co-chair Jeremie Vaneeckhout about the malaise at Groen


National figureheads fleeing, a federal government participation that weighs like lead and polls that flirt with the electoral threshold. Groen co-chair Jeremie Vaneeckhout has to clear debris from all sides. ‘However, this week has proven again: this country needs a green party.’

Ann De BoeckMay 26, 202303:00

Fair is fair. This would normally turn into a conversation about the federal delay around European climate plans. But a few hours earlier, Groen figurehead Kristof Calvo announced that in 2024 he would be closing the door on national politics. He thus joins the growing list of green farewells, following MPs An Moerenhout, Björn Rzoska, Elisabeth Meuleman, Juan Benjumea and Barbara Creemers.

And, how heavy is the hangover?

“That’s not too bad, because I knew this was coming. Over the past few weeks, Kristof and I had long conversations about a number of fundamental questions. Why did we ever get into this business? Where do we stand? I knew he was considering moving to the local level. Co-chair Nadia Naji and I made it clear to him that he was very welcome to stay, but everyone makes their own choices. We can only encourage people not to sit in the same chair for 40 years.”

How hard is Calvo’s departure? You once started out as his parliamentary assistant.

“It’s the end of a chapter. After my work for him, I was Vice President under Meyrem Almaci. I have the 2019 election campaign (which was disappointing, ADB) polite with them. Now they both have different roles. But to be clear, this is not the end of our collaboration. Maybe now there will be room to inspire each other again.”

If a coach sees one player leave after another, something is wrong with the approach.

“I don’t have that impression. The atmosphere and fighting spirit within Groen are still very strong. Initially, there was some criticism of the fact that Nadia and I didn’t let us hear enough, but the reason was that we were setting up a lot of things internally. We intend to prepare the party for the next ten years. With a new one surf, new content and a renewed crew. This has prompted a number of people to think about their role. The people who will lead the way in 2024 will also be the pioneers of our political project in the next ten years.”

Done with the old white men at Green, as the green youths ask?

“There will always be old white men on our lists. Whether or not I belong to that is open to debate (laughs). In all seriousness, that’s actually a non-debate. The essence is that parliament must become a reflection of the population more than today.”

Shouldn’t the strict decumulative rules within Groen be overhauled? Politics is hard: without figureheads there are no votes.

“Everything depends on the way you look at politics. Do you just want to win the next election, or do you also want to implement the best possible policy? We are convinced that you can only do one full-time job well, whether that is as alderman or member of parliament.

“That is the big difference between Groen and other parties: we have strong ideas and dare to act on them. Others have clung to leaders over the past twenty years and are now completely dependent on them, such as Bart De Wever’s N-VA. Or they still have the same ministers as in 1999, such as Vooruit with Frank Vandenbroucke. That is not good for the political system. If no one ever moves from their seat, the political culture will never change.”

It’s hard to argue that the exodus is unrelated to the gloomy prospects for Groen. Your party flirts with the electoral threshold.

“I don’t worry about polls. Nadia and I have always said that we want to do better than in the previous elections (10.1 percent, ADB) and that will work. It has been proven once again this week: this country needs a strong, green party. Because when push comes to shove, all other parties pull their tails.”

You are not afraid that the trauma of 2003 will repeat itself? Then the Green participation in government ended in an electoral catastrophe.

“I don’t suffer from trauma. The context is also completely different. People are now asking for a strong, green voice. They also know that we make a difference. Look at cities such as Ghent, Mechelen or Brussels, which we have reshaped. Or to Tinne Van der Straeten, who will be remembered twenty years from now as the minister who quadrupled offshore wind energy.”

Aren’t people mainly concerned with their wallets? Green has the image of costing people.

“That concern is understandable. Instead of blaming people individually, we believe that we should support them to take ecological steps. For example, give the 40 percent of Flemish families who have no money for an energy renovation a pre-financing instead of abandoning them, as this Flemish government is doing.

“We have to be honest: doing nothing will cost a lot more. The flooding of the Vesdre cost more than 2 billion euros. If farmers in Spain can no longer grow tomatoes due to the drought, the price in our store will go up. And when the bees are extinct, agriculture comes to a standstill. Then we go to situations like in China, where they have to fertilize plants with brushes.”

Jeremy Vaneeckhout. ‘That is the big difference between Groen and other parties: we have strong ideas and dare to act on them.’Figurine Thomas Sweertvaegher

We cannot save bees and CO at the same time2emissions, Prime Minister De Croo said this week. In doing so, he questioned the European nature restoration law.

“That’s shitty. If we want to deal with the climate crisis, we need robust nature. Trees and plants help with flooding, drought and pollution. Half of the CO2 emitted worldwide is stored in nature. If we lose that tomorrow, we will have a huge problem.”

Are you prepared to turn this into a government crisis?

“That question annoys me. For us, biodiversity is not a political game. If a prime minister spews scientific nonsense, which is not even supported by a majority of his government, then we draw the line. With Green in the federal government, we will never argue against the wildlife restoration bill, let alone call for a break. Never.”

What position will our country take at the European summit on 20 June?

“We hope that N-VA, CD&V and Open Vld will still see the light, but perhaps we will do what we have been doing for years when Europe decides on important climate matters: abstain. No ambition, no opinion. Tragic.”

You are clearly disappointed.

“I honestly don’t understand what De Croo is trying to achieve. Zuhal Demir (N-VA) has been blaming Europe for everything for years. That is the electoral strategy of N-VA. CD&V meanwhile denies all challenges for the climate and nature. Apparently the liberals are now trying to squeeze themselves electorally in between, while there is already no room left. How can Open Vld continue to credibly proclaim that it cares about our economic future, while the climate and biodiversity crisis is the greatest threat to our prosperity?

“Citizens now at least have clarity. All parties that have been claiming for years that a green party is no longer necessary because they have adopted the green themes, now deny sunlight. We will never allow that.”

While you are lashing out, the Flemish socialists are keeping a low profile.

“I don’t want to attack anyone, but I notice that more often. Once progressive ideas come under pressure, there is little enthusiasm among some to defend them. I have reservations about that. It shows that Green is the only progressive option in Flanders, especially when it comes to climate and nature.”

Jeremy Vaneeckhout. ‘All parties that have been claiming for years that a green party is no longer necessary because they have adopted the green themes are now denying sunlight.’Figurine Thomas Sweertvaegher

Isn’t that Green’s problem, that you don’t want to attack anyone? “We lack a ruthless instinct,” an anonymous source recently told this newspaper.

“Well. We are too dogmatic for some, too good for others. The essence is that we fight and win our points, also in this government. Look at the expansion of wind energy, the future plans for rail and the way we have tackled the energy crisis. No country in Europe has protected vulnerable groups as well as Belgium during the energy crisis. I am proud of that.”

In the meantime, you are struggling with the scandals at Bpost and the ongoing negotiations with Engie about the nuclear exit.

“The French have made a profit on our nuclear energy for forty years. Minister Van der Straeten and the Prime Minister are doing everything they can to avoid passing the costs of waste disposal on to the public. Those negotiations are on the cutting edge. I hope they get around soon. If we want to get everything done on time, we need to have an agreement before the summer.”

Don’t you ever think: what the hell did I get myself into?

“I am very happy in what I do. The only challenge remains the combination of my work and my family. I want my children to have the father they are entitled to. They are the one thing I will never give up for the party. Hopefully within twenty years I can tell them that I have moved a few stones even in difficult circumstances.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: cochair Jeremie Vaneeckhout malaise Groen


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