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Activists hold three-day protest in EU election run-up as green agenda slips
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Activists hold three-day protest in EU election run-up as green agenda slips

Activists across Europe are holding three days of protests to protect democracy and cut pollution as they struggle to push green issues back up the agenda before the European elections next week.

Last year was the hottest on record, and the urgency of the climate crisis is pressing. However, polls are predicting wins for far-right parties seeking to scrap green rules, and there have been significant recent rollbacks of environment policy. The fate of a proposed law to restore nature – the subject of fierce attacks even from centre-right parties that had championed the green deal – still appears to be hanging in the balance.

Campaign groups will rally in 127 cities across 14 countries to demand action on climate and nature. Frieda Egeling, the spokesperson for Fridays For Future Berlin, said: “While floods, water shortages and heatwaves are threatening hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, right-wing extremists are fuelling fears about climate protection and want to roll back climate laws.

“Instead of being intimidated by right-wing slogans, the new EU parliament must make a clear decision in favour of climate protection and democracy.”

Mia Mancini, from the campaign group Good Food Good Farming, said the elections were “crucial” to stopping the far right from dismantling the green deal.

“Environmental action is not contradictory to farmers’ interests,” she said. “Evidence proves that our environment and agriculture, in fact, depend on each other.”

Before the last European parliament elections in 2019, large-scale climate marches inspired by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg rocked cities across the continent. Activists say they increased votes for parties with ambitious climate policies and spurred broad support among centrist parties for the EU’s green deal policy package.

Thunberg stands on stage with other young activists. She is wearing a bright yellow coat and speaking into a microphoneView image in fullscreen

Five years later the climate movement has lost some of the momentum that drove enthusiasm for action up the political agenda in 2019.

Forced to move weekly protests online during pandemic lockdowns and divided on how to respond to other crises that dominate the news, school strikers from Fridays for Future say they have struggled to attract as much attention from journalists, politicians and the public.

Others have grown cynical with the pace of change and sceptical that large but non-disruptive protests can achieve much more.

About 25 young protesters stand on a stage. Thunberg is holding a sign next her. Other demonstrators hold banners that say ‘save the world’ and ‘stop CO2 our future’s on you’. Some of them have their fists raisedView image in fullscreen

“I’m afraid a lot of young people have lost their trust in politicians,” said Szmo Kacprzak from Fridays for Future Poland. “That’s why we see more and more young people use direct action to influence politics, instead of demonstrations.”

In several European countries, radical climate activists have glued themselves to motorways and thrown paint at glass-covered artwork in unpopular but well-publicised attempts to jolt politicians out of inaction.

In a number of places, the activists have faced increasingly punitive legislation. In Germany last week, for example, five members of Letzte Generation, Germany’s equivalent to Just Stop Oil, were charged with “forming a criminal organisation” under section 129 of the German criminal code. It is believed to be the first time the law has been applied to a non-violent protest group.

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The weekend of protests comes as the German engineer turned activist Wolfgang Metzeler-Kick, who is not connected to the other groups, enters the 85th day of a hunger strike in central Berlin. His health has deteriorated to a “highly critical” level, according to his medical support team, who on Wednesday relinquished responsibility for his care.

Pointing to his low blood sugar levels and the atmosphere’s high carbon dioxide content, Metzeler-Kick said: “Clearly, my [medical] results are bad. But the Earth’s results are also bad – for us.”

Metzeler-Kick and three other hunger strikers – supported by dozens of others taking part in solidarity fasts organised by the campaign group Scientists for Future – have demanded the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, make several statements affirming the science of the climate crisis and promise to “radically” change course.

Four people sit on chairs behind a table in a tent at a climate camp. Metzeler-Kick is holding a microphone. A banner behind them, in German, says ‘Mr Scholz, spell it out – we are steering into climate hell’View image in fullscreen

Scholz has described the protest as a “mistake” and said that practising violence to achieve change – whether against others or oneself – was bad for democracy.

Nine in 10 Europeans think the climate crisis is a serious problem, polling data suggests, but some policies to cut emissions have proved unpopular with voters.

Despite this, analysts are sceptical that Europe has experienced a widespread backlash to green policies that poorer people cannot afford. In March, a survey of 15,000 voters across France, Germany and Poland found that their views on climate policy were split largely along ideological lines, and had little to do with income, the urban-rural divide or other factors.

Nils Redeker, deputy director of the Jacques Delors Centre and co-author of the study, said: “A majority of voters still wish for a more ambitious climate policy and would support a raft of concrete measures to bring down emissions. Watering down efforts now would be to misread the room.”

Source: theguardian.com