TCS Daily

Wilted Greens

By Dominic Standish - March 18, 2004 12:00 AM

In Rome last month, 32 separate European Green parties joined forces to launch a single European Green party. They will now present a common platform for the European Parliamentary elections in June. Does this mean that the Greens are blossoming in Europe this spring? Not exactly. The outlook is bleak for them, even though environmentalism continues to be a dominant force in European politics.

Previously, the various Green parties worked as a loose federation in the European Parliament. There are currently 36 Green members in the 626-seat parliament, with 10 allied members from regional parties. Forming a joint party has been extremely difficult. Creating common policies has been impossible. There are significant differences between Europe's Green parties on many issues, such as genetically-modified food and European Union enlargement. In particular, the British and Scandinavian parties tend to be more Euro-sceptic than many other European Green parties.

"You can't imagine how difficult it was, but also challenging and stimulating, to put together 32 parties because of course the concept of environment but democracy also, it's very different in Georgia let's say or Finland," said Grazia Francescato, leader of the Italian Green Party.

Nevertheless, the mood in Rome was upbeat, especially as the Green parties did manage to agree on a new party hymn, created by the famous film composer Ennio Morricone. "We will try to get everyone on the same rhythm, with the same campaign and a common look," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the co-president of the Greens in the European Parliament. It was decided that the European Greens will have a joint song, logo and slogan, but that publicity material will vary in each country to reflect national policy differences.

Singing a common tune cannot hide their differences and sense of impotence. For instance, the recent celebrations over the appointment of Europe's first Green prime minister were very lacklustre. At the end of February, Indulis Emsis was chosen as Latvia's prime minister by the Latvian President Vaira-Vike Freiberga, not by election. Emsis is the deputy head of a small Green and Farmers Union and was picked as a compromise candidate to tackle corruption, not due to his environmental credentials.

Latvia is one of the ten countries that will join the EU on 1 May and Emsis' "election" will mean it is the only of the new EU countries where the Greens have influence. The Greens have 2.4 percent support in the Czech Republic, a marginal role in Poland and are virtually non-existent in the other latest accession countries.

It is only in Germany and Austria that European Green parties have real political weight. In the 2002 elections in Austria, the Greens took 9.5 percent of the votes and 17 parliamentary seats. In the same year, the German Greens achieved 8.6 percent of the vote and 55 seats. Germany is the only EU country where the Greens are in national government.

Green parties have a small electoral presence in most European countries and their influence appears to be waning. The Finnish Green Party enjoyed improving electoral support during the March 2003 elections, and the Swedish Greens have 17 parliamentary seats and 4.6 percent of the vote.

Here in Italy the Green Party participated in coalition governments between 1996 and 2001, but now carries only one to two percent of the electorate and is dependent on alliances with other opposition parties. Similarly, Green parties in France, Belgium and Finland have all been recently forced out of ruling coalitions.

What explains the decline? For one thing, many environmental issues have been co-opted by mainstream parties in most countries where Green parties were strong in the past. Moreover, in most East European countries the majority of people are more concerned with economic issues than the environment, so the Greens have struggled to make an impact.

It remains to be seen whether a new pan-European party or a theme song will make any difference.


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