Bas Eickhout: ‘Greens are pro-European, pro-change’

, by Jeanne Morel, Juuso Järviniemi

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 Bas Eickhout: ‘Greens are pro-European, pro-change'
Photo by Lucile Briolat of JEF Sciences Po.

Speaking at an event hosted by JEF Sciences Po in Paris on 2 April, the European Greens’ Spitzenkandidat Bas Eickhout presented the party’s priorities for the upcoming elections, without hesitating to take jabs at other parties. In addition to the environment, taxation and rule of law, Eickhout discussed the Green perspective on the EU’s institutional set-up and on what happens after the May elections.

‘We also are critical of the status quo’

In his introduction, Bas Eickhout challenged the “it’s us or the populists” framing of the elections. ‘You give those critical of Europe just one option: the populists’, he said. The Greens, for their part, position themselves as critical of today’s Europe, but still pro-European.

The Greens’ three campaign priorities in 2019 are not surprising: climate, taxation and rule of law are the party’s main themes for the elections. On climate, the Green policy of today doesn’t set economic growth at odds with environmentalism. Indeed, for Eickhout, the climate action pillar of the Green campaign doubles as an “economic and geopolitical agenda”. In addition to the green economy, Eickhout argues that there are strategic advantages to renewable energy. ‘By not supporting climate action, populists are making Europe dependent on the Middle East’, Eickhout said, adding that Europe imports €1 billion euros’ worth of oil daily.

Concerning taxation, Eickhout drew attention to the fact that markets already are European, but at the same time companies can choose between countries with different corporate taxation levels. As regards the rule of law, the Green candidate attacked the current European Commission, where the EPP and the social democrats have a prominent role, for “politicising rule of law” by taking prompt action on Poland, whose ruling party is in the conservative ECR faction, while showing more restraint concerning Hungary whose ruling party is in the EPP, or Romania whose ruling party is in the social democratic group.

Criticism of ‘mainstream’ parties

As one can see, Bas Eickhout did not hesitate to criticise the pro-European mainstream parties. The centre-right EPP, the social democrats and ALDE all got their share. The biggest target was the EPP’s lead candidate Manfred Weber, as Bas Eickhout repeated that the conservative candidate must change his approach to get the Greens’ support.

On the social democrat side, Eickhout, whose home party in the Netherlands is GroenLinks, took on the competing Labour Party. The Dutch Labour Party has “a credibility problem”, Eickhout said, as the party’s member Jeroen Dijsselbloem was a prominent proponent of austerity policies in the Eurogroup during the economic crisis, while Frans Timmermans, who also represents the same party, is now speaking of European solidarity in his European election campaign.

When asked about the liberal ALDE’s plans to present candidates for Commission leadership who have not stood as a Spitzenkandidat, Bas Eickhout hit at the liberal faction: “What the liberals are doing is a very unclear play. This is just to be nice to [French President Emmanuel] Macron, to be honest. Guy Verhofstadt was the lead candidate five years ago, and he was one of the most vocal proponents of Spitzenkandidaten. Now he wants to get Macron into the liberal group and that’s why he suddenly said ‘Well, I don’t really believe in this system’, because he knew that Macron was critical of it. I think the liberals are here very hypocritical, and we’re not playing their game.”

The Parliament decides on the Commission President

For these reasons, Bas Eickhout says that the Greens rule out voting for a candidate for Commission presidency who hasn’t presented themselves as a Spitzenkandidat. While the Greens are strongly committed to the lead candidate system, they now underline their position that a candidate needs to “draft a programme on the basis of which we can say whether we support you or not, so you really need to get a majority behind you”.

When asked what one thing about the European treaties he could change if given the choice, Bas Eickhout responds with two points. The first is removing unanimity that Eickhout says is obstructing reform in fields such as energy and taxation. The second is that the Commission should not consist of each country’s representatives. “The European Commission is a political body, and we should be clear on that. It should also be politically controlled, so for that there are two important changes. One is less Commissioners, the second is that the European Parliament could [dismiss] individual Commissioners”.

A European party system is necessary for the system to function. When interviewed, Bas Eickhout says that national-level parties in the Green political family use the two European-level lead candidates in their campaigns. “I think we are now invited in every European country. I’ve been to Finland, I’ve been to Sweden, I’ve been to Denmark, and it was all on the invitation of national Green parties. [...] They know that it’s in their interest to also invite the European candidates to show that they’re a part of a bigger European movement.”

Scientist turned politician

As soon as Bas Eickhout started his speech, he decided not to use the microphone and separated the time between just twenty minutes for his introduction and the rest for questions and answers. Friendly and convincing, Eickhout even joked about having overstepped his allowed time. The Green Spitzenkandidat doesn’t come from a political background but studied chemistry and became a climate change modeller. It was during the debates that took place in his town about the European Constitution in 2005 that he started to get involved in politics, debated and then became part of the European list for the Greens. Even after ten years as an MEP, Eickhout didn’t fall into the trap of vague answers but paid attention to giving concrete examples to respond to the questions of the students during the event, or even in the café after his talk.

When asked, Eickhout agreed that scientists could be a big help for elected politicians on very specific topics and that their help should be mobilised more. He then recognised that his knowledge of environmental issues was a big asset for his nomination.

As for the low youth turnout at elections, Bas Eickhout recognised how challenging this problem and the reasons behind it were. He believes that the European Parliament, with its average age of over fifty years, needs to be rejuvenated and that MEPs should show that young people can be active in politics.

Bas Eickhout is, in the end, not a typical candidate for such an important role and he seems devoted to his cause. He admits that the Greens won’t win the elections but says his party still exercises a huge influence on the topic of environment and is a necessary part of a coalition with other big groups. Close to the people, Bas Eickhout looks more human than many politicians in a world were elitist leaders are less and less appreciated, and where the climate has become one of the number one priorities.

The New Federalist is the web magazine of The Young European Federalists (JEF), a non-partisan youth NGO with over 13,000 members active in more than 35 countries. Founded in 1972, the organisation strives towards a federal Europe based on the principles of democracy, subsidiarity and rule of law. JEF promotes true European citizenship, and works towards more active participation of young people in democratic life. JEF is a transpartisan organisation and is not a political party: it is not running in the European elections but campaigns to make European citizens aware of the elections and their stakes.

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