Green parties

Green parties, once regarded as anti-system parties (Burklin 1987; Fogt 1989), are now part of coalition governments in several western European states. Since the early 1980s they have grown in electoral strength and representation in most countries, and are now a familiar part of the political scene in most of western Europe, and Australasia as well as Brazil, the USA and the Ukraine.

The first green parties were founded in Tasmania, (known as the United Tasmania Group) New Zealand (the Values Party) in 1972 and Britain ('People') in 1973. But these parties remained small and had little political impact. It was elsewhere in Europe that the major breakthroughs for greens in elections occurred. In France, beginning with the presidential candidature of René Dumont in 1974, and in Switzerland, Belgium and Germany by the end of the 1970s, greens were standing in elections, new parties were being formed and by the early 1980s MPs were being elected. There was an upsurge of green support in the late 1980s, with new parties in Italy and Sweden benefiting from the resurgence of opposition to nuclear energy in the wake of the Chernobyl reactor disaster and a wave of green votes in many countries in the 1989 European elections. Despite some volatility in elections green parties with existing representation tended to consolidate or improve their vote in the 1990s, while in other countries greens gained representation for the first time. In New Zealand a new Green Party was formed in 1990 and gained 7 per cent of the vote in its first election, gaining its first MPs at the next election in 1996. Greens in Ireland, and Australia1 gained national electoral representation, and in the UK greens were elected to the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Greater London Assembly, and doubled their previous highest percentage in the general election of 2001, gaining 3 per cent. In the USA the 3 per cent of votes, and particularly the 97,000 votes won in the linchpin state of Florida, by the green presidential campaign of Ralph Nader, in 2000 led to the greens being blamed by Democrats for the defeat of Al Gore by George W Bush. In eastern Europe, despite the importance of environmental campaigning in opposition to the communist regimes in the 1980s, green parties have been weak in the post-communist era. There have been temporary upsurges, such as the 1.39 per cent won by the Russian greens in 1995 and the more significant 1.5 million votes (and 17 MPs) won by the Ukrainian greens in 1998, but, as yet, no sustained green presence. In southern Europe green parties have also been weak. The Greek greens imploded soon after gaining their first MP in 1989, and there were doubts over the independent status of the Portuguese green MPs in the 1980s and 1990s, who were seen as largely a front of the Communist Party. While there have been some recent successes for Spanish greens, gaining two MPs in national elections in 2000, it is too early to say whether this means that previous regional divisions have been overcome. Table 4.1 below summarises recent electoral results for some of the more enduring green parties in western Europe:

Despite the ubiquity of green parties, it is notable that in national parliamentary elections they tend to achieve only between three and ten per cent of the vote. Only in Belgium, where the two green parties, the Flemish Agalev and Wallon Ecolo gained 14.4 per cent in 1999 and entered a coalition government, have greens broken the 10 per cent barrier. In majoritarian electoral systems such as France, or semi-majoritarian systems such as Italy, greens have only been able to gain national representation as part of a left electoral alliance. Also, green parties have been unable to gain national representation even in PR systems where a New Left party already existed, as in Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. In these countries the New Left parties were close ideologically to the greens, and already had a vote based on the social groups which constituted the greens' core constituency in other countries. This meant that there was no basis for an independent green party, although it did not prevent some from

Table 4. 1 Electoral performance of selected European green parties in recent national elections

Year Election Country type

Belgium Finland France Germany Italy Sweden UK Neths Austria

Year Election Country type

Belgium Finland France Germany Italy Sweden UK Neths Austria

1994

Pari

-

-

-

7.3

2.7

5.0

-

-

-

1994

Euro

11.1

-

2.91

10.1

3.2

-

3.2

3.7

-

1995

Pari

8.4

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

4.8

1995

Euro

-

-

-

-

-

17.2

-

-

-

1996

Pari

-

-

-

-

2.5

-

-

-

-

1996

Euro

-

7.6

-

-

-

-

-

-

6.8

1997

Pari

-

-

5.16*2

-

-

-

1.4*

-

-

1998

Pari

-

-

-

6.7

-

4.5

-

7.3

-

1999

Pari

14.43

7.3

-

-

-

-

-

-

7.4

1999

Euro

15.94

13.4

9.85

6.4

1.8

9.5

6.3

11.9

9.2

2001

Pari

-

-

-

-

2.2

-

2.9*

-

-

Sources: green party websites; (Carter 1999 and Hooghe and Rihoux 2000). Notes:

* Represents the average percentage gained in seats where the party stood a candidate.

1 Génération Ecologie also gained 2% - running in competition with Les Verts.

2 Other green candidates (mainly from Génération Ecologie and Mouvement des Ecologistes Indépendent) gained 2.7%.

3 Ecolo gained 18.3% in the Walloon region; Agalev 11 % in the Flemish region.

4 Ecolo gained a remarkable 22% in Wallonia; Agalev 12% in the Flemish region.

5 Waechter's Mouvement des Ecologistes Indépendent also gained 1.5%.

Sources: green party websites; (Carter 1999 and Hooghe and Rihoux 2000). Notes:

* Represents the average percentage gained in seats where the party stood a candidate.

1 Génération Ecologie also gained 2% - running in competition with Les Verts.

2 Other green candidates (mainly from Génération Ecologie and Mouvement des Ecologistes Indépendent) gained 2.7%.

3 Ecolo gained 18.3% in the Walloon region; Agalev 11 % in the Flemish region.

4 Ecolo gained a remarkable 22% in Wallonia; Agalev 12% in the Flemish region.

5 Waechter's Mouvement des Ecologistes Indépendent also gained 1.5%.

trying. In Denmark and in the Netherlands unsuccessful pure green parties coexisted with the Socialist Peoples' Party and the Green Left respectively.

Thus while greens were in government in Finland, Belgium, France, Germany and (until 2001) in Italy, they were always minority parties, representing a specific segment of the electorate. Votes for green parties have generally been higher in European elections, probably because since these elections do not decide a government, the stakes are lower, allowing voters to express sympathy with green ideology or to make a protest, usually against the major left party. For instance, the Swedish greens gained 17.2 per cent of the vote in the 1995 European elections, capitalising on opposition among Social Democrat voters to their party's support for membership of the European Union. However, while this may indicate a higher potential vote for green parties, most seem likely to be at best 10 per cent parties for the foreseeable future. One of the main dilemmas they have faced, given their limited electoral constituency, is how to maximise their political impact. How are parties who want to make radical changes in society, politics and the economy to find what the French greens have called 'social majorities', referring to diverse constituencies of support on different issues, rather than a mass of fully converted greens?

This chapter examines the nature of green parties, focusing in particular on the question of whether they have been transformed from movement parties to parties that are no longer substantially different from the others. Greens defined themselves as different, but this rested on several separate claims. First, they were parties based in extra-parliamentary movements. Second they were parties that organised differently, based on principles of grassroots democracy. Third, they were parties with a new ideology. The interpretation of each of these varied between green parties, as did their importance relative to other goals. These variances reflected different institutional contexts, different ideological traditions, and cultural settings within the alternative milieu and the environmental movement in these countries. It is impossible to encapsulate the detail of this experience in one chapter, instead the main focus will be on case studies from two green parties, those of France, and Germany. These two parties have contrasting traditions, electoral strength and operate in very different contexts. Three aspects of their experience will be examined: party formation; the dilemmas of growth, and being in government. In conclusion the question of whether the greens remain radical parties will be examined.

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