Maria Ohisalo's speech at the European Green Party Council on 8 November 2019

Dear Friends,

It’s great to see you all here in Tampere to discuss the future of the European Green movement.

This is an excellent choice of city, as Tampere is one of the Finnish cities contending for the status of 2026 European City of Culture.

Two decades ago

Tampere was also the main avenue for the first Finnish EU-Presidency of 1999.

It was a key moment for drafting EU's justice and home affairs policies.

Today, we need the same level of ambition

for the whole of Europe.

 

This is the right time to come together.

We are living in crucial times 

concerning the climate crisis,

the future of the rule of law

and the observance of human rights,

both in Europe and worldwide.

 

The pressure is high to create a sustainable and fair society.

It is visible in many ways: 

in reception centres for asylum seekers,

climate strikes by schoolchildren

and Greta Thunberg’s powerful words about climate change.

 

Great political responsibility rests on our shoulders.

The Greens won in the European Parliament elections last spring.

The Greens have achieved historic success in Poland, Switzerland and Germany.

Here in Finland, our party

now has three Government ministers.

 

The Green Wave is real.

 

It is no exaggeration to predict that the next decade will be a green decade all over Europe.

 

The need for green solutions is more urgent than ever,

because our society must change.

 

Everyone who follows what is happening in the world,

knows why change must happen

and why Europe in particular

must lead the way towards change.

 

A European’s carbon footprint is more than ten times that of an

average person in Bangladesh.

And that includes the emissions of the clothing industry
 which has moved to the country.

 

This means that our current lifestyle

exceeds our carbon budget in multiple ways.

 

In addition to the climate crisis, 

neglecting the limits of our planet has also caused the sixth wave of extinction

and irreparable loss of biodiversity.

 

I really don’t know what news has been most shocking in recent years.

 

Was it that,

the number of forest animals has declined by half in 40 years.

 

Or that the Amazon rainforest is ablaze even as we speak.

 

Or that climate change threatens to remove all coral from the face of the earth.

 

Europe has no excuse for not doing all we can

to halt this intensifying crisis.

 

Europe has succeeded in recreating itself before.

 

75 years ago, 

hatred and violence had raged across Europe.

Europe had encountered the worst crisis in its history.

Tens of millions of victims lay in hastily dug graves.

At least ten million were in exile

or banished from their homes.

 

After the Second World War,

Europe came through and rebuilt itself.

 

Here in Finland,

new homes were built 

for almost half a million people made homeless 

when the national border was redrawn.

 

Then, nobody demanded that the borders be closed

or refugees be sent back.

 

Most importantly,

Europe built its new identity

based on democracy,

human rights

and an open civic society.

 

We cannot compromise on these principles today.

 

Freedom of the press,

an independent judicial system

and a society of diverse opinions

must be defended whenever and wherever

they are threatened.

 

These ideals cannot be promoted 

by closing ourselves off from the rest of the world.

 

We cannot close our eyes to the distress of asylum seekers

and cannot leave them to the mercy of the Mediterranean waves.

 

We must not accept the ill treatment of undocumented migrants

or stand by and watch journalists being threatened.

 

These threats are not from a faraway country.

They are present in Europe,

happening before our very eyes.

 

Europe needs to recreate the spirit of Tampere

from two decades ago.

Back then the EU showed, 

with the lead of Finland,

how it can bear responsibility with refugee policies

among many other.

 

Europe must implement change 

by setting an example.

 

Dear Green friends,

the future of the welfare state must be secured as well.

 

The Nordic welfare state model has been based on the radical idea

of making the preconditions for a good life, 

that is, basic services, schools, health care, care of the elderly,

available for all, 

regardless of a person’s financial status.

That income differences do not grow out of hand.

That everyone has the possibility to seek a better life.

 

Increasing inequality 

due to the global transformation of work

has undermined people’s faith in the future.

Inequality manifests itself in poverty among families with children,

segregated residential areas for rich and poor,

and long-term unemployment.


My background is in poverty research.
I have interviewed people on the breadline

and talked with the homeless, interviewed people with substance abuse problems, 

had my loved ones struggling with problems.

 

I know

how hard it is to plan for the future

if all income is spent on rent, food and medication,
and one single unexpected expense must be covered by a short-term loan.

It is difficult to plan the future

if you work on a zero-hour contract

and further work cannot be found.

 

Gaps have appeared

both inside countries

and between the various regions of Europe.

 

It is no consolation for unemployed youths in Greece or Spain

if youth unemployment falls in the Nordic countries.

It is no consolation for people in remote areas

if jobs are available in the capital,

where you cannot afford to live.

 

The experience of inequality

has contributed to the rise of extreme right-wing movements.

The far right provides a populist answer

to complicated problems.

The far right provides an answer

that does not aim at solving anything.

It merely foments ill-feeling 

and confrontation in society.

 

It is up to us in the Green movement to be
 a counterforce to right-wing populism.

We must oppose racism and inequality

everywhere they appear.

 

It is up to us in the Green movement

to provide a better answer.

 

A decade ago, in the 2009 European elections,

our common green programme was called the Green New Deal.

 

By the way, it was then that I had just joined the Green Youth

and was starting my master’s degree studies at university.

 

Years have gone by since.

 

Now it seems that the time is finally right for the Green New Deal.

The time has come for a fair transition to a sustainable society.

 

As you may know,

our Green New Deal is named after the United States’ New Deal.

In the 1930s, the New Deal mended the damage caused by the Great Depression, 

by building a social safety net, reforming the economy 

and inspiring the confidence of the American working class in a better tomorrow.

 

The New Deal was a success because it did not exclude anyone.

 

The Green New Deal will do the same, but will respond to the

challenges of the 2020s.

 

The Green New Deal means ecological, social and financial sustainability

 

The Green New Deal means a green economy encouraging businesses to invest in the circular economy, zero-emission energy production and resource efficiency.

 

The market economy can be involved in solving the climate crisis,

but not without common ground rules.

 

It is up to governments to create fair rules to ensure

that all business is conducted by taking our planet’s carrying capacity into account.

Carbon emissions must not create an unfair competitive advantage

 - be it Airline industry, manufacturing or energy production.

Prosperity must not be generated by stealing from our children and grandchildren.

 

The transition to a sustainable society does not mean that jobs will disappear.

It will generate new jobs

 - even ones that can be hard to predict at this stage.

 

The Green New Deal means a strong welfare state support network

providing opportunities for everyone.

 

From our viewpoint

welfare state and halting the climate crisis

are not competing goals.

 

They go hand in hand

and are dependent on each other.

 

The welfare state has not reached its end.

It is the solution of the future.

 

A successful society 

is inclusive of everyone.

A family’s wealth, or a person’s gender or skin colour,

must not determine whether they have the chance to obtain

an education and achieve their dreams.

Your income must not determine whether

you can have psychotherapy or fertility treatment.

 

I would not be where I am now

without the welfare state,

the social services that supported my childhood home

and a free education.

 

The welfare state provides security in a changing world.

 

And the key issue is that the Green New Deal means

achieving all this change while ensuring social justice.

 

Change must not be financed at the cost

of the underprivileged in society, or

at the cost of future generations.

 

Change must be fair.

 

If people on low incomes must pay more as the costs of motoring rise,

this will be compensated for in social benefits.

 

If beef meatloaf vanishes from the lunch buffet,

equally tasty pulled oats will be served instead.

 

If employees lose their jobs,

a green financial policy will create new ones.

 

The leap to a sustainable society is not an easy one,

and there will be work to do for a long time to come.

 

Nothing good is created without political will.

 

Dear friends,

as support for the green parties increases,

sooner or later

many of you will become Government ministers.

 

Based on my experience, 

I can say

that Government work is not always easy.

 

When you have governmental responsibility,

it is very important to remain clear about your goal;

every decision you make can take you closer to it.

Compromises are always necessary in Government work,

but the position in Government should not be maintained at any cost.

 

One shouldn’t aspire power for its own sake.

It’s only value is in promoting the things that are important.

 

By bearing governmental responsibility,

we can contribute to building a better,

more sustainable

and fairer world.

 

That is all that really matters.

 

Because the Green League is in Government in Finland,

the stopping of climate change has become this Government’s main goal.

This is a historical change.

 

For the first time ever, we have a Minister of Climate Change in the Government.

It is the duty of our Green Minister Krista Mikkonen, 

to ensure that climate change is on the agenda of all ministries 

and the entire Government is committed to tackling it.

 

Financing of environmental protection has been doubled

and the Government’s objective is to make Finland carbon neutral by 2035.

 

We Greens will do our utmost to help the Government succeed in meeting this goal.

 

As everyone in this room knows,

an energy system reform to prevent climate change

is absolutely necessary.

 

It will not be easy.

 

Every country has its own challenges to resolve.

 

For some it is coal power, and natural gas for others.

 

In Finland, we have a particularly difficult issue with peat,

with emissions equal to coal.

 

The green answer to fossil fuels is clear:

they cannot have a place in a sustainable energy system.

 

At the same time, we must acknowledge

the very difficult human impacts of this policy.

 

We must be able to renew our energy system fairly.

 

This is a challenge for all of us:

How to shut down fossil fuel production

in a fair manner?

 

Everyone engaged in honest work with fossil energy

deserves our attention.

 

They have the right to good work and livelihood

even after the energy transformation.

 

This requires education and support for those

hit hardest by the transformation.

 

I challenge you all to consider

what would be the solution to a fair transformation 

which will not leave anybody behind.

 

Finding solutions to this problem throughout Europe

is one of the preconditions 

for success in the fight against climate change.

 

In Finland, we have decided to

compensate for higher fuel taxes by raising basic social security

and reducing the taxation of low and middle-income citizens.

 

We will invest in education

to ensure that everyone has the chance to succeed amidst change.

 

Neither the Green New Deal 

nor any other political reform in the 2000s

can be implemented in one country only.

 

In addition to local solutions, 

we need cross border cooperation,

European solidarity and global responsibility.

 

The European Commission has adopted some of the Green New Deal’s themes.

It is up to us in the Green movement to raise the level of ambition.

Ambition is called for throughout Europe.

 

We need cooperation more than ever.

 

That is one of the reasons we are here today.

 

Dear friends,

The Green New Deal is no utopia,

it is the only possible solution.

 

The green decade will build a society

that is good for everyone.

 

It will help us prevent the climate crisis,

secure human rights

and restore people’s faith in a better tomorrow.

 

Climate strikers will be able to return to being children without fearing a catastrophe.

 

Low-income earners will no longer need to spend their days on the breadline.

 

Revival of ecosystems,

reconstruction of the welfare state

and restoration of respect for education will ensure

that we hold onto what is most valuable in life.

 

That even tomorrow,

the child of an underprivileged family

can access education and obtain a doctoral degree.

 

That even tomorrow,

a female member of a minority group

can walk the streets after dark.

 

That even tomorrow,

the world will have coral reefs.

 

Dear friends, the work to achieve fair change starts today.