Juliette Boulet’s election to the House of representatives in this year’s Belgian elections at the age of 26, making her the youngest member of the Belgian Parliament, marks the culminating achievement in what has already been a sparkling political career and a remarkable journey. Here she shares with us some of her views on climate change, immigration, and youth politics.
Congratulations on your newly elected position as representative of the Province of Hainaut. What are some of your main priorities and projects for the term ahead?
Hainaut is one of the most “green” provinces in Belgium, in that it is quite rural. It also has a large immigrant population. Industries like coal-mining have always been very important to the region, but are now in decline. For us, this could be seen as an opportunity to develop and move towards greener, renewable energy technology. Health and unemployment are also important issues in terms of the wellbeing of the population, and we need to look at ways of creating jobs for both qualified and non qualified workers. Hainaut is a province which has great industrial potential which should be capitalised upon.
What has been your experience in Youth movements such as FYEG? Do you believe in their capacity to help create the next generation of leaders?
I was involved with the Belgian french-speaking young greens (Ecolo-J), and was actually delegate to the international, the link between national & European levels. I also participated in various FYEG seminars, and the congress of the European Greens, as well as being international member of Greenpeace. In addition, I also participated in a project regarding the integration of handicapped individuals, and more recently autistic people.
I did not spend a very long time with FYEG but it was an experience I will certainly never forget. Being able to touch upon these important themes and enriching our own perspectives through being in such a diverse and international environment is a fantastic experience – it provides a real political education – an education in citizenship. If all EU citizens were to participate in such projects, certainly all would be in favour of enlargement!
On of the most important themes at FYEG, as in European politics, is immigration. How do you judge the Belgian stance on this issue, as well as that of Europe as a whole?
Yes, immigration is hugely important, and it is a theme that frightens many people. This is very paradoxal, as in Belgium for instance we need immigration, but with this approach we are running the risk of falling into “chosen immigration” – which would lead to a brain drain in less developed countries from which immigrants are arriving. For my part I am in favour of a european policy on immigration. There are some countries which are particularaly exposed, such as Spain, as they are at the borders of Europe, and we must not leave them to tackle the issue alone. Since there is a lot of fear surrounding the question, I think it is very difficult to find agreement on a policy with a Europe of 27 nations. But we are all human beings, so we need to establish a homogenous policy, with clear criteria, to deal with immigrants. The question of “sans-papiers” is also an urgent one. Some people I know have been living in Belgium now for a dozen years or more, are working and fully integrated, yet still have not been allowed to obtain the necessary papers to become legal citizens. These people are then living in total anonymity, they are denied papers and so denied a nationality and have become “apatrides” (without a nationality), which is a terrible thing for any human being. It is something that must be regulated at a European level.
Should this also apply to Climate change, in your view?
Absolutely. As natural disasters, like hurricanes, appear to be occurring more and more frequently – this puts more people on the route to immigration. But in Belgium because the system is so segmented between the different regions and works at so many different levels, we have around 6 different ministers for the environment. The Climate has no borders, so it needs to be dealt with at European or preferably a global scale. The minimum to be done is to at least coordinate a policy together.
What do you think are the solutions in terms of renewable energy sources? How do you feel about nuclear?
I am not at all in favour of nuclear energy. I am still not convinced about the state of security in the sectors, and furthermore it is not a renewable resource. Also, nuclear energy does not contribute to the flight against climate change, it is not an answer. This is because two of the biggest sectors that need energy – transport and housing, do not use nuclear energy. This is why we need to look towards greener types of energy. I think with this incoming government in Belgium, we are probably looking at a pursuit of this approach, however. The Belgian Greens will not accept to form a government coalition with the centre-right. Thus in all likelihood we will have a pro-nuclear minister for the environment. The pro-nuclear lobbies are also very strong in Belgium, as in Europe as a whole.
How do you feel your status as woman has affected your career in politics?
I did not feel it was a problem, but perhaps that is because Ecolo is a party which has made a priority of equality. This is why I havent had many difficulties myself, although I admit many women do encounter difficulties and struggle, even today in the 21st century. And it is very important to have women as parties are supposed to be representative of the population. Moreover, women shouldn’t have to be limited to talking about “women’s subjects” traditionally seen as family and children etc, but all areas should be open to them. I have often found myself the only women in the room, but I have never had a problem working with men. It’s not just because you arrive as a women in a man’s world that you have to speak loudly or be particularly harsh or aggressive, there is no reason to become a man, on the contrary, the more your respect yourself the more other respect you.
What do you think of events like Live Earth to promote awareness of climate change and further the Green agenda?
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I believe people like Al Gore and Nicolas Hulot have succeeded effectively in “popularising” this question. However, the organisation of such concerts is somewhat hypocritical, they require a huge installation, an enormous budget and create a lot of pollution that could otherwise have been avoided. I’m of course not saying that we must return to the age of the candle, or that everyone should stop taking cars and planes, but there is a happy medium. There also has to be solutions brought forward, and these are necessary at all levels of power. It’s true that we all have to do things like switching lights off, and using up less water, as Al Gore says, but people in his position also have a very important responsibility, vis-a-vis the big industries etc. Each human being is responsible for their own personal policy.
How do you feel about the G8, is there any way progress can be made in such a forum?
I feel that we allow ourselves to be completely dominated by these countries, that are the most powerful on the planet, and therefore it is not at all democratic. George Bush admits the planet is warming up, but this doesn’t mean he will sign the Kyoto treaty, and even if he were to, this would not mean he would necessarily respect the engagements taken. You are not what you say, you are what you do. The same goes for Barrosso, his famous white book on the environment, but he drives a car which emits an enormous amount of co2 per km. It is always the same problem with politicians, they take on these huge engagements but in terms of efforts – nothing. This is why citizens begin to lose confidence in them.
Do you think part of the problem lies in mandates of 3-5 years being too short a time period to put into effect a real environmental policy, and too short-term thinking?
Yes, this is why Ecolo has put into place what we call a National Union for the climat, to be put into action over a period of 12 years – that makes 3 different governments mandates, 3 legislatures. We have said we will enter a government only on the condition that this national union for the climate be respected. The challenge posed by the climate can’t be resolved in a time period of 5 or 4 years, and this is the problem of many politicians they only see up until the next election, therefore there is an unwillingness to produce say a ten-year national policy on climate, environment, transport or any thing else. A decade is a long time but to solve the complex problem of climate change it is not long at all, in fact it is necessary. Therefore we need a much more ambitious and more long-term policy.
Juliette’s official mandate begins in October but has already started work, she will be sitting on various commissions including the Foreign Affairs commission on Europe. We wish her the very best of luck.