Setting Europe's Green Line

Setting Europe’s Green Line

Monica Frassoni, Co-chair of the European Green Party, outlines the green political family’s response to right-wing populism across Europe, in an interview with BlueLink’s Editor Pavel Antonov at the Global Greens Congress in Liverpool, UK, on April 4 – 8, 2017.

Do positive results in the recent elections in the Netherlands and Austria demonstrate that the Greens offer a tangible alternative to right-wing populism across Europe and the world?

The Greens can be an alternative. Of course this depends on the [national] party itself and its capacity of taking the potential to be an alternative. A very weak party in a terrible environment could not be an alternative. But both in the Austrian and the Dutch examples, we are in front of very solid people who are competent and have a very good sense of leadership. It also demonstrates that, in a situation where the political debate is healthy and real, the Greens have good access to the media. There are several conditions that have to be respected and that are not existing in all European countries. But politically, and certainly at the European level, the Green family is playing a positive role – both in underlining that European integration is needed, but also in that we have to change the EU’s policies and the way in which it functions. The Greens are able to put up real resistance against nationalism and the tendencies towards authoritarianism. I cannot say that this is the beginning of a trend that is positive everywhere. I can only hope so.

This global congress comes at a decisive time for the global environmental effort. What prospect can the Green political movement present to confront the attractive promises of populist leaders and attract voters?

Monica Frassoni was born in Veracruz, Mexico. She graduated in Political Science from the University of Florence and was elected General Secretary of the European Organisation of Young Federalists in 1987. President of the European Coordinating Bureau of Youth’ NGOs (1991 – 1993). Worked for the Green/EFA Group in the EP as an advisor on institutional issues, internal rules and immunity during 1990 – 1999, focusing on fighting for a democratic constitution of the European Union by championing the cause of European citizenship and fundamental rights. Elected a member of the EP in Belgium as part of the Belgian Green Party (ECOLO) in 2004. Re-elected with the Italian Greens. Member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and of the Delegation for relations with Mercosur. In 2006 was Chief Observer of the EU in the elections observation missions in Venezuela and Bolivia. Co-President of the Green/EFA Group in the European Parliament, 2002 – 2009 with Daniel Cohn-Bendit and co-President of the European Green Party since 2009 with Reinhard Butikofer. Listed as one of the 40 most influential actors on EU Energy Union Policy by Euractiv in 2016. Photo: EGP

First, this congress is important for Greens themselves. Sometimes you need some moments in which you are reminded of the reality of an international and global family. The fact that there were no conflicts, that discussions went smoothly on very difficult issues, such as Syria, Ukraine, life after Trump, the wall between the USA and Mexico, and many other questions, demonstrate from one side that there is a very distinct feeling of belonging to this common and global family, which I do not think all of the other political families can say. It is not automatic. It is the fruit of a lot of effort and work that it took the Greens to prepare this congress over the past two years.

There are essentially three things that we can offer. One is a real alternative from the social and economic point of view. Even if a lot of political parties are talking about a green transition, there is nobody who is taking it very seriously and as a constituent part of their political proposal. We are absolutely convinced, above all at the European level, that we have the capacity of getting out of the crisis – in terms of unemployment, the perspective to new economic activities, and of the transition of energy and to energy efficiency, with the incredible potential, above all in Eastern Europe. We are capable of re-launching the building industry with the refurbishing of old and inefficient buildings, of addressing the question concerning the infrastructure, which means not only highways but many other possibilities of infrastructure that can be built and of including more energy-efficient ones, the re-evaluation and re-qualification of cities with everything having to do with mobility, and the question of a radical shift and change of the agricultural model toward a more organic and sustainable one. All these are perspectives which belong to the Greens. Of course we are ready to share them with everybody, we are not the holders of exclusivity. But we believe that they are not being fully explored in their most positive potential. The left part of the political spectrum is often running after the populists in presenting to voters a very gloomy landscape – even when the landscape is not so gloomy. I am not saying that there are not many people who are in difficult situations, but we have seen that populist parties are growing even in situations that are not that terrible. That is something that has to be taken into account. And we can present, at least from the economic and social point of view, this kind of alternative which is real – and not bullshit.

The second issue is the issue of Europe. We are certainly a pro-European party. But we believe that nothing of what we are saying can only exist at a national level. We do not believe that the European Union is the patrimony of national states and national governments. We do not believe that the Orban, or the Renzi, or the Holland of this world, or even the Merkel, are the owners of the European project. So what we are pushing for is the participation of European citizens which goes beyond their nationality. The environment is a typical issue that sees that, but it is not the only one. We push for the cultural reversing of the nationalist trends, which are result of fear among other reasons. On this we are more specific, than simply saying [for instance] how great is (the) Erasmus (programme of the EU) – we go a little bit deeper than that. The question of the reform of the EU is very linked – because the issue of European Union’s legitimacy is very linked to the lack of outputs. With the fact that they meet, but do not decide, basically.  One of the great problems is to get rid of the unanimity vote – this has been a major victory of the UK over the last few years, and a lot of countries may use it – and this is a major reason for the disaggregation – when you are not interested in finding an agreement, but you are interested in shouting and going back to your press, saying “I want this and I want that” – that is one of the destructive elements of the EU. Both under the reform and under the ideal of keeping the EU together, we are also certainly an original voice in the landscape.

The third issue that is very important is the cultural one. We want to maintain that redefinition of the multicultural society is very needed. One of the bad effects of this fear and social insecurity that a lot of people resent is the illusion that you can be defined only because of your nationality. There is lack of valorization of the idea that we all have multiple identities. This cultural element is very important for us. Not because we want to have a faceless melting pot. But because we truly believe that the effect of being open, of being kind, of being respectful in the political debate, is key. Probably this is also a tone that is different from other political forces.

How do you resolve the collision between green political messages and the crisis of factual reporting and fake news that swamps us?

This is a great challenge and is not something that we have solved. There are of course differences on national situations. The German Greens for example decided to make a sort of a task-force to deal with fake news and with fake companies, and they have three people who intervene and challenge on Facebook and other social media other people lying about them. Of course not all the parties can allow themselves to do the same thing. But I believe that we can join forces with others. Environmental movements have been exposed to fake news for a long time. So if we are calling not to build a certain highway, people tell us “it will take jobs”, which is not true. So we have been experts on fake news for a long time. On this specific issue the chance to join forces with other weak ones is something that can be helpful. For example, the campaigns against CETA or against TTIP, which were completely hopeless at the beginning to some, became something really interesting. There are several European initiatives on soil and on other issues that should be able to get some voice [this way]. But the problem that we have, indeed, is that we also need to be in the institutions. And this is not the case everywhere. So this remains an open question for us, above all in the sub-Mediterranean countries and in your own country also. I believe there is a lack of understanding of how huge the green potential is – notably its social and economic side. And there is also a cultural shortcoming that is hindering our possibility to develop.

Interviewed by Pavel Antonov in Liverpool. Photo: EGP/Eliana Capretti.

What would be your advice for the countries in the East of Europe where the problem of penetrating political power is extremely difficult?

I am nobody to give advice to a reality that I know less about, because in the European Green Party we all have our own specialities and Eastern Europe is certainly not one of mine, although I have visited several times [countries in the region], for example Hungary. What is needed is a real strategy of alliances with those parts of society that are awake, and there are many of them. For example in the context of the European discussion, many said that [United] Europe is very unpopular. But then on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the European Union there were [supportive] demonstrations all over the place – not huge ones, but real ones. And I think that the reaction of the people is our best ally in these realities. This is work that is being done already. But what I would be interested in supporting this kind of alliance building which does not necessarily need to aim at an election. But for example, if there is a media law – and here I am hypothesising because I do not know – or what happens with the Internet in Hungary, for example, or any other issue. You need to concentrate your efforts on that point together with others in order to make the situation change. This has been done in many places more or less with success. In Italy we did it many times around many issues – it can be abortion, nuclear or other – and it worked even with media that is normally not responsive to such issues and the debates on them held by small political parties.

The Greens have the global potential to address the refusal of developed world industries to take responsibility for their actions in less developed regions, such as the Developing World but also Eastern Europe. Can the European Greens be more active on this?

They are already active on this problem with the divestment movement. We just produced a leaflet on naming and shaming European companies for doing all sorts of terrible things. We are on a campaign with people working specifically on that. I agree it is a very big issue. Just before coming here I spoke to our Venezuelan friends because we have this issue in Venezuela with a lot of European companies involved. So this is indeed a global question, alongside tax heavens and financial transactions, and something that we can certainly develop together with the whole discussion around peace and the arms’ trade. There is a whole range of such [global] issues that we discuss, and I hope that what we could do better and more of making the connection between different Green Parliamentarians that exists all over the world. A meeting was just held of the Green Parliamentarians’ Association here which was quite interested in this.

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