Davide Castro: Inside the Brussels greenwashing machine

DiEM25’s recent livestream discussed the recent shift of Green Parties from actual climate justice to questionable political practices that are not affiliated with true environmental efforts – from defending coal mining, setting police on climate protestors and relentless support for war.

Davide Castro, who works on DiEM25’s Digital Communications and Online Strategy, provided a detailed personal account of his dealings with Green politics in Brussels, which often hid far more sinister intentions beyond its seemingly altruistic façade.

Let me preface my remarks about today’s topic by telling you a bit about me. I’m Portuguese, but in 2003, the economic crisis in my country — mainly due to the impact of the Euro — changed the direction of my family forever. My father lost his job, my mother was clinically depressed and unable to work, and my brother had to abandon his studies to make ends meet at home.

I was able to migrate with my mother to the UK when I was 12, to join my father, and I grew up in pre-Brexit Britain, in some of the poorest, roughest regions in the country. This wasn’t the England of Love Actually, but the ‘This is the England’ of Shane Meadows, for those who have seen the brilliant film. It was certainly an educational experience, and we missed Portugal, my brother, and our extended family terribly.

Yet this move also gave me the chance to go to university, which has led me to where I am today, working in Brussels…and carrying over 30,000 pounds worth of student debt.

So when DiEM25 was created in February 2016, I immediately felt: “ah, here’s a movement that actually speaks to me.” I read their proposals, and saw how they could tackle the kinds of issues that had affected my family, and millions of others, like the crisis of involuntary underemployment and involuntary migration. So I signed up. And I’ve been working with them ever since.

But before I joined DiEM25, I had worked in the centre of the Brussels machine, at the interface of business and green politics. And this experience is what I’d like to talk to you about today.

I was employed by an organisation called CSR Europe — the leading European business network for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility. And it gave me a masterclass of how propaganda works in practice, I tell you.

For example, every year, we organised meetings between executives from corporate giants like Huawei, IBM, and ENEL, just to name a few, with European Commissioners. The purpose, besides unofficial lobbying behind-closed doors, was to get the commissioners to rubber stamp the sustainability reports of those companies quite publicly. Reports that were financed by the companies themselves.

We created initiatives like the European Pact for Youth, under the High Patronage of His Majesty the King of the Belgians, and with the high-level support of Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission.

On the surface, the Pact for Youth was a programme to improve partnerships between business and education to boost the chances of young people getting jobs.

But in reality, what it did was provide a cheap labour force for corporate giants through underpaid, and unpaid, traineeships and apprenticeships, effectively turning universities into conveyor belts for the job market.

CSR Europe was a slick greenwashing operation. Everyone who worked there believed they were doing something good, helping to bring about more sustainable solutions for our planet. Yet all they were really doing was serving corporate interests. They were legitimising and perpetuating a broken system. And they never, ever, questioned it.

Throughout my work in Brussels I also saw this kind of greenwashing extended to the politicians in Brussels. Look at the European Commission, and its use of terms like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’. It’s enough to make one’s stomach churn. The Commission’s Green Deal, and the Beyond Growth Conference being just two recent examples. Not to mention the so-called ‘recovery plan’. Recovery for whom….it’s pure, naked co-optation.

And now I come to The Greens themselves.

I want to say this first: After we announced today’s livestream topic, I read a few comments by former comrades of ours, complaining that we’re daring to ‘attack’ the Greens when we ourselves failed to re-enter Parliament in Greece in the latest election just a few weeks ago. Other comments pointed to the fact that green politics exists outside of Austria and Germany

My message to them is this: yes, we did fail to convince enough people to vote for us in the last election. We have no problem whatsoever admitting it. But there’s a follow-up election coming up and you bet we’re doing our best to make it happen again.

But the point I want to make is this: there is a gigantic difference between a political party not achieving enough backing for its ideas during an election AND a political party already having enough backing for its ideas, and then entering parliament, forming a government and then doing a U-turn on those ideas. And that is what I am criticising.

In the same way that we as DiEM25, and as MERA25, must have the capacity to accept our own short-comings, it would do well for the Greens to have some humility and do the same. Because all democrats, regardless of party affiliation, have a duty to stand up for democracy, for the people and for the planet. Whenever we see political parties that are meant to fight for those things, and instead do the opposite when in power, because they’re so obsessed with power at any cost, we must call them out. Whether they are ‘greens’, ‘socialists’, it doesn’t matter. Because they’re supposed to be better than that.

Didn’t we witness precisely this behaviour with the Eurocrisis? So many mistakes made by an arrogant, self-centered Establishment that couldn’t take a tiny wee bit of criticism for what it was doing? An Establishment so fragile that the mere insinuation that what it was doing to the ‘PIGS’ was wrong, led to the doubling down of its position on austerity?

Now, I know plenty of people who work for The Greens. Most of them are lovely. My criticism really isn’t towards them. It’s towards the leadership of most — not all, but most — green parties across Europe.

With that said, if the Greens today are green, then I must be colour blind.

Is it Green to raze villages to the ground, like they are doing in Lützerath in Germany, where they are in power, in order to have more coal mining? Is it green to ally with fascist parties, like the Greens have done in Austria, while the world is careening towards the crucial 1.5 °C mark in the average global temperature rise? And when it comes to world affairs, is it really green to be pro-war, and to label people campaigning for peace as Putin apologists?

And looking at Greens in Finland and Belgium too. Last year in Finland, Green NGOs sued the Finnish government over carbon neutrality goals. And in Belgium just last week Centrist Prime Minister Alexander de Croo came out and said that he’s in favour of putting a pause on any green legislation because it might threaten to destroy Belgian industry, following in the footsteps of Emmanuel Macron in France.

In response to his statements, his own Federal Climate Minister Zakia Khattabi, former leader of the Greens, came out and criticised his position saying that it isn’t the ‘government’s position nor the Belgian one’. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear things like this. He’s the prime minister of her OWN government.

And, again, if you look at the Greens in Sweden from 2014 – 2018, they held a total of eight ministries, and were widely seen as failing to fulfil key promises such as a reduction of the working week and the closure of Bromma Stockholm Airport. And then you have the Irish Greens who are in coalition government with two right-wing conservative parties. The examples are numerous. It isn’t just Germany and Austria.

The Greens have ridden the green wave generated by movements like Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future and so on, only to increase the risk of our extinction with their wrongheaded policies. It’s not bad intentions. It’s just sheer incompetence.

This is where the Greens are today! They have put themselves entirely at the mercy of corporate interests. They have lost their spine, and forgotten their roots. They have entered into governments that are doing all they can to destroy the planet and people’s hard-fought rights. And they’re complicit in all this because like my colleagues before in CSR Europe, they legitimise and perpetuate a broken system. They never, ever, question what they’re doing.

So, if you really want to know the kind of radical climate policy that would fix everything, it is the Green New Deal for Europe from DiEM25. And the only thing that it requires, to be put into practice, are people who are willing to do it. It’s as simple as that.

Thank you.

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