European Parliament: When Green shades into blue
16 June 2009
With 48 MEPs – up 14 on the 2004 elections – will Europe’s ecologists become a force in the EU parliament ? Some commentators are none too convinced while others have noticed that this traditionally left-wing movement has taken a right turn.
The Greens in the Brussels’ region have just formed a coalition with Liberals and Christian Democrats, reports Polish daily Rzeczpospolita. A historic shift is also visible in Germany, where Greens have announced for the first time that they are ready to cooperate with Christian Democrats and Liberals at a federal level. For some time now the argument goes that Greens should jettison traditional links for new ones. In France, for instance, Greens almost outpolled former coalition partners the PS, whereas in Portugal and Italy they scored as well as far-left movements they are usually associated with. “The Greens must start talking about climate change in an economic context (creating new jobs in a green economy), abandon their links with the extreme left, and deal with Liberals or Christian Democrats in the same way the moderate left does, Rzeczpospolita opines. Elsewhere, Belgian ecologist party MEP Philippe Lamberts argues that Greens share certain values with the right. “Socialists and free-market liberals believe that the measure of quality of life is your material status," he says. "We think, as Christian Democrats do, that the good life is not the amount of money on your bank account." Greens, also, Rzeczpospolita pointedly remarks, are more likely to have criticised Communist dictatorships.
In some countries, however, environmentalists have little or no impact. In Spain, for instance, a country whose coastline is a decades old ecological disaster zone, Green politics has never had much of a look in. Los Verdes-Grupo Verde Europeo, for instance, only won 0.6% in June’s European poll. Several factors explain this, according to Barcelona daily La Vanguardia. Greens, it argues, have to steer a course between left wing parties on one side and left wing nationalist regional movements on the other. "Fragmenation is excessive," it notes. And, "its strength is weakened."
Nor does the outlook seem inspiring in the British Isles. Writing for the Guardian, Leo Hickman worries that the Greens might forever remain “a tokenistic minority” in politics. Leaving aside big gains in France, UK Greens failed to add to their existing total of two MEPs, while Ireland’s environmentalists were wiped out not only at a European but also a local level. Hickman wonders whether solutions needed “to tackle our multitude of environmental problems” are only ever likely to come from major political parties, who, in thrall to the “self-interest of party politics” are likely to come up with “populist, short-term policies that will only exacerbate any environmental problems that get in their way.” The problem for the Greens, he argues, is that they “seem destined to remain on the fringes so long as they are perceived by the electorate to be a one-issue political force. (The clue's in the name.)” He wonders whether “only a technological great leap forward will ever save the day – despite politics, not because of it.” The political system, he concludes, “just isn't fit for purpose when it comes to the environment.”