East Midlands Green Party Blog

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Europe, needed then, needed now.

On 9th May each year people across Europe celebrate the achievements of the European Project that began as the Coal and Steel Community in 1952 and has now grown into the European Union.

Its origin was among the the ruins of the second world war that many see as a continuation of the Great War of 1914-18 – the war that itself was to ‘end all wars’.  But it didn’t and by 1945, Europe lay in ruins with more than 100 million dead in both conflicts and countless more maimed and traumatised.

Witnessing the destruction, leaders of politics, business and civil community saw that it would be through greater cooperation between states, not insular nationalism, that such destruction could be avoided in the future.  As a result of collectively pursuing common interests, Europe has enjoyed the longest period of peace in in modern times. Now, seventy years on from the close of hostilities, war between France, Germany Britain and Italy is unthinkable.

Starting with 6 nations the EU incorporates a community of 28 countries, all committed to democracy and the peaceful resolution of differences between them. With stability has come prosperity and rising standards of living for many, but not for all.  

The new politics of Europe, built on negotiation not war, required new institutions that grew as the community grew.  Inevitably this new power base created tensions between the traditional institutions of state and the developing multinational structures. Tensions that have brought us to today’s political crisis.

Nation states are not built into the fabric of the planet, they are a fairly recent political development in world history.  But their ruling elites have become used to pursuing their own exclusive minterests, frequently neglecting the needs of the more humble of their citizens.  The notion of ceding some of their power to a supranational structure is an anathema to the nationalists.

But there is another reason for this tension. Prosperity within Europe has grown considerably since 1945, but it has not been shared fairly.  Since the 1980’s the gap between high and low earners has widened and poverty is again on the rise. The institutions of the EU, like those of the nation states have failed to ensure that all are included in the growing prosperity of the community.

At present it is the EU that is taking the greater blame for the inequalities and hardships that a growing number are suffering. National governments have been quick to pass the blame for their own failings on to the EU so as to protect the interests of their own powerful elites.

This blame game is not helpful and serves to obscure the multiple causes of our present difficulties.  The world and the nature of the problems we face has changed considerably since the institutions of the EU were set up.  It has changed beyond recognition since the institutions of the nation states were founded. Neither national nor European institutions have shown themselves prepared or capable of adapting to the new realities of the twenty first century.

The paternalistic nationalism of the ruling elites has run its course.  Universal education and the empowerment of women has seen to that. But also the EU, as it is currently managed has not shown the flexibility and responsiveness required to manage the new political agenda.  Both need reform.

Today’s agenda is both global and local.  Climate change, environmental destruction and the movement of people and goods are global needing transnational structures to comprehend them and manage their impacts.  But matters affecting people’s daily lives are experienced locally and need responses that are sensitive to local patterns of need and expectancy. Good policy that will enhance people’s lives can not be delivered from on high, be it Westminster or Brussels.  Democratic and empowered local government is needed, working in a partnership of equals with national and European structures. Isolationism, like nationalism is a dead end.

The days of domination of people by remote hierarchies are coming to an end.  People are now too well educated and informed. No matter how much the elite try to control the propaganda machine and fill people with false news, they will be unable to counter the free flow of global information. People want more control of their lives, they want to feel that they are being noticed and treated fairly.  

Greens call for the reform of politics both in Europe and at home. Demonstrations and protests show that people are finding their voice, they will be heard and those politicians who don’t listen will be swept aside.  We want to see a revival of local politics with more local decision making free of the dead hand of Westminster. We want to see voting reform so that all votes matter. We want to remain in the EU, working from within to shape its future in to an accountable transparent body working resolve global problems, helping to build a secure and sustainable world.  A partnership of the people of Europe can make all this happen.

[Mike Shipley 8 May 2019]   





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One More Wake-Up Call

The Green Party have called the latest United Nations report on the state of nature yet another wakeup call to governments and to us all.

The International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services has been meeting in Paris over this last week to finalise the report that has been 3 years in the making that maps change over the last 50 years.  It represents the most comprehensive statement on the condition of the natural global environment to date.

Its message is stark: globally, wildlife has plummeted by 60% since 1970 and that one million species face extinction, some within a very few years.  If this does happen, as it will if we continue with business as usual, our livelihoods, economy, food supply, health and wellbeing will all be adversely affected..  

Introducing the report IPBES chair, Sir Robert Watson of the UK Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia said that it presented an ominous picture, “The health of natural stems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.”

Dipping into the numbers, the report shows that the abundance of land based species globally has fallen by 20% over the last 100 years.  40% of amphibia, a third of corals and marine mammals are threatened. In the last 500 years we have exterminated at least 680 vertebrate species.  Three quarters of the Earth’s land area has been significantly altered by human activity, one third of land is already used to produce human food so pushing out nature.  And still we plan to expand.

We can not keep this up and hope to survive. This network of plant and animal life represents our life support system.  We as the human species are deeply integrated into the web of life no matter what our inflated egos may try to tell us.

The most chilling statistics come from a review of the domesticated species that we rely on for food. 9% of species that we have used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016.  1000 more breeds and varieties are threatened.

Our obsession with economic growth has led us to destroy the foundations of our food supply.  Clearing forests to raise cash crops to increase corporate wealth is threatening global freshwater supply.  Turning agriculture in to an intensive factory system of production for profit is destroying the soil essential for the growth of plants, be they traditional crops or the very latest offering from the private GM labs.

There are solutions, as there are solutions to climate change and pollution. Solution will require change, what the report calls ‘transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.’  In other words a root and branch change in the way we do things. Change in our economy, our politics, our attitude to the Earth and in our technology. But Sir Robert Watson recognises that these changes will meet with opposition. ‘…by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from  those with interests vested in the status quo.’  An understatement at the very least.

Such radical change needs political change.  Protests by young people at their schools across the world, by Extinction Rebellion and many others globally are raising the pressure on governments.

Speaking to the BBC about the need to bring about change Ecologist Dr Rinku Roy Chowdhury, from Clark University, Massachusetts said: “So how do you that? Through individual behaviour, through the polling booth.”  

Greens across the world offer a political route to change that allows everyone to build a sustainable and fulfilling life that also allows nature to recover and flourish.  It means confronting some powerful vested interests who profit from the status quo. Unless we successfully do this, the majority of us now and in the future will lead impoverished lives on an impoverished planet whose natural capital has been squandered.

Mike Shipley

7 May 2019