German MEP Terry Reintke, 36, and Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout, 47, have been elected as the European Greens’ top candidates for the June EU elections at a three-day congress in the French city of Lyon (2-4 February), which sent out a clear message: they will not make a pact with the far right.
“These elections are going to be extremely important: our planet is rapidly heating up, a gruesome war is being fought on our borders and inequality is increasing,” Eickhout told the audience after being picked.
Reintke is the current co-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament (EP), while Eickhout is vice-chair of the parliament’s environment committee — and has already been elected as a top candidate for the 2019 elections, along with fellow German Ska Keller.
The Greens/EFA are currently the fourth-largest group in the EP, although recent polls predict lower support in the next elections, scheduled for 6-9 June 2024.
The group holds 72 seats, and while new members could join their group (such as the Spanish left-wing party Sumar), predictions are that they could lose 10 seats.
This would make them the sixth force in the chamber, losing some agenda-setting power to the rise of anti-EU populist parties — predictions that do not discourage the Greens, who have made the word “courage” their logo for this campaign and are confident that they can “become even bigger”, they told journalists in Lyon.
“If we give up now, we are going to lose,” Reintke said, adding: “If we stand up to the surge of the far right as millions of people are doing across Europe already, then it is absolutely clear that we can turn this around”.
The parliament is expected to shift sharply to the right, with the far-right ID group likely to become the third power in the assembly and the right-wing ECR group the fifth — a change that will also affect coalition patterns and have policy implications, most likely on environmental policy.
For the Greens, this would make it impossible to support a second term for European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen — although it is not yet known whether she will stand again.
“If there is going to be no continuation of the Green Deal or even a reversion of what we have achieved so far, we are not going to be part of it,” Reintke said.
The message to von der Leyen’s centre right EPP group was also clear: the Greens will not join any coalition with far-right parties.
“They need to make a choice: do they [the EPP] want to go and look to their right, or do they want to look to their left?”, Eickhout asked.
A Green Deal under pressure
The Green congress takes place just one day after a major protest by European farmers, who surrounded the EU quarter in Brussels with over 1,000 tractors, demanding “fair prices”, less red tape, and more subsidies to commit to a green transition.
The farmers started a number of fires and caused some chaos outside the EP, prompting political reactions, as with similar protests in other member states, including France.
In response to angry farmers, French prime minister Gabriel Attal recently said that France would tighten import controls and stop imposing stricter regulations on its farmers than those required by the EU.
“It makes no sense to ban pesticides in France before such decisions are taken on an EU level. We will end this practice,” Attal said during a press conference.
Belgian PM Alexandre De Croo also addressed the “legitimate” concerns of the farmers during the EU summit on Thursday, where he said they were facing a “lasagna effect” due to the administrative burden coming from Green Deal, the nature restoration regulations, and pesticide proposals.
“We also need to make sure that they can get the right price for the product they provide, and that the administrative burden that they have remains reasonable,” he told reporters.
But for the Green top candidates, what farmers needed was more clarity and a model that guaranteed them an honest income, and that meant changing the system that gave 80 percent of subsidies to just 20 percent of farmers who owned the biggest farms.
“Get out of the Brussels bubble and really talk to the farmers,” said Eikhout, referring to those right-wing politicians who listen to the farmers’ lobby Copa-Cogeca.
Latvian MEP Elina Pinto and Italian Benedetta Scuderi were also in the running for the top job, which was decided in two rounds of voting, in which delegates from all EU Green parties first voted for a female candidate and then for Eikhout, who won 57 percent of the total votes.