Silence is never the way to win political arguments. A strong commitment to European co-operation and a sustainable environment should be at the heart of centre-left politics. But, faced with their perceived lack of political saliency, the solution for left of centre parties has been to try and talk about them both as little as possible. This approach may hold some immediate tactical appeal to electoral strategists, but it is ultimately short-sighted, failing to recognise that the solution to one may lie in the other.
The futures of the environment and Europe are closely intertwined. It is impossible to imagine the UK delivering on its ambitious carbon reduction targets without European agreement; little else has the potential to create more jobs than the continent-wide transition to a low-carbon economy.
At the same time, with the political case for Europe feeling increasingly moribund and economic crisis fuelling ever greater Euroscepticism, it is through issues such as climate change that a new practical pro-Europeanism can be constructed. Indeed Fabian polling has shown the public understands that many of the major political challenges of the day – climate change, financial reform, fighting terrorism – can only be solved through closer European co-operation.
But both Europe and the environment have been cursed by a dense technocracy, in approach and in language, that has made it hard for people to connect with them as causes to fight for. Our European institutions are remote and bureaucratic; the language of disaster adaptation, climate mitigation and ecosystem services excludes large numbers of people from the conversation.
It is not enough to believe that Europe and the environment will have a powerful impact on everyone’s lives. One has to be able to convince others of this. The words we use and the way we campaign and practise politics matter.
How then can Europe and the environment be made more urgent in the minds of the public? How can political space be expanded for a debate on the future of both Europe and our environment that is constructive and helpful both for people today and for future generations?
The ‘Green Europe’ report draws upon previous work undertaken by the Fabian Society on both how to cultivate a more popular environmentalism as well as how to better relate Europe to people’s everyday lives to argue for a reimagined politics of Europe and the environment.
Politicians at the local and national level also need to find new and engaging ways to talk about environmentalism and the role of Europe, both in the short and long term. Imminently the European elections in May 2014 mean it is essential that green advocates across the political spectrum, but particularly social democrats, make a strong case for greater co-operation and ambition on environmental issues.
As some right-leaning coalitions in Europe turn against the environmental agenda there is a responsibility for social democrats to keep making the arguments in favour of a greener Europe. In the longer term there are massive gains to be had from a more integrated approach to environmental policy in Europe. It has been estimated that greater integration of gas and electricity markets in Europe could save EU member states up to €40bn in total by 2030. Such gains will only be available to Europeans if the case is made for greater cooperation in the future.
Europe on the eve of the 2014 elections is at a crossroads. The financial crisis and economic stagnation that has followed has caused national politics in individual member states to increasingly look inwards. Those that believe in a future characterised by co-operation and collective action have to invest far more energy and commitment in explaining to others where that belief stems from. The fear which leads to isolationism will only be countered by the hope of a better common future for Europe.
‘Green Europe: Reconciling the local and global’ by Natan Doron is available to read online here