BRUSSELS — Green EU lawmakers are criticizing European Parliament President Roberta Metsola after it was reported she said climate policies are pushing voters toward populist parties in the lead-up to next year’s European election.
“Why have we stopped talking to our businesses? Have we not placed being climate ambitious as not being mutually exclusive with economic growth?” Metsola was quoted as saying Thursday in the Financial Times. The article also said that Metsola, who is the institution’s figurehead, considered this to be the consensus in Parliament.
The remarks were a surprising shift in tone for Metsola, who has until now largely kept away from the rightward shift of her own center-right European People’s Party (EPP) group. She’s tended in public statements to instead be led by majority policy positions of the Parliament as a whole.
After years of the EU passing new climate and environment legislation under the flagship European Green Deal, the EPP — led by German conservative Manfred Weber — has called for a moratorium on new green laws and a greater focus on their economic toll. Right-leaning MEPs almost succeeded in shooting down a key nature bill in the summer.
On Friday, Terry Reintke — a German MEP who co-chairs the Greens’ group — called on Metsola “to clarify ‘climate regulation driving populism’ is not the position of the European Parliament,” in a post on social media website X (formerly Twitter).
Michael Bloss, another German Green, called for Metsola to apologize on Thursday.
“I expect Metsola to comment on this again,” he wrote to POLITICO Friday. “This statement cannot be left unchallenged. Climate protection is human protection, and right-wing populism is inhumane. These are two very different things that must not be mistaken.”
Metsola’s spokesperson Jüri Laas denied that she has undertaken any policy shift on climate change.
“We have always been saying that we need a climate agenda which is strong and very ambitious, but that we need to keep the people on board — otherwise it will not work,” Laas said. “The president is very green,” he added.
“The President’s point was that if we do not get it [the Green Deal] right, we risk this being used by populists to undermine our legislative ambitions,” he also wrote.
Metsola — who is making strides to connect with young voters ahead of the June EU election — appeared to put more emphasis on the urgency of new climate legislation rather than on economic concerns this Wednesday in a video Q&A with the Parliament’s media team.
She said that “difficult decisions” on climate legislation need to be cushioned and explained, but are “necessary because we only have one climate, one planet.”
Pedro López, the EPP group’s spokesperson, said at a Friday press conference: “I don’t think that the president made a partisan answer regarding populism and the decisions of Brussels fueling populism, I think she just made an interpretation of what we’re seeing in the current polls.
“All these polls for next year’s European elections, they say one thing: The Greens are going down and the extreme right is going up. So take your conclusions,” he said.
Michael Strauss, spokesperson for the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists group, said: “We also think that Metsola just expressed the common public sentiment.”