Finally, my first MEP! Last week I managed to interview Belgian Member of European Parliament Bart Staes at the Congres 2.0 in Brussels, a conference open for youngsters to give their opinions on the Green elections program. And there he stood: Bart Staes, talking to other politicians at the reception. Bart Staes has been representing the Green Party in the European Parliament since 1999. ‘This is my chance,’ I thought, ‘the first MEP at arm distance’. Could I just ask him for an interview. Why not? The result was an interesting chat for more than half an hour.
Interview with BART STAES
(Belgian MEP, Green Party)
What is the main focus in your European campaign?
Staes: The European Campaign has a lot of overlap with the one for the Flemish elections. I think there are 3 big challenges for the coming 5 years in Flanders, in Europe, in the whole world. We have to overcome the three big crises: the economical crisis, the ecological crisis (oa. the climate change) and the social crisis (the fact that as a result of the two other crises a lot of people wake up in the morning not knowing if they or their children will still have a job by the end of the year).
The increasing poverty is frightening, here and in the whole world. I have recently read an article of Sieklid, an economist working for the United Nations. He wrote that the financial-economical and the climate crisis will push 200 to 300 million more people under the poverty limit in development countries! There will be 40 to 50 million more unemployed people in the world.
Taking up these three challenges will be our goal for the next 5 years. Our unique message as Green Party is ‘Don’t come with solutions for each of the 3 crises separately. But. if you do something, make sure that the other 2 crises will also take advantage of it.
In short: “invest In economy, but do it in a smart way. Invest in economical branches that contribute to the solution of the climate problem and create a lot of jobs at the same time. Invest in green innovative technology, invest in sustainable energy resources. This approach is one that is widely recognized. It’s not only the voice of ‘green guru’s’. The Belgian economist Peter Noels shares the same opinion. According to him ‘economy can do better. So let’s invest in Green economy, invest in new jobs and make of blue collar workers green collar workers. That’s our main challenge, in short.
Why are Greens needed if the other parties put these three crises on their agenda too?
Staes: At the G20 meeting 3 weeks ago was decided to do something against the tax paradises. In reality the EU, present at the G20 meeting, made an economical agreement with the Caribbean based on economic liberalization and free trade one week before. You have to know that 8 out of 14 Caribbean countries are tax paradises! Some people say “now the other parties also have ‘green topics’ on the agenda, so why would we prefer the Greens?”. A lot can be ‘promised’ and ‘agreed on’ in words by other political parties at the EU, but in reality, when it comes to actions, they do right the opposite. The Greens are needed first to discover the fraud and lies and second to fight against it.
What are the strongest advantages of the European Union?
Staes: We, the inhabitants of the European Union, are the first generation that never experienced a war on own territory likeour parents or grandparents and their parents did . Europe has been a continent of conflict and nationalistic wars for several decennia and centuries. The European Union makes sure that who joins the ‘European Club’ will never start an armed, military war with each other. Of course there are many conflicts, also in the European Union. The difference is that the EU tries to solve the conflicts with in a humane way, by debates in the European Parliament, by debates in the European Commission and the European Council of Ministers.
And what are the disadvantages of the European Union?
Staes: The disadvantage of the European Union is the fact it is drives too much on a stream that became more and more powerful the last 15 years in regard to society: this is the organization based on neoliberal principles of competition with each other, wanting more and more. It is an economic system not taking in account the borders of human capacity and of our planet. The EU has been a factor that made this neoliberalism stronger. That’s why Greens are necessary to prevent the EU from going too extreme in their liberalization and to make the neoliberals aware of the social consequences.
How can we solve the Climate Change problem?
Staes: To fight the climate change we need a multitude of strategies. First of all we should decrease our ecological footprint. We should use less energy and limit our use of natural resources by more than 20 percent and by 80 percent before 2040-2050. We need more concrete plans. A climate policy should be developed, but at the same time a new kind of society should become reality. A society in which people need less natural resources and use energy more efficiently. Every unit less energy wasted is a contribution to the fight against climate change!
I read agriculture is also influencing climate change. How big is the impact?
Staes: Agriculture is an enormous industrial branch. It has little to do with the idyllic image we have about the farm life. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of this industrial branch on the emissions of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases. It is an industrial branch that terribly influences the use of energy. About 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the agricultural industry. Animals and their meat, just like cattle food are transported from one part of the earth to the other. In the Amazon hectares and hectares of rainforest are cut down for the production of soy to feed the European cattle. This soy is often treated with GMO’s.
The anomalies in the agricultural policy are enormous. If we want agriculture to contribute to a healthier environment in a better way and to support the humane treatment of animals, there should be space for sustainability next while still being a economical sector. Another philosophy is needed about how to deal with agriculture. Farmers should take their fate back in their own hands, away from the power and force of the food giants. Farmers should be able to sell and eventually process their own products in a way that they can get an income out of the additional value.
We have to realize that people need to handle their food in a environment- and animal friendly way. One very important aspect of that is our meat consumption. We have to stimulate people to eat less meat. Why? Meat is in regard to energy very inefficient. You need several kilo’s of grain and hundreds liters of water to produce 100 grams of meat. The impact on the climate and the greenhousegas emissions is not to be overseen, not even mentioning the health issues caused by meat. We want to encourage people to eat vegetarian for at least one day a way, for example on Thursday. Even though I’m not a vegetarian myself, me and my family hardly eat meat. On Thursday we eat 100 percent vegetarian food, on the other days fish, vegetarian alternatives and just a little bit of meat.
Why should the Belgians vote you to the European Parliament again?
Staes: I am a hard worker and people know that. During my years as an Europarlementarian I have always been open to new ideas, have known what I was doing and let my voice be heard. I hope people remarked and appreciated that and of course I hope that they send me again to Strassbourg after the 7th of June.