This week’s European Parliamentary election results threw up the tantalising prospect of greater EU protection for the climate, forests and people.
With more EU citizens voting than at any time in the past 25 years, it also revealed an apparent revival in the belief that change can be affected via the EU. Early indications are that the rise in voter numbers was in part due to the greater participation of young people. Also, one impact of the UK’s stasis over Brexit has been for many Member State citizens to see that we are actually stronger together.
Growing pressure for climate action saw a surge of support for the Green party: with the number of Green MEPs rising from 51 to 70, with especially strong results in Germany, France and Finland. Green party leaders said they would use their leverage to push an agenda of urgent action on the climate and social justice.
For the first time since the creation of the European Parliament in 1979, the Conservatives and Socialists will not have a majority, and the Greens have enough seats to make them a critical partner in any functioning coalition – with the power to champion issues, or shift the majority on them.
With the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) also making significant gains, and referring to climate as a priority in the wake of the results, chances have increased that there will be movement around the legislative changes that Fern and many environmental and social NGOs have campaigned for. This new balance of power also increases the likelihood of less opaque behind the scenes horse-trading on legislation.
It was also good news for the world’s forests that a number of prominent backers of Fern’s Forest Pledge including Maria Noichl, Marie Arena, Jude Kirton-Darling, Martin Hausling, Sirpa Pietikäinen , Yannick Jadot and Heidi Hautala are back in Parliament. Although it was sad to see that long-term supporters of the environment such as Brenedek Javor and Paul Brannen will not be taking their seats.
It now remains to be seen who the Commission President will be, not an obvious task. Whether Manfred Weber’s stance on tackling child labour in supply chains, Barnier’s call for a Green New Deal for Europe, Timmerman’s pledge that the Sustainable Development Goals would be at the centre of his Commission, or Vestager’s recognition that restoring forests are important for the climate and biodiversity (plus the fact that she is a woman, which would be a great signal for gender balance in the next Commission), it looks like we can have a proactive and positive agenda on forests and rights in the next five years.