Interview: Monica Frassoni, Co-President of the European Greens

Monica Frassoni stresses that competiveness and high environmental
protection can go hand in hand and says “the progress made by the
EU towards sustainable development has been little more than lip
service”.

Monica Frassoni was elected Member of the European Parliament
and Co-President of the Greens/EFA Group in 1999. Beforehand, she
was general Secretary of the European Organization of Young
Federalists, the President of the European Coordinating Bureau of
Youth NGOs, and Advisor to the Greens/EFA Group, Read the  interview
news

The Lisbon strategy is composed of three
pillars: economic, social and environmental. With the current
economic downturn, it seems that environmental and social concerns
are becoming less popular among decision-makers. What can the
greens do to reverse this trend?

We are confronted with a paradox: Europe is
perhaps the wealthiest region in the world, yet people have the
impression that we cannot afford to take care of our environment
and health when it comes to taking measures to reduce pollution,
the use of hazardous chemicals, or greenhouse gas emissions. Greens
will need to be more persuasive in getting people to shift their
perspective and look at the long term. When we speak about
competitiveness, Europe cannot give in to the race-to-the-bottom in
environmental and social standards. Our industries will be
competitive in the future only if we give them the right incentives
to develop technologies which are safer to the consumer, use less
resources, consume less energy and produce less waste. And we
insist that sustainable development also encompasses social
protection, social justice and the objective of full
employment.

How do you assess the progress made
between 1999 and 2004 as regards sustainable development? Do you
think that industry is putting enough effort in investing in and
using clean technologies?

One can look at the glass and say it is half
full or half empty. In this case even half would be a gross
exaggeration. The progress made by the EU towards sustainable
development has been little more than lip service. The Union has
not been able to agree on objective measurable targets with
deadlines for achieving and assessing sustainability. The objective
of halting biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010 has been set, but we
still don’t have an indicator to assess our progress towards that
objective. The EU has not been able to decrease transport volumes,
decouple resource use from economic output, resolve the
accumulation of waste, get rid of environmentally harmful
subsidies, or get closer to a sustainable energy economy. One of
the big tests of the willingness of the EU to embrace
sustainability will be the adoption of the new chemicals policy in
order to get the REACH system operational.

In your view, is the EU allocating
enough money for sustainable development in the EU’s financial
perspectives for the period 2007-2013?

First, we must make sure that the EU budget is
not used in a way which adversely affects the environment or
sustainable development – I’m thinking here of spending on
agricultural policy, regional development and cohesion, research
and development, export subsidies, external aid. As regards the
proposed financial perspectives, the policy under the Sustainable
Development title has to correspond to the label of expenditure,
instead of being just window-dressing. The Commission proposes to
more than triple expenditure for growth and competitiveness from
8.7 billion in 2006 to 25.8 billion in 2013 – the Greens will
examine if the content is worthwhile in terms of sustainable
development. The proposed level of expenditure on environment and
nature protection over the period 2007-2013 of around €350 million
per year is not sufficient and proves that the budget headings
merely try to window dress the lack of real commitment.

What solutions do you advocate for
avoiding delocalisation to low wage / low tax countries – such as
the new Member States and in Asia? Is a harmonised tax system at EU
level the way to avoid deloca lisation within the enlarged
EU?

Delocalisation of labour intensive businesses
from high- to low-wage countries are part of the structural changes
that economies across the globe have been experiencing for decades.
A developed economy like the EU’s should not try to compete with
low wages but with new products and entrepreneurialism. The Greens
advocate a pro-active policy to manage the structural change.
Firstly, we must strengthen education, qualification, and
innovation. Secondly, for problematic sectors we must implement
accompanying social measures to facilitate adaptation and
transition for the people concerned.

Relocation processes are, however, unacceptable
if based on ‘subsidy shopping’ practices by enterprises, or harmful
tax competition between Member States. We advocate a process for
the convergence of corporate taxation across the Union.
Furthermore, we believe that a common system for corporate taxation
at EU level is needed to fight tax evasion by international
enterprises. It is also needed to avoid the overtaxation of labour
that would otherwise be necessary to secure income for public
services.

Some experts say that nuclear energy is
actually helping to keep a clean environment by keeping CO2
emissions low. How do you react to such statements?

Safe, carbon-free nuclear power is an old wives’
tale cheerfully spread by the nuclear lobby. Although nuclear power
could, at the moment, offer some CO2 emission reductions, its costs
clearly outweigh the benefits. It is a non-starter in terms of
avoiding climate change.

The massive drawbacks – such as the unresolved
question of the radioactive waste, safety and proliferation of
nuclear materials – make it simply incompatible with a sustainable
energy economy. Terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities could be
catastrophic. Last but not least, radiation released into the
environment has led to the contamination of soil, air, rivers and
oceans – causing cancer and other diseases in people.

Energy conservation coupled with energy
efficiency measures and a rapid deployment of renewable energies is
the solution to both the nuclear and climate threats. We need to
tackle them together and we will campaign for the EU to become the
first 100% renewable economy.

The Greens have always campaigned for
disarmament and a peaceful resolution to international conflicts.
Do the new threats posed by terrorism mean this principle needs to
be modified?

On the contrary – our principles are more valid
than ever. After the experience the World has had in Iraq, we
stress the need to better co-ordinate peace efforts with the United
Nations. The UN should be reformed to become an efficient
instrument for peace and disarmament. Unilateral action and
pre-emptive war strategies – as promoted by the United States –
have proved to be a recipe for disaster. We will make use of the
transatlantic dialogue to take this issue up with our American
allies. We urgently need to stop the supply and the proliferation
of arms (including landmines) for commercial and political reasons
across the globe.

The fight against terrorism must not be used as
an alibi to restrict civil, social and human rights or to curb the
freedom of expression and movement. War crimes (violations of the
Geneva Conventions and other international treaties) such as the
maltreatment of prisoners in Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere should
not go unpunished and the International Criminal Court should be
firmly promoted by the EU. We want conflict prevention to make full
use of the forces of civil society as laid down in our proposal for
the European Civil Peace Corps.

Are the Greens in favour of further
enlargements? Do they want Turkey to become a full EU
member?

The Greens are clearly in favour of the
accession of Bulgaria and Romania into the EU, if they succeed in
finalising the accession negotiation s at the end of 2004. However
it is important that these countries fulfil the Copenhagen criteria
before their accession. Concerning the Balkan countries, Croatia
already expressed its wish to join the EU and the Greens stressed
the necessity to seriously take this desire into account. The
Greens are clearly in favour of welcoming the Balkan countries into
the EU in the near future. They will have to launch several reforms
to be ready to join and to fulfil the political and economic
aspects of Copenhagen.

With regards to Turkey, the Greens think that it
is important to open accession negotiations. This doesn’t mean that
we have to make a final decision on accession. It only means that
we start negotiations which will probably last for about ten years.
We are, however, well aware that delaying accession negotiations
will certainly slow down the democratisation of Turkey – which the
country badly needs. We believe that a democratic, peaceful and
open Turkey has a place in the Union.

Do you think the Commission should
pursue a clearer political agenda and become the EU
government?

I personally believe that the Commission should
develop towards becoming a European government. But this cannot be
an isolated development. The powers of the European Parliament have
to be increased and the influence of the EU governments limited.
The Greens think the European elections should be a decisive factor
in the composition of the Commission as well as in its political
agenda. This means the political parties should present candidates
for the Commission as well as clear programmes for the political
work of the Commission during the election campaign.

Do you believe the Greens will have as
many MEPs in the next parliament as they have now? What could be
the impact of a reduced number of Green MEPs on EU
policies?

We are confident that, despite the electoral
situation, which is not easy for us, we will come back with at
least as many MEPs we have got now and probably with more. Fewer
Green MEPs in the Parliament would constitute a set-back for
progressive policies and legislation on issues including
environmental protection, social rights and social protection,
minority rights, the democratisation of the EU, GMOs. With a
Parliament dominated by the right and neoliberals – as it is likely
to be – this would reduce the support for truly sustainable
policies.

What would you highlight as the main
achievements of the Green MEPs in the Parliament?

The Greens have of course left their mark on the
environmental legislation of the Parliament. On climate change they
secured the adoption of a binding and ambitious emissions trading
scheme. They also made important steps towards a new energy policy
promoting renewable energies as well as in the fight for a new
chemicals policy (which we will continue in the new parliament). We
also assured much stricter rules for GMOs, as regards labelling,
traceability and the danger of cross-contamination and achieved
tough rules for food security.

We fought against the megalomanic project of the
Spanish water plan, which has now been stopped. We also succeeded
in starting a re-orientation of agricultural policies from
production orientated systems to more sustainable methods. The
Greens made important contributions to the work of the European
Constitution, even if we would have wished for a stronger text. But
the draft Constitution as drawn up by the Convention can be a
useful instrument for a more democratic and efficient European
Union if the EU governments leave it untouched.

As regards conflict prevention, the Greens
successfully launched the concept of a European Civil Peace Corps
in the European Parliament.

 

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