British Conservatives have among the worst voting records in the European Parliament on climate issues, according to a new analysis.
In May 2010, David Cameron, the UK's prime minister, made a bold claim. As he finalised talks on forming a governing coalition with the Liberal Democrats, he told an audience of civil servants that his would be “the greenest government ever”.
It is a claim that Cameron may have come to regret. Over the past four years, the quote has been repeatedly thrown back at him by environmentalists upset over a variety of issues – whether cuts to renewable energy subsidies or fracking for shale gas. Yet Cameron has maintained that his government is doing more to combat climate change than any previous UK government, and that the UK is playing a more constructive role in the climate fight than other European countries.
But green campaigners say this claim is hard to justify when you look at the voting record of Conservative members of the European Parliament. An analysis by campaign group CAN Europe published this week, scoring MEPs based on how they voted on ten key pieces of climate legislation over the 2009-14 term, ranks the British Conservatives among the worst parties in the Parliament for climate action.
The Conservative MEPs scored just 25% in the ranking, well below the average score of 57%. The ranking puts them on a par with small fringe parties that deny the existence of climate change. By contrast, the British Labour Party scored 86%. The Conservatives' coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, scored 71%.
The European Conservatives and Reformists, the pan-European political group formed by the British Conservatives in 2009, also scored 25%. This is far below the 45% score of the European People's Party (EPP), Europe's main centre-right group, which the Conservatives left in 2009.
Europe's other main centre-right national parties scored far higher than the British Conservatives: Germany's Christian Democratic Union scored 41%, with France's Union pour un Mouvement Populaire on 48%, and Spain's Partido Popular on 44%.
The Conservative MEPs who ranked in the lowest category (dubbed ‘very bad') for their votes on climate issues include Daniel Hannan, Jacqueline Foster, Nirj Deva, Syed Kamall and Giles Chichester. David Campbell Bannerman score 0% – the same score achieved by the entire UK Independence Party (UKIP).
“Regardless of their words and promises, it is the voting behaviour of members of the European Parliament that really shows what they and their national political parties are actually supporting,” said CAN Europe.
A spokesperson for the Conservatives in the European Parliament said the party is proud that it voted against measures it saw as unrealistic. "When it comes to creating jobs in the EU, we give the Climate Action Network 0%," said James Holtum. "If the European Commission is serious about supporting job creation then perhaps it will stop funding climate NGOs whose unrealistic goals do nothing to tackle the serious problem of pollution, and which send both jobs and pollution abroad."
The ranking looked at ten major pieces of legislation, including the 2030 climate and energy package and the energy efficiency directive. MEPs were awarded points if they supported ambitious policies, and nicked points if they tried to water down or reject the policies. The Tories usually found themselves in the latter category during this term, despite Cameron's frequent assertions that combating climate change is one of the things that should be done at EU level, rather than on national level.
The rankings may also prove embarrassing for parties that scored well. For the Greens, the analysis demonstrates just how much their core message has been co-opted by some other parties. While the Green group scored 88% in the rankings, the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group scored 83%. In the UK, the Greens were actually one point behind Labour, with 85%.
Opinion polls forecast the Greens doing badly in next month's elections, possibly dropping from the current 58 MEPs to 38.
British Conservatives will have a hard time justifying their “greenest government ever” claim with a record like this. And British Greens will have a hard time justifying their raison d'etre when their voting record on climate issues appears almost identical to that of Labour.
It is yet another example of the value of examining voting records to see if national parties are not only talking the talk at home, but also walking the walk in Brussels.