Europe’s farmers are in the vanguard of protests against the EU’s Green New Deal (and other policy issues affecting their livelihoods) across the continent.
In Brussels, as EU leaders finally approved a €50bn aid package for Ukraine at their February 1 summit on the Rue de la Loi, Flemish farmers were pulling down statues and burning manure on the Place’Lux 500m down the hill.
Demos have been taking place in Germany, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere as part of a growing backlash against the green transformation of Europe’s economy that is in turn helping to fuel growth in support for the Far Right in the run-up to the European Parliament elections on June 6-9. As a Tortoise columnist put it: “EU leaders are struggling to balance the need to save rural livelihoods and reduce agriculture’s impact on nature.” As he rightly says, the farmers are winning.
I’m unaware of any great protest movement among the farming community in Perthshire, let alone Scotland and the UK. But there is an orchestrated campaign – led by the Conservatives and their faithful media attack dogs – against Labour’s £28bn Green Prosperity Plan to invest in clean energy and foster the green transition, with evidence of backsliding among the party’s leadership. This comes in the wake of Rishi Sunak’s pro-fossil fuels reconversion. And reining back by the EU too.
This is not only shameful but self-defeating. The evidence of a climate emergency is overwhelming so sacrificing the needs of the planet and the future of generations to come for often spurious short-term electoral gain is both ignorant and stupid. The green transition is in everybody’s interests, including that of farmers who stand to benefit enormously.
The new défi démocratique
This is a huge year for democracy, with some 2bn folk heading for the polls, including just shy of 50m in the UK and more than 400m in the EU. Just as it is paramount that we establish a modern popular front or democratic alliance against the Far Right – and not just for tactical voting – so we need to join forces to campaign for new green deals across the world, notably here at home in Europe and the US.
Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), worth at least $370bn and probably $2trn overall, is designed to decarbonise the American economy and propel investment, public and private, in new green technologies. It is also unashamedly meant to encourage reshoring of jobs on US soil – and may then be protectionist in sentiment and purpose. But, so far, it works (if not entirely unalloyed). The American economy is performing well: 3.3% growth in the final quarter of 2023, unemployment down to 3.7%, but inflation up a tick at 3.4%.
The US President, struggling against Donald Trump in the run-up to November’s elections, squarely ascribes much of this economic recovery post-pandemic to the IRA. The electorate is not entirely convinced but this suggests to me he should inject more positive energy and optimism into his rhetoric. He won’t beat Trump by defending smokestack.
Similarly, Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves plus Anas Sarwar in Scotland should be on the stump banging the drum for their green plan, not chipping away at it or threatening to shelve it. For one thing, it’s probably backed by their new friends in the City and industry but there are many reasons why it makes sense and, indeed, good politics if delivered as positively as Harold Wilson’s “white heat of the scientific revolution” 60 years ago. That speech heralded an upbeat campaign on modernisation that delivered an end to 13 years of Conservative rule.
A half-dozen reasons why the green new deal makes contemporary sense are spelled out by economist Mariana Mazzucato here. Her “progressive green-growth narrative” for Labour, she says, “needs to show that a mission-oriented government working with businesses to invest and innovate in an outcomes-oriented way will result in new skills, jobs, productivity gains and higher wages.” One reason alone why it makes sense is: green industries will be worth more than $10trn by 2050 – and they’re growing in the UK four times as quickly as the rest of the economy.
Set against such gains or indeed the scale of the IRA and the EU’s €260bn (minimum) Green Deal Industrial Plan Labour’s £28bn version is peanuts. And there’s little or no doubt it will more than pay for itself pretty damn soon. We should rally behind it as the first stage in a strategy to exit the doom loop of the UK and Scottish economies and offer hope and optimism to farmers and all others.
First published on the author’s Cosmopolitan Villager Substack
Update: Labour’s massive backward step, The Guardian, as it’s confirmed the £28bn pledge has been dumped (like manure by EU farmers); UK carbon price falls to record low, FT, showing how far we have to go to make green investments worthwhile