DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The “biggest danger” to the European Union and its climate efforts is the mainstream parties normalizing the far right’s anti-green assault, the EU’s environment commissioner warned.
Virginijus Sinkevičius told POLITICO that he’s concerned to see moderate politicians adopting far-right talking points on green legislation ahead of next year’s European Parliament election.
“I see some traditional parties might be inclined to legitimize those attacks on the Green Deal. … That’s the biggest danger I see,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit taking place in Dubai.
Sinkevičius — who is considered to be close to the European Greens — would not be drawn on whether he was referring to center-right parties in particular.
But he spoke of parties using arguments “that maybe deserve to be memes on the internet, rather than to be seriously discussed.”
The center-right European People’s Party this year fought hard against new legislation aimed at making farming more sustainable, a campaign that even the United Nations Environment Program criticized for spreading misinformation. It also featured lots of memes.
Sinkevičius added: “Look at the populist party in the Netherlands, they’ve always polled around 17 seats, so that’s not completely out of nowhere, but the moment when traditional parties start to push the same points, that’s where we run into true danger, not only for the European Green Deal but for the European project as a whole.”
The far-right Freedom Party (PVV) — which wants to put all climate legislation through “the shredder” — won the Dutch election with 37 parliamentary seats earlier this month, after winning 17 seats in the 2021 election. The PVV’s victory came after centrist parties signaled they could work with the party, which was long shunned by mainstream politicians.
The dynamic of the 2024 EU elections will be very different from the 2019 vote, Sinkevičius acknowledged.
“In 2019, we saw traditional parties being very green” following large-scale climate protests across the globe, he said. “That opened a window for the European Green Deal, and then we had the victory of [U.S.] President Biden — the first thing he did, he returned to the Paris Agreement,” which his predecessor Donald Trump had quit.
Now, “the times have changed significantly. We face bigger uncertainty, pressure with regards to consumer prices … and not to mention the war,” he said, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But backsliding isn’t the answer, Sinkevičius warned.
“It would be a big mistake to start backtracking now,” he said. “We wouldn’t look serious in front of our partners.”
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