Lush Times columnist Miles King says the upcoming European elections this month are a chance to vote for what really matters, which is the protection of wildlife, the championing of nature and MEPs who will work to tackle climate change.
Parliamentary Elections are supposed to be the cornerstone of democracy. And although the European Parliament became an elected Parliament in 1979, its role and powers have been central to the debate - particularly in the UK - about how democratic the EU really is. How ironic is it then that, having decided to leave the EU, the UK now finds itself taking part in those elections?
Will those elected as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) when the UK votes on Thursday May 23rd ever make it to Brussels, to take up their seats? Or will they arrive only to disappear weeks or months later? Will they have to sit at the back, not allowed to join in, or will they be able to contribute to law-making while we decide what the Brexit endgame is. Or will they, under some unforeseen future, find themselves there representing the UK which decided not to leave the EU after all? All of these versions of the future are possible in the Brexit Cinematic Universe.
Bird Life Europe implores everyone who is going to take part in the elections, right across the EU27 plus us, to proclaim #Ivotenature. This is a highly laudable request and for those countries who will still be in the EU, it calls on people to scrutinise the manifestos of candidates standing in the European elections, to see their track record for defending Nature across Europe and beyond - plus what they say they will do for the next five years. Of course, this is going to be very difficult for us in the UK - partly because we have no way of knowing whether our MEPs will have any chance of making a difference for nature.
But the real question is how good has the EU been at helping nature?
There is no doubt that the EU has some of the best laws in the world for protecting nature. One of the first was the Birds Directive which is 40-years-old this year. It started life as a way of reducing the number of migrant birds being shot by hunters in the Mediterranean, but has gradually expanded its remit over the decades. Others followed including the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive. All of these laws, and others, illustrate how the EU has seen protection of the environment as a pivotal role it can play, and not least because the environment and nature do not recognise national boundaries. Supra-national action is the only way forward.
But this is not the whole story. The Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies have lain at the heart of the European Project since day one and have contributed to massive declines in nature on land and at sea. While reforms over the past 30 years have seen the focus of these policies shift away from unbridled production, they are still causing damage to nature. That said, much of the damage is done in the way these policies are implemented at Member State level.
These elections are symbolic
The UK for example is currently zealously imposing rules on farmers about mapping small areas of wildlife habitat, so it can exclude them from farm payments. And in truth, the UK was already very generously subsidising its farmers to destroy wildlife long before we joined the Common Agricultural Policy, a history I previously explored. Nevertheless both the CAP and CFP continue to give the EU a bad name when it comes to protecting nature from the consequences of intensive farming and fishing. And whether the UK will be able to improve on these if and when it leaves, is of course open to a great deal of debate.
The United Nations has just updated its Millennium Ecological Assessment. Nearly twenty years on, things have become considerably more serious for nature - as the report starkly illustrates. And as humankind cannot possibly survive without nature, it means our clock is ticking ever more loudly.
Against the background of climate chaos and the Sixth Great Extinction, these Euro elections pale into insignificance, as does the wider Brexit mess. But if you do feel like voting, then consider a vote for nature.
Miles King is an Ecologist, founder of People Need Nature and a regular columnist for Lush Times. These are his own views. Follow him on Twitter @Milesking10