Over 100 MEPs from 21 countries and seven political groups have signed a solidarity statement for the Arctic 30
Parliaments in democracies the world over are places of vigorous discussion and sometimes fierce debate. Views on either side of the political spectrum are often radically divergent. With members from political parties in all of the European Union’s 28 member states, the European Parliament is no different. It was with some surprise then that I witnessed a remarkably consensual debate late on Wednesday night.
One after the other, across the floor of the parliament’s vast plenary building in Strasbourg, MEPs voiced their solidarity for the 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists detained in Russia following a peaceful protest against a Gazprom oil drilling platform in the Arctic.
Krzysztof Lisek, an MEP from Poland’s centre-right Civic Platform, said: “I do not always support the methods of Greenpeace, but nevertheless I respect the organisation and I really appreciate what they do. Wherever the environment is endangered they are active.”
Paul Murphy, a left-wing MEP from Ireland, read out a passage from a letter written in a cell in Murmansk by Arctic Sunrise crew member Alexandra Harris to her parents. Murphy said about the Arctic 30 that “a very strong message is needed from all across the world to demand their immediate release, to demand the dropping of all charges.”
The extraordinary session carried on for well over an hour, with dozens more statements and support flooding in from MEPs for an Arctic 30 solidarity statement. Towards the end of the debate the news broke that Russian prosecutors were dropping preposterous piracy charges, but replacing them with similarly ridiculous ‘hooliganism’ charges, which carry a sentence of up to seven years in jail.
The Parliament was quick to remark in an official statement that the new charges continued to be “disproportionate.” It called on EU governments and the European Commission “to take action to ensure the release of the detainees.”
Speaking on behalf of the Commission, commissioner Janez Potočnik also warned the Parliament about the dangers of drilling for oil in the fragile Arctic environment. He said: “We can't even begin to imagine the impact that a major oil spill would have on the Arctic environment, nor the difficulty and costs of trying to clean it up.” He continued: “The Greenpeace activists had a message for all of us.”
I’d spent the morning talking to MEPs and explaining what was happening in the Arctic, but such across the board unequivocal support from the EU caught me by surprise. As the debate ended and people started filing out of the parliament, I left my seat in the public tribune in a slightly dazed state.
It was late and I saw two other stragglers heading for the exit. We found that the door was locked and went looking together for another way out. When we finally did, one of them said: “Free at last!” In the ensuing friendly chat it emerged that I was talking to two Russian diplomats from Brussels.
As we went our separate ways and I reflected on an extraordinary day ‘at the office’, I asked myself how long it would be until my friends and colleagues in the Arctic would be “free at last.”
Joris den Blanken – Greenpeace EU climate policy director