEPs will be taking an enforced leave of absence, the work of Greens in the Parliament will continue, supported by those MEPs. Cooperation is the bedrock upon which the European project was founded, and the commitment to that ideal will remain undiminished.
As Scott Cato commented: “We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected. We cannot solve global problems like climate breakdown and corporate tax avoidance as one country. In our globalised economy we need to work together, as Europeans and as global citizens, to find just and sustainable solutions.”
Within or outside the EU, Greens will continue to work in the spirit of co-operation that has defined their time in the European Parliament to support our friends and colleagues in the EU. Brexit may mean empty seats in the European Parliament, but Greens will always remain at the heart of Europe.