By Jagoda Munic, director, Friends of the Earth Europe
The European institutions have launched what is set to be the biggest listening exercise in their history.
The drably-named ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’ comes as part of a wider push for European democracy post-Brexit, and with nationalist and authoritarian forces exploiting peoples’ fears and uncertainty to hold and gain support in many member countries.
The start of this “citizens-focused, bottom-up exercise” was put back a year due to the coronavirus. Now, as we endeavour to ensure a just and green recovery from the pandemic, it is even more opportune to seize the moment and re-shape our societies.
We desperately need to change course. New climate research out this week concludes there are “few realistic scenarios left to limit global warming to 1.5°C”. And those that do remain will require ‘a herculean effort’ to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means.
The previous week, research suggested illegal operations by EU member states are linked to more than 2,000 deaths of asylum seekers at Europe’s borders. We can be sure the number of people displaced and in need of safety will increase in the future as climate change worsens.
Central to setting a future direction for Europe must be rising to the planetary emergency whilst living our values.
Living our values
Solidarity is a founding value of the European project. Glimpses of solidarity can be seen in the Union’s handling of the coronavirus crisis – the deployment of international medical teams to Italy last year, and the bloc’s joint procurement of vaccine supplies so they can be distributed to the most vulnerable across the EU27, for example – but nowhere near enough.
Against the common threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, a coordinated global response is needed. The Global South has access to a tiny fraction of the vaccines of rich countries. We are supporting the No Profit on Pandemic campaign and asking the European Commission to do everything in its power to make anti-pandemic vaccines and treatments a global public good, freely accessible to everyone. In accordance with its values, Europe should facilitate the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments across the world, and make sure that pharmaceutical corporations which benefit from EU-funds are made to share the technology and related knowledge.
Solidarity in practice
At local level, waves of solidarity and community action have been visible since the start of the pandemic. In our network we have witnessed movements of solidarity like Friends of the Earth France who forced Amazon to better protect workers in unsafe conditions. And in Spain, where Friends of the Earth helped to support struggling small and ecological farms and won more rights for them to sell their produce during the pandemic. Everywhere, neighbours, volunteers, friends and strangers have lent a hand to people in need.
If the European Union is genuinely committed to its ‘bottom-up’ exercise to shape the future, it should draw on these grassroots examples of what its stated value of solidarity looks like in practice.
The pandemic has shown clearly that governments are capable to taking bold, far-reaching action. They can make vast sums of money available and mobilise resources, and are able to listen to scientists and expert advice. They are willing to disrupt business-as-usual to protect lives and livelihoods – even when this will have economic costs.
Action of the magnitude we’ve seen must continue and even accelerate to put Europe on a path to a fair, sustainable future. Transformational change is needed to leave behind our broken economic system which has created such inequalities and is destroying the planet and the ecosystems we depend on.
With brave action, informed by science and founded in solidarity, we have the chance to build a fairer, greener future and a caring, compassionate world within environmental limits.
- The Conference on the Future of Europe online hub
- Europe We Want civil society statement on the Future of Europe
- Joint civil society declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe
Friends of the Earth Europe gratefully acknowledges financial assistance from the European Union. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Friends of the Earth Europe and cannot be regarded as reflecting the opinion of the European Union. The European Parliament cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained.