At a crossroads: where do the European Greens go from here?
As the Greens get into the full swing of a new Parliamentary session in the EU, this week seemed like a wise time to assess where we stand across the continent. So on Wednesday I headed over to the Green group’s seminar ‘where does the group stand after the European elections?’, held in the European Parliament during a pretty pivotal moment – the voting through of Juncker following the #LuxLeaks tax avoidance scandal.
Moreover, it was just a few days after the European Green Party’s council in Istanbul, with a new Secretary General and new member parties in Croatia’s ORaH and Denmark’s Socialist People’s Party.
There were some interesting lessons from the seminar. The guest speaker was Edouard Lecerf from Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), a leading marketing research and information group. And as an outsider, his analysis was honest.
The Post-May Situation
Lecerf started by pointing out that the May elections were the second best result for the group ever, securing 50 members (down eight on 2009’s results).
Yet it was also the second worst ever with respect to our position in relation to other groups in the EP – we are now sixth: smaller than the left-wing GUE-NGL group, and only two MEPs larger (if we include our own regionalist European Free Alliance partners) than the hard-right Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group, half of whose MEPs come from UKIP.
So the result was mixed. Seven countries saw an increase in Green group representation, while seven saw a decrease.
Yet we are undoubtedly more diverse now – in 2009, half of all group members were French or German. In 2014, this is now just a third, after the French Greens (Les Verts) saw their vote plummet. We were represented for the first time in several Eastern European countries, a promising sign.
The Key Issues
What we campaigned on was of course crucial to our success (or otherwise). For most of European Green Parties, that main issue was climate change. Fair enough, perhaps.
And indeed, 50% of the public say the environment should be a priority over economic growth, while a third say politicians should emphasise the environment more.
But. There’s a but. Only 5% think environment should be the top priority, down six points from (already low) pre-crash levels.
This should be a wake-up call.
Why? Because unemployment is the biggest concern for Europeans, sitting on 46%, with the economy more generally being the top priority for 29%.
The environment, by contrast, is only the 11th priority. With this in mind then, where should, tactically, our election campaign focus lie?
Debating Past and Future
That was slightly uncomfortable to listen to.
One comment stood out in the following discussion. Greens-EFA co-president Monica Frassoni said: “We were not too radical [during the campaign] – we are not on the side of those who scream and shout. We don’t just want to protest – we are a positive platform.”
Of course we want to be a positive party. But it’s hard to know the rest of this means.
Does it mean we must accept some austerity to maintain influence? Or to not side with demonstrators? Or to reject alliances with the (rest of the) left?
If it means moderating our message, I’m not sure it worked considering that the left gained and we lost out.
Another question: what’s fundamentally wrong with being populist if the politics are in the right place?
A few more statements concerned me. Keller said: “We’re known for the environment – we should start from our core.” She argued that all our policies should come from that, half-joking that we should play on our ‘tree-hugger image’ through our PR.
But we are called the Green party. People know we are ecologists. They know we will tackle climate change. What they don’t all know is that we have a radical anti-neoliberal message, that we want to tax the rich and that we stand for putting people in charge through direct democracy and co-operative ownership.
The Elephant in the Room
Interestingly, I don’t think I heard the words ‘austerity’ or ‘neoliberal’ used once (nevermind talk of ‘capitalism’ or ‘the system…’ obviously). This fed into our lack of representation in Troika-struck Southern Europe. As the South West’s Molly Scott Cato argued, “We must always bear in mind where we’re not represented” in these debates – we only talk about the places where we are because those MEPs, ipso facto, aren’t here. So the crises and misery being imposed on Greece, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere are, perhaps intrinsically, ignored.
Closing the session, Lecerf used his role as an outsider to say what many already half-knew. The Greens are, across Europe, seen as a part for bourgeois, educated, and urban people.
There wasn’t time to discuss whether the way to tackle this might be to talk about the elephant in the room. But several people did raise the idea, thankfully, that we need to be far more radical, and to actually talk about the economy (in non-abstract, non-technical terms).
Despite this, I was left with the following questions: do we need more passion? More fire? And where’s the politics?
Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to ask. But in the face of a resurgent far-right and mass disillusionment with mainstream politics, where do we go from here? Do we compromise, or do we fight? For me, the answer is clear. I hope it is for Greens across Europe, too.