Vote, vote, vote!


By Nils Fleischmann

Acknowledging that the climate crisis extends beyond borders is hardly breaking news today. After all, greenhouse gas emissions do not stop at lines drawn by history and politics. Neither do the devastating effects of extreme weather events or the loss of biodiversity. The inevitable conclusion is also clear: Addressing cross-border issues requires collaborative, cross-border policies.

Yet, despite this obvious truth, many states still seem to continue to prioritize their own interests or cling to the last spoils of already outdated fossil fuel industries. When it comes to saving the planet, it seems many are set to let others do the heavy lifting. This sentiment is not just a personal observation — it is a prevailing concern shared by many, especially the young. Four in five of those between 16 and 25 years feel positively betrayed by their own governments, according to an international survey in ten countries, published by Lancet Planetary Health

European effectiveness versus hopeless nationalism
In the realm of climate policy, joint international regulation like the European Green Deal is therefore invaluable. The EU target of a 55-per-cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 has only been achieved because member states were ultimately prepared to agree on common interests instead of merely pursuing national agendas.

With its Green Deal, the EU has taken on a leading role in the fight for ambitious climate action and a sustainable transformation of the European economy and society. Fact is: There is no effective international climate action without the EU. Therefore, we need the EU.

At a crossroad: Climate action or “postpone till tomorrow”-policies?
As a result, the European parliamentary elections set for June 7th to 9th are immensely significant. They represent a pivotal moment: The distribution of parties in the new parliament will determine how ambitious the EU’s climate policy will be over the next few years that are crucial for achieving the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Climate Accord.

This aspect was underscored by the European Parliament’s recent vote on the Nature Restoration Law, a cornerstone of the Green Deal. The legislation, aimed at revitalizing and protecting Europe’s natural ecosystems, was supported in an open letter by more than 3,000 climate scientists. Despite this, the bill was only narrowly passed amidst fierce opposition from the European People’s Party (EPP), which also includes the MEPs from Germany’s conservative CDU/CSU parties.

Rights notice: Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

For climate action, but against it?
The blockade against the Nature Restoration Law showcases a political stance that, while professing commitment to climate action, regularly finds reasons to oppose it. The EU has seen such patterns a number of times. Last year, when the EU parliament was set to ban combustion engines in new cars by 2035, Germany’s liberal party FDP blocked the already negotiated draft law in the last minute to push through an exception for e-fuels.

The danger of a backsliding in EU climate policy is evidently real. If ambitious climate regulation is to be more than mere lip service at EU level, it is crucial that conservative and liberal stakeholders in the parliamentary process recognize climate action as a clear mandate from voters. A strong such outcome at the EU parliamentary elections would do just that.

A dangerous alliance: Extreme right and anti-climate
Clear opponents of the ecological transformation are the right-conservative and far-right voices in the European Parliament. Parties like the German AfD, the French Rassemblement National, or the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) are actively working to sabotage climate protection efforts. If they gain further influence in the new parliament – a scenario that is utterly plausible given recent election results in member states –, this would be a dire setback for European climate goals and, consequently, for a sustainable future for current and future generations.

The path ahead: Vote, vote, vote
There is one hope against this scenario, and that is a high voter turnout. After all, more than 90 percent of people in Europe are deeply concerned about the climate crisis and nearly 60 percent think that the transition to a green economy should be sped up, according to a Eurobarometer survey in 2023.

If as many as possible of the approximately 350 million eligible voters cast their ballots in the European elections in June, they could send a powerful signal in favour of ambitious climate action. Unfortunately, however, voter turnout in EU elections has been significantly lower than in national elections in the past. The 2019 European elections were fêted for a historically high turnout – and yet, at 50.6 per cent, just one in two Europeans eligible to vote went to the polls.

The EU needs strong democratic legitimacy to tackle the major crises of our time collaboratively and effectively. In the constant tug-of-war between the European Parliament and the European Council representing the EU’s national governments, a high voter turnout would also be a significant boost for the parliament, which has often pursued the more ambitious climate goals.

“We are the children …”
At a time of multiple crises, Europe stands at a crossroads: Will we come together to tackle the harmful effects of climate change head-on – or will we continue with a general “yes” that often turns into a “no” as soon as it comes to implementing concrete climate solutions? Mandating those who stand for ambitious climate action in the EU could advance the urgently needed climate breakthrough in Europe.

And there’s another reason why we need this. EU parliamentarians – much like those in the German Bundestag – are, on average, almost 50 years old. I am one of nearly 70 million people in the European Union who are still under 25 years old. All of us could be the children of those who govern us. This election is about our future.