Gina Dowding: Farewell to my life as a European politician
My role as MEP will come to an abrupt end at 11pm today as the UK finally left the EU.
At the beginning of January, I was in Strasbourg where voting on the full agenda of the European Parliament takes place by the 751 MEPs representing the current 27 member states.
We passed resolutions on issues from the European Green Deal, which is the new European Commission’s first attempt to introduce a range of policies across the board to deal with the climate crisis to human rights abuses in Nigeria.
I also spoke in the debate on EU citizen’s rights within the withdrawal amendment bill, which was finally voted on this, our last week in Brussels. Interspersed between plenary debates and working groups were information ‘end of mandate’ sessions for all UK MEPs on what has to be done for winding up our offices, including ending staff contracts.
I am saddened that I am at the end of what has been a wonderful and productive experience as the first, and for now last, Green MEP for the North West. One of the highlights for me as a Green politician is being part of a group of 75 Greens – the fourth largest political grouping in the European Parliament. That is still only 10 per cent of the total MEPs, but it accurately reflects support among the European population for Green Party solutions to today’s problems.
After my seven months at the EU Parliament I am also more disappointed than ever that we are deliberately breaking away from very close levels of collaboration and cooperation with our nearest neighbours.
This is not just about trading in quality goods and services with an underpinning standards to protect the environment and workers terms of conditions, but also a relationship in a whole range of other endeavours that EU countries together undertake: to deal with global problems from the climate crisis, to social inequality and to addressing the challenges of online security, as we move more to a digital economy.
As an MEP for the North West I have not just focused on the work in the Parliament, although that in itself is an interesting and demanding role. I have represented our group on the Transport and Tourism, Foreign Affairs and Industry Energy and Research committees. I have also got involved in other cross party work such as in promoting anti-racism and diversity, as well as looking at how green solutions such as the Green New Deal concepts would look like if implemented at a regional level. So even in my last weeks I have been busy completing a number of important projects.
While researching for our Green New Deal in the North West report, launched back in October, we made contact with a project based at Manchester Metropolitan University called HySchools (Hydrogen in Schools). This project is about developing resources on this topic and the potential for renewables-based hydrogen to be an important part of the future energy mix.
A number of students involved in the project recently came over to the European Parliament on an EU sponsored visit. In the autumn
I also sponsored two other visits, both were groups of people from across the region - young climate strikers who have done much to influence politicians to act on the climate crisis and young women to encourage them to take up leadership roles in their communities.
These are both issues close to my heart and it was really good to see their positive reaction to how the European Parliament works. There is certainly far more cross party and collaborative work and compromise that goes on among the Parliamentarians that we would ever see in Westminster.
This week I have finally published a paper on The Future of Research and Innovation Funding in the UK after Brexit. The UK will now no longer receive funds from the ambitious €100bn Horizon Europe research and innovation programme.
For seven months, I have been the Green group’s nominee working on the details of the Horizon Europe programme and so am all too aware of the fact that the UK will miss out on the networking and research infrastructure, if the UK does not negotiate ‘associate member’ status and there will no doubt be some hard bargaining on this issue.
Many of our universities, scientists and other research institutions, particularly our North West universities, are very concerned about the UK losing its excellent reputation, as it will struggle alone to compete to provide the same research conditions that come from so many partners working together. I also hosted an event in the European Parliament about the importance of research and innovation in meeting our climate targets and in solutions for a net zero carbon economy.
We are gathering information for a short a case study report on councils’ responses to the Climate Emergency aiming to share case studies of action they are planning after declaring an emergency.
Next week I will return to my roles as both Lancaster City and Lancashire County Councillor with renewed enthusiasm for working at the local level. I have always believed local action is really important and perhaps in the next few years it will be even more essential, as it does not look as if we can trust our national Government to prioritise action on the climate crisis.
The Green Party motto is ‘think globally, act locally’ and I will be doing just that with an extra set of insights and skills, while knowing within the European Parliament across all political groupings the hard working UK MEPs have been widely valued and respected.