The youngest MEP elected to the new European Parliament, 25-year old Danish Green Emilie Turunen, told EURACTIV in an interview that the Greens will need to forge a strong alliance with the Socialists on environmental issues.
Danish Green MEP Emilie Turunen is the European Parliament’s youngest member at 25 years old.
What does it feel like being the youngest MEP in the new European Parliament?
There are pros and cons. I think it is a good thing because I represent a generation that is not represented here or has not been strongly represented until now. I think more young people have been elected this time. Just in the green group we are five. I am not the only one. But it is special to be the youngest. It attracts special attention. People want to know who this ‘Benjamin of the Parliament’ is.
But it also gives me special challenges. So far, I have met my own group. They are not hierarchical and they are quite open towards young people. However, I am curious to know what other people are going to say.
During the election campaign, some people in Denmark were saying I was just a student who did not have any place in the European Parliament.
I am sure I will meet this kind of person. I just need to prove myself, more than if I were a male aged 60. But I am here because I have some ideas on where Europe should go.
Let’s talk about where you think Europe should go. What do you think should be the EU’s priorities for the next five years?
We need a change of direction and a change of politics. And not just on the surface, but a really dramatic change in thinking economic, social and environmental policies.
So far we have had policies that were deregulating the financial markets, removing rules and barriers.
We have built a bubble of debt and speculation, which is unhealthy for the real economy, which is throwing people into unemployment. We need rules. It is not about getting rid of tax heavens, but also going further in regulating hedge funds and private equity.
We need to regulate our financial system, because it is unhealthy and impacting on people that have nothing to do with it.
Second, we need to restart the economy. I am one of those that thinks we should go towards an active fiscal policy, creating jobs. The state should play an active role in that process.
So far we have made investments, but not green investments. It is time to revert this trend. Within the Greens we have been promoting a green ‘New Deal’, which is an idea that goes back to the 30s. We have to tackle two crises today and that needs a change of paradigm. We need to change the ruling sectors of the economy: transport, industry, and energy.
We need to turn those sectors into sustainable sectors. This will create lots of jobs, building new sustainable sectors.
But this new Parliament is heavily positioned towards the centre-right political spectrum. How do you plan to convince those MEPs to follow you on this green ‘New Deal’?
We will not do it without convincing some of them. We need at least a strong alliance with the Social Democrats. But a new understanding is also settling with people on the right.
The fact that leaders at the G8 have agreed that we have to respect the 2C degrees target shows that there is a shift in understanding.
But there will surely be a struggle over goals and measures to tackle our common problems, and that will not be easy.
There is surely a new political momentum building around the political groups on exacting from Commission President José Manuel Barroso a clear programme for the next five years. If the Parliament were to vote for Barroso today, what questions would you ask him?
I would ask him if he as one of the most powerful people in the European Union is ready for this transformation, making an energy revolution and starting to create green jobs for all those millions of Europeans that are without a job right now. I will ask him if he is ready to start implementing a green New Deal, the first one in the world.
I would also ask him what he plans to do differently than what he has done so far, because he has really not taken care of the economic and financial crisis properly. He has to convince me I can trust him.
What would he do differently in the next term? How can I believe him, when he has been the representative of closed eyes or passive politics? How can I trust him on these issues?
One issue close to your heart is climate change. Denmark, your country. will host the UN climate conference to find a successor to the Kyoto agreement. If you had the possibility to address representatives negotiating the deal, what would be your message?
I would tell them that there is very bad news: that is, we are in a hurry. If they don’t settle for something that is ambitious enough, we will not have the chance to fix our climate problems and nature will take over.
The good news is that we have the chance to create a new economy that is sustainable. They have the opportunity to invest in the green economy with the right investments – that will be a pay-off.
They think very short-term on power structure and the economy right now. They should not forget to think of the cost of not acting now. That will cost much more than if we do something.
Europe should take the lead no matter what to maintain the momentum.
Where would the money for investment in green technology and technology transfer and adaptation come from?
Everybody is doing recovery packages – why are they not thinking of making them green enough? The present recovery packages are job killers and will be economy killers in five, ten years.
Investing in the green economy is not for fun, but for our future, for all of us. So I would say, please Europe: take the lead, and secondly, please think a bit longer than just two years on restructuring the economy.
I will ask them not to think about the next election, but about economy, social stability in a long-term perspective.
Would you be in favour of a CO2 tax to cut emissions?
I would rather to improve the emissions trading scheme and the quota system that we have today. It is better to use the market to regulate emissions and set high reduction levels. In the end it has the same result of a tax, but we will never have a global tax, but we can have a global quota system. I think it is more realistic.
We should try to expand it to different sectors and also improve the Clean Development Mechanism, which at the moment is not equitable enough.
We should definitely tackle the gaps and spread it to all sectors, agriculture for example – where a lot of the emissions are.
Do you think Europe has youth-friendly policies?
I think they are more hostile than friendly at the moment. In recent decades, the thinking has focused on the economy, which has overshadowed environmental and social policies. We measure everything in money. We have become very cynical.
I think we should take a step back: we should be concerned by the economy, but that should not dictate the rest of society. The economy has had too privileged a position.
We need to start thinking of building a society with opportunities for everyone, a high level of free education, take care of climate change and the environment, so we won’t deliver a bill for the next generation, thinking about building social security. That would be youth-friendly.
Are young people interested in European politics? Young people don’t seem to go and vote in European elections. Why?
In many countries, the debate is very technical and bureaucratic, and Europe feels very far away from everyday life. We should take the political debate back to the people and draw the big lines.
Young people in Denmark are very much interested in national politics, but they have difficulties in understanding the European Union. They don’t understand things happening in Brussels and Strasbourg, they question even why MEPs move between Brussels and Strasbourg. They are puzzled.
Young people are concerned about jobs, education, the climate. They have to understand that those are the issues we are dealing with here. Also, there is the possibility to turn this negative attitude towards the EU if politicians lead the right debates and don’t just go down in this technocratic hole and talk about things that people do not understand.
We have an opportunity. More young people voted in Denmark this year, more people were on the lists and more were elected. We can do it.
No matter if you like the EU or not, it affects young people’s lives and they should know that. My aim is to empower people, not make them victims of somebody else’s politics. I want young people to be active players in society.
Which committees are you going to be a member of, and if you had to choose an issue on which you would like to be a rapporteur, which one would that be?
I am going to be in social affairs and the internal market. I am most interested in issues of social and working standards issues.
There is the Working Time Directive, for example, which I would like to get involved in. We should not have downward pressure on social standards in Europe. We should raise them instead. That is a challenge: to strengthen social Europe.
In the Nordic countries, we have managed to build a society with high social standards, good education, good salaries. I think we can’t copy one country’s development to another, but we can learn.
If you had to chose a European politician to be your role model, who would that one be?
It is difficult to say. I don’t think I have one role model. I am anti-role models. There are a lot people that inspire me and I take a little bit here and there. But Margot Wallström is the one I can mention, for the work she has done on pushing women up the political ladder.