Changing Policy Issues within Les Verts

Party direction within Les Verts has often been reflective of the style and personal strategic priorities of the party's de facto leaders, and has regularly been defined in terms of either natural' or social' issues. This is partly a reflection of the party's emphasis upon annual strategic action plans. During the late 1980s, Antoine Waechter directed the party towards a distinctive autonomous' ecological perspective. A 1988 survey of party priorities found that 47 per cent of party activists supported a focus on the natural' environment, in contrast to 25 per cent who favoured the prioritization of social' concerns (Prendiville, 1994, p109). Support for Waechter within the party was strongly reflected in, and indicative of, the party's commitment to an ecological orientation.

This strategic orientation is evident within the policy issues prioritized by the party during the late 1980s. In the 1989 European election manifesto, Les Verts centred their campaign on environmental protection, alternative energy strategy and anti-nuclearism (Les Verts, 1989). Social issues were not completely neglected, with policies directed towards solidarity with the developing world, unemployment and quality of life' (Hainsworth, 1990, p101). As well as the wider environmental themes regarding the ozone layer and the Chernobyl disaster, Les Verts were also able to focus attention upon national environmental concerns. These included the construction of the Loire Dam, problems of acid rain in Alsace, port development in Brittany and the proposed construction of a number of new nuclear power stations (Les Verts, 1989). The focus upon environmental issues therefore reflected not merely the party's ideological priorities, and the wider global concerns for environmental protection, but also significant national environmental concerns apparent at this time. Indeed, the party recognized the importance of environmental concerns in raising their electoral profile. After the municipal elections of 1989, the party thanked not only their electors but also the Breton rivers, the ozone layer and the Amazonian forest, which were a great help' (cited in Prendiville, 1994, p47).

However, during the 1990s environmental protection issues had less impact, leading one activist to suggest that:

Concerns over pollution, atmospheric or otherwise, nuclear dumping and the conservation of the environment have failed to rouse the French to action (Greze, 1997).

Changes to Les Verts policy priorities during the 1990s coincided with the rise to prominence of Dominique Voynet and the shift towards alliance with the left. These moves provoked a refocusing of the party's policies away from traditional environmental protection and towards key social' issues. This transition is most evident in the party's 1997 election campaign, which claimed to focus beyond environmental issues to tout a wider political revolution for a new planet, a new mode of development' (Greze, 1997). Although maintaining a commitment to environmental protection issues, the election manifesto focused predominantly upon the reduction in working hours to 35 hours per week, the introduction of men/women parity in the constitution, a better quality of life and defence of the public sector, and a more tolerant immigration policy (Les Verts, 1997).8

The mixture of emphasis upon social policies and environmental protection issues, and, more interestingly, the focus upon the necessity of improving the social' in order to enhance the natural', was the centrepiece of the campaign, as well as being the cornerstone of the agreement with the Parti Socialiste (PS). During the campaign, Voynet called for a society where the quality of life, of health and of the environment plays a bigger role than the markets' (cited in Greze, 1997). In line with this, environmental issues, such as the BSE scare and water pollution, were linked directly to the need for social change:

The trend towards increased performance and the dehumanizing of our society are in opposition to the principles of precaution: before taking a decision, we must measure the consequences (Les Verts, 1997).

Les Verts have therefore adopted a stance designed to reflect both the central priorities upon the French political agenda during the 1990s, and to demonstrate the diversity and breadth of policy developed by the party. The party has undoubtedly refocused its position towards social concerns, although where environmental protection issues emerge, such as with Superphénix, the party is at the forefront of these issues.

Figure 6.1 once again places the process of policy reform within Les Verts in relation to the key factors for change identified by Harmel and Janda's model.

Policy development within Les Verts is reflective of both internal factional pressures and external stimuli. Figure 6.1 highlights two distinct periods of policy development within Les Verts, with a brief transitional period in between. In relation to internal pressures, the transition from one policy stance to another is closely related to the internal changes surrounding the transition from Waechter to Voynet's de facto leadership, and the change in dominant faction accompanying this.






European election manifesto focus on Party environment policy I

change +

Lille conference strategy paper

National election focus upon social issues

Change in dominant factions

Lille conference strategy paper

National election focus upon social issues

Autonomous ecological factions

Factional conflict

Social-environmental faction dominant

Change in dominant factions

Antoine Waechter


de facto party leader

de facto party leader and government minister


EP election success Emergence of

Génération Ecologie

Electoral Red-Green electoral failure EP election alliance Electoral EP election

Stimuli failure

EP election success Emergence of

Génération Ecologie

External (electoral)

Electoral Red-Green electoral failure EP election alliance Electoral EP election

Stimuli failure

International environmental Jssuesprioritized

External stimuli


External stimuli (challenges to party democracy)

Rio Earth Summit m

Nuclear testing in the Pacific n—c


Ecological entente

Entente collapses

Agreement with PS

Party gains government post


Figure 6.1 also identifies the main external shocks surrounding both electoral' and policy' representation issues. Electorally, the failure of the ecological entente to make a breakthrough at national level again appears to be a significant factor in pushing the party towards a reassessment of its stance. This factor has already been identified as influential in instigating both organizational and strategic changes within the party. Focusing upon policy development, Figure 6.1 indicates that the failure to achieve national representation through a Green agenda was one of the main influences in directing party interest towards a more left-wing agenda, and the eventual electoral coalition with the Socialists.

Figure 6.1 also highlights the ability of long-standing political parties to adapt themselves to a Green agenda. With environmental issues given priority during the late 1980s, a focus upon environmental protection issues appeared to be effective both in terms of electoral-and policy-based party goals. However, during the 1990s, Les Verts found this position challenged on two fronts. Other political parties attempted to adopt a more environmental approach within their programmes and policies, while also attempting to portray Les Verts as a single-issue party. In addition, concern over environmental issues was quickly replaced by more immediate concerns regarding unemployment and welfare reform. These events represent external shocks to both policy-focused and electorally'-focused party goals. The change in policy focus represents an attempt to confront problems of electoral performance and policy representation. The focus upon social' concerns reflects the transition towards a coalition with the left.

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