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Green parties suffered dramatic losses in the European parliament elections


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Now let's turn to the European Parliament elections, in which Green parties are projected to lose about a quarter of their seats. That's raising questions about the future of Europe's efforts to address climate change. Earlier, I talked about the implications with Aurelien Saussay. He's an environmental economist at the London School of Economics. And I asked him how he explains the drop in support for the EU's Green parties.

AURELIEN SAUSSAY: One thing to remember is that in 2019, the Greens had an exceptional showing. At a time, there was kind of a peak of climate activism. We had climate marches almost every month, and including almost every week around the election across Europe. That was where Greta Thunberg was at the peak of her popularity. So it was really, like, this sense that, you know, climate was at the forefront of priorities. If you look at polling, particularly in Germany, voters were ranking climate and environmental concerns as their first priority policywise for the European election. Now that's fallen down to the fourth priority in this turn round. And it's kind of been superseded by concerns that appear more pressing, like the economic crisis in Europe, like the cost of living crisis, and of course, geopolitical tensions, particularly with the war in Ukraine. So it's just that the moment is less favorable to voting on climate environmental concerns.

SCHMITZ: So what you're saying here is that Europeans are putting the climate change concerns more on a lower priority given that there's a war on European soil as well as the ongoing pandemic.

SAUSSAY: Exactly. Well, I mean, rather the consequences on inflation of the end of the pandemic and the consequences of inflation of the war in Ukraine. I mean, it's also the case that we're moving further into the energy transition in Europe. We've done most of the easy, low-hanging fruits, things that we could do to decarbonize our economy, particularly vis-a-vis decarbonizing electricity. There's still a lot to be done, but we're already quite further along. And we're entering into the harder part, which is tackling emissions from buildings and transportation, which is mostly from people's private vehicles and from residential buildings. And that means that those measures affect households directly, and that impacts, you know, standard of living, cost of living, and also the way people live their day-to-day lives.

So the risk for a pushback if those policies are not designed to make sure that it don't impact low-income households proportionately is much larger. If you look at Germany again, for example, you had that with the ban on gas boilers. If you don't support families that do not have the means to switch to a heat pump with their own financial means, then you face a big backlash, which is what the coalition, particularly the greens in the Coalition in Germany faced.

SCHMITZ: So, Aurelien, what did these losses mean for the future of the Green Deal, the group of laws that make up Europe's climate policy?

SAUSSAY: Well, so the balance of power isn't supposed to change much in the new Parliament, particularly in terms of the size of the coalition, the central coalition of the center left and center right that passed a Green Deal in the first place. So the main driver for more ambitious climate policy was the Green group. So that part is going to be missing. And so in terms of improving and pushing the Green Deal further, that's probably going to be very challenging moving forward. But the risk that the Green Deal would be repealed or downsized - that's a bit more limited, although we'll have to be very vigilant to ensure that's not the case in the absence of a strong Green presence in the Parliament.

SCHMITZ: That's Aurelien Saussay, environmental economist at London School of Economics. Many thanks.

SAUSSAY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rob Schmitz
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.