In his Bloomberg speech, David Cameron confirmed that EU legislation on the environment is one policy area where the Tories are considering repatriating powers. He was vague on detail but it’s possible to fill in some of the gaps from the FreshStart group’s manifesto which called for Britain to unilaterally suspend the renewable energy directive. Tony Juniper has also outlined the ‘grave news’ that it’s not just climate change but also environmental protection policies like the EU habitats directive that will go under the Tory microscope led by George Osborne.
Given this context, you’d assume that the Green Party would be all over the airwaves and in the press attacking this open assault on EU environmental legislation. I had seen and heard very little so I searched the press releases of Greens leader Natalie Bennett, Caroline Lucas MP, Keith Taylor MEP and Jean Lambert MEP. They had all issued press releases on Cameron’s speech centred on the banal slogan of “the three yeses” – yes to a referendum, yes to staying in the EU and yes to reform of the EU. So, on the surface at least, they share exactly the same position as David Cameron! Surely they argue that their vision of reform is different and they categorically reject repatriation of powers? Well no, they don’t. The closest we get is an aside from Natalie Bennett on minimum environmental standards and a rejection from Jean Lambert of repatriation of employment powers. Honourable as that may be, as a Green, why isn’t she doing the same for the environment?
The Greens seem active enough at other tiers of government. Jenny Jones was on Sunday Politics attacking Boris Johnson’s environment policy while nationally Andrew Cooper was yesterday attacking the government’s green deal. So why aren’t they scrutinising the Tories’ approach to EU environmental policy? Are the Greens asleep?
This is all the more remarkable given that the European Parliament is the Greens’ electoral success story with two MEPs and predictions of more in 2014. And it is at the EU where nearly all important environmental legislation is agreed. Britain can’t fight climate change alone: it isn’t big enough and needs the support of other countries. That process starts at the EU by establishing common climate change legislation and targets which are then used as a springboard for multilateral environmental agreements like Durban. The EU is key to climate change negotiations and rightly recognised as a world leader.
So why are the Greens silent when EU environmental legislation is attacked? It’s true that they have lost their edge since the well-respected Caroline Lucas moved to Westminster as MP for Brighton Pavilion. It is also true that the Greens suffer from serial media bias, as pointed out by Phil Burton-Cartledge in the New Statesman. Maybe there are Greens out there fighting against Cameron’s repatriation but haven’t been covered by the mainstream media.
But these excuses simply don’t explain why the highest profile Green politicians have failed to raise alarm at Tory attacks on EU legislation even on their own websites. In the fight against right-wing repatriation, it is crucial that progressive parties make common cause in favour of EU employment, financial and environmental laws. If the Greens don’t stand up for EU environmental regulation then you have to start questioning their purpose as a party. They need to wake up before it’s too late.
UPDATE – 18.10
Keith Taylor MEP’s office has responded the following on twitter. I look forward to the promised response:
Keith Taylor Office @liberlaboratory rest assured we’re doing lots on the environment but we’re also worried about attacks on workers rights etc.
Keith Taylor Office @liberlaboratory also Keith’s using air pollution law as an example of strong EU legislation. (both environmental and health).
Liberal Laboratory @Keith_Office thanks for the response. I agree on workers’ rights but still a bit puzzled why no Green reaction on the environment….
Keith Taylor Office @liberlaboratory We will be responding lots on the environment. And working in the parliament for stronger law too.