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EU Policy. Survey rates parties on Green Deal - from 'pro' to 'prehistoric'

Citizens are urged to vote in an EU election that could see environmental topics pushed down the EU agenda.
Citizens are urged to vote in an EU election that could see environmental topics pushed down the EU agenda. Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Robert Hodgson
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As European elections loom, a survey has revealed the extent to which the flagship Green Deal agenda of the von der Leyen Commission has divided even the centre ground in EU politics.

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The voting patterns of MEPs over the past five years have confirmed a clear party political division over climate action and nature protection, revealing in addition to a predictable gulf between the positions of the Greens and the far-right a clear fault line running through the political centre.

Five of the largest Brussels based environmental NGOs analysed 30 key pieces of environmental legislation and ascribed scores from zero to 100 based on whether lawmakers supported or rejected the more ambitious action and targets the groups have been advocating, tagging the latter as 'prehistoric'. The Greens/EFA group came top with an overall score of 92, while the far-right nationalist ID, which has routinely proposed the outright rejection of green legislation, earned just six points.

But the survey, published today (15 April), also showed wide divergence between the centre-left Socialists & Democrats who scored 70, and the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which rated just 25 despite being the political home of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who placed the Green Deal at the centre of the EU executive’s political programme.

The liberal Renew scored 56, a reflection of frequent splits within the group when it came to votes on environmental and climate policy proposals. The results show similar splits within other groups, often based on the national party affiliation of their constituent MEPs.

The data reveals another clear voting pattern that can be seen when environment policy is subdivided into climate action, nature protection and pollution prevention. Broadly speaking, if a political party takes opposes setting the most ambitious measures to tackle climate action, it will take a similar stance in the other two broad areas.

It is nature protection legislation, which has recently seen a forceful pushback from the EPP amid widespread farmers' protests across Europe, where the political divide is the widest, with the Greens and the Left group on 94 and 87 respectively, while the EPP and conservative ECR group rate 19 and 13 respectively.

Speaking at an event in Brussels to present the findings, the Bulgarian EPP group lawmaker Radan Kanev described himself as “greener than the average conservative” but still placed himself somewhere between the categories of ‘prehistoric thinkers’ and ‘procrastinators’ the study authors used for the lower of its three bands, with those scoring over 70 deemed ‘protectors’ of the environment.

“I am deeply convinced no policy is black and white,” he said. “We need people like you [the report's authors] who are advocating for maximum ambition, but I also believe you need people like me who are trying to mediate…and avoid the utmost polarisation of our political spectrum,” he said, referring to what he saw as the impossibility of a stable climate strategy in the US, where the coming election could lead to a “complete overthrow” of existing policy.

The Bulgarian lawmaker was particularly critical of the extension of the EU’s emissions trading system, to road transport and buildings, where a carbon price based on fossil fuel consumption will apply from 2027 – a proposal supported by the overwhelming majority of EPP group members. “In my view there are very few more stupid things ever done at the political level,” Kanev said. “I’m sure there will be a very violent outburst of anti-European public reaction,” he said of the impact he expects in his home country.

Green Belgian MEP Saskia Bricmont warned against a return to “business as usual” on environment policy as the EU policy agenda tilts toward security and economic issues. “What I see now is a complete backlash,” she said of her opponents in the forthcoming European elections. “Even the progressives that voted with us on climate policies are not making it a priority,” the Belgian lawmaker said.

Chiara Martinelli, director of Climate Action Network Europe, one of the groups behind the survey, warned of the upcoming European elections could see environmental policy once more marginalised. “Now is the time for European citizens to wake up to the real possibility of a European Parliament full of prehistoric thinkers – to get out and vote for parties that can provide the climate protectors we so deeply need to improve and strengthen the European Green Deal," she said.

William Todts, director of the campaign alliance Transport & Environment, suggested Brussels might be the only source of environmental protection laws for many EU member states. “The EU is a force for good when it comes to climate action,” Todts said in a statement accompanying the NGOs’ report. “From clean cars to carbon taxes for planes and ships, the EU has done what national governments couldn't or wouldn't do.”

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