Steven Agnew says there was a need for a “greater democratisation of Europe” but said that on balance he is in support of staying in the EU.
“It’s about reforming Europe, rather than about getting out of Europe,” he said of his party’s stance, during an interview with the News Letter.
It is legitimate to question what areas the EU should involve itself with, Mr Agnew argues, and the Greens believe in a form of ultra-local democracy with “decision-making at the lowest effective level”.
In terms of major global issues such as climate change or counter-terrorism work, he said that “sometimes the most effective level is Europe”.
“We’d be critical friends of Europe. Some of the environmental regulations we have would not be there if it wasn’t for Europe and we welcome that...on many environmental issues, those issues don’t respect borders so we do need that international agreement.”
The Green Party is generally left-of-centre on wider social and economic issues, yet some of those who care passionately about the environment are right of centre. But Mr Agnew does not accept that his party is putting off potential supporters who may support recycling but oppose the party’s stance on welfare reform, abortion or gay marriage.
He points to how its vote continued to increase after the party became the first to call for same-sex marriage in 2012.
But isn’t there a sense in which the party is fishing in an unnecessarily small pond rather than attracting a broader base of support from environmentalists?
“Well, we’ve never been a single-issue party and I always say that the environment itself isn’t a single issue...these are the issues that our members care about; our policies are decided by our membership and the people who decided to join the Green Party...therefore, these are the issues that as the Green Party’s sole MLA I take forward.”
When asked about the Equality Commission case against Ashers Bakery after the firm refused to make a cake saying ‘support gay marriage’, Mr Agnew said that he supported the commission’s case (which was upheld by the county court and is now at appeal). He says: “The law, one way or another, will be clarified, and I think that will be a good thing.”