Caroline Lucas MEP (now MP!) answers our questions...

The first UK Green MP answers our questions about Europe!

We asked MEP Caroline Lucas a series of questions about Europe, after finishing our project "Open Borders Open Minds". At the time Caroline was an MEP for the South East of England, but since then she stood in the recent general election and won her seat for Brighton Pavillion as the UK's first ever Green MP. Here are the responses we received from Caroline:

Comenius and My Europe are projects which have been running for the past two years between Poland, Slovenia, Germany and the UK. We have visited each country and experienced life through different perspectives. What do you think about projects like these?

I think they are one of the most important things the EU supports. These projects play a role in increasing understanding between different member states and appreciation of both our differences and what brings us together as European citizens. The EU was formed to encourage cooperation and projects of this nature help ensure we achieve this on a cultural level, as well as on the more obvious eg economic one.

Do you think more opportunities should be provided in our school and local areas to carry on these experiences? How could these opportunities be provided?

I don't know to what extent you have followed up on your visits with eg disseminating what you have learned or using information technology and new media to bring the lessons and links you have made to a wider audience, but I'd certainly encourage that kind of opportunity. The EU needs to continue making money available for such projects but schools and communities also need to make time and other resources available. The national curriculum imposes considerable constraints on what you do during the school day but I'd encourage teachers to include more of this kind of work in eg English or IT lesson, as well as part of citizenship education.

Has your opinion of Europe and your identity as a European changed since becoming an MEP?

Greens have always been very pro-Europe but anti the way the EU focuses on a particular economic agenda. That has not changed but I guess I do identify more as being a European. Also working with colleagues from other member states is an incredible opportunity and has made me realise how different eg the UK's competitive political environment is to some EU countries where cooperation is valued much more highly.

How and when did you become an MEP and what are your responsibilities?

I have been an MEP since 1999. My responsibilities at present include scrutinising legislation that comes before the committees I sit on - International Trade, Environment and Gender Equality. Sometimes this includes steering legislation through the Parliament and negotiating with the European Commission and Council on its development. At present I am steering a Directive on illegally logged timber, which we want to stop being sold and used in the EU.

I am also on a number of intergroups which take a very pro active campaigning approach to issues - I chair the Animal Welfare Intergroup for example so have to ensure that EU legislation takes account of animal protection, as well as raise awareness of relevant problems and their solutions across the EU.

And I am a member of the EU's delegations to Palestine and to Afghanistan. These are formal bodies that learn about the situation there, report back, represent concerns and so forth. This involves visits to these parts of the world.

Finally, I have an enormous responsibility to my constituents. MEPs represent a vast number of people (the equivalent of 83 Westminster MP constituencies) and I pride myself on responding to all the enquiries we get at the office as quickly and helpfully as possible. Often people contact me because they want to talk to someone that shares their values and are not after help with an EU matter. I still always try and do what I can.

What is your favorite EU country apart from your own, and why?

I have spent the last couple of summer in Italy with friends and family so have very positive associations with that part of Europe - sun, good food and relaxation. Politically I am interested in what the Scandinavians are doing both socially and on environmental issues.

We have made many new friends through this project: do you have friends around Europe as well as the people you work with?

Yes, I have been very lucky to meet lots of wonderful people although I would like to be able to spend more time keeping in touch.

Do you think the government should have more trust in the young people of the UK?

There are so many newspaper headlines depicting young people as out of control and irresponsible and it concerns me that this seems to be the predominant attitude in our country at the moment. Yet my experiences highlight the incredibly inspiring work being done by young people up and down the UK and I would very much like the government to listen more and judge less. Young people in the UK are amongst the least happy in the whole of the EU and this is only going to change if we start giving you greater responsibility along with your rights, and trusting you more to make the right decisions about what you need and want from the future.

Is there a special place in the UK where MEPs meet?

The European Parliament has offices at Queen Anne's Gate in Westminster and the different political groups have space there. However we rarely get together as UK MEPs - no doubt something to do with that competitive approach I mentioned earlier!

We toured the Houses of Parliament during our trip, how are you involved or connected with the Houses of Parliament?

The Green Party doesn't have any MPs so I have very little connection with the Houses of Parliament (although I am trying to change that and will be standing at the general election to represent Brighton Pavilion. I'd stand down as an MEP if that happens). For other parties I think the ties are closer as they will work closely with the MPs at Westminster.

A big thank you to Caroline for answering our questions!
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