Forget the People’s Vote: the upcoming elections for European Parliament have become the new second referendum. To one side, Nigel Farage hopes to gather the Leave vote behind his new Brexit Party. To the other, a splintered coalition of Greens, Changers, Lib Dems, and Labour candidates are campaigning for Remain. Both sides agree on the primary purpose of these European elections: “vote so you can be heard on Brexit.”
But the European elections are about far more than membership of the European Union. With a continent marred by poverty, strangled by austerity, and standing flat-footed in the face of a climate emergency, the contest for seats in the next European Parliament — and control of the next European Commission — will fundamentally shape the future of Europe for years to come, regardless of the Brexit outcome.
It’s little wonder that this campaign has been the most fractious and contested in the history of the EU: the stakes could not be higher.
Either the European Union will continue on its down spiral: austerity producing chronic under-investment, leading to low growth prospects that justify fresh demands for austerity.
Or countries across Europe will collectively endorse a public investment campaign that can both transform the economy and transition it to zero-emissions: a Green New Deal for Europe.
Since 2016, our Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25) has campaigned for such a Green New Deal, calling on the European Investment Bank (EIB) to make use of its mandate to plough €500bn each year into Europe’s ecological transition, creating millions of decent jobs in infrastructure, industry, and agriculture along the way.
Now, with two weeks left before the European Parliamentary elections, we are calling on all candidates from all political parties to take the pledge to support a Green New Deal, pushing this proposal to the front of the legislative agenda for the incoming Commission.
The United Kingdom is in pole position to lead this international campaign. Last week, it became the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency and recognise the threat that it poses to our species. These elections present an opportunity to build on this historic victory and impel the UK’s neighbours in Europe to do the same.
Support for this proposal is not a question of Leaving or Remaining. Over the last two decades, the UK’s energy import dependency has skyrocketed. In 1998, the UK net exported 20 per cent of its energy to the EU. By 2014, the UK net imported over 40 per cent of its energy from the EU. No credible government can commit to a transition to renewable energy without a broader European strategy.
Perhaps more obviously, the declaration of a climate emergency in the UK is meaningless in the absence of international efforts. Europe is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US. If the EU continues to subsidise fossil fuel consumption, a domestic Green New Deal will amount to little more than a drop in the bucket.
Leave or Remain, then, all voters concerned about the future of life on this planet should join the call for a Green New Deal, and demand that Europe accept its historic responsibility to clean up the mess that it has — since the dawn of its industrial era — continued to exacerbate.
The proposal to mobilise the EIB may sound radical, but there is precedent. Since 2015, the European Fund for Strategic Investments—also known as the Juncker Plan—has mobilised investments worth over €392bn, in a desperate attempt to counteract sinking levels of investment across Europe. These funds mainly support local businesses, research and development, and energy. Nearly a million small and medium-sized companies benefitted, and the programme created more than 750,000 jobs by the end of 2017.
“To many, it sounded like a fairy tale,” the European Investment Bank says of the Juncker Plan’s basic Keynesian premise. “You take a bit of money, invest it wisely and within three years it will have multiplied 15 times over.” The programme has been so successful that European lawmakers are now planning to raise the target to at least €500bn, while increasing the focus on sustainable investment and local decision-making.
The Green New Deal for Europe builds on — and radically improves — the Juncker plan in four key ways.
One is size: to combat the climate crisis, we need to invest at least 5 per cent of GDP each year directly into the ecological transition.
Another is design: much of the financing in the Junker Plan was based on a model of public-private partnership, in which investment risk is socialised while private banks keep the gains. The Green New Deal raises its funds through green bond issuances, and ensures that ownership of Europe’s infrastructure remains in public hands.
Third and final is democracy. Under the Juncker Plan, decisions are made by a committee of experts, without reference to the needs, preferences, and dreams of the communities that they affect. The Green New Deal would put investment decisions in the hands of a devolved Public Works Agency, giving meaningful control back to regional, municipal, and local authorities.
There is already a growing well of sympathy inside the EU for something like a Green New Deal. Even Michel Barnier — widely regarded as the lead candidate for the Presidency of the next European Commission — has pledged his support.
But there are real dangers of cooptation afoot. Unless we stand together behind our own detailed proposal for a Green New Deal — one that is democratic, ambitious and justice, and that commits to redressing Europe’s colonial crimes — we risk losing it to technocrats like Barnier and their watered-down ideals.
Our job now is to hold our candidates’ feet to the fire: to take the pledge, commit to the proposal, and put Europe’s institutions to the service of global climate justice.
David Adler is DiEM25 policy coordinator and Pawel Wargan is Green New Deal for Europe campaign coordinator.