Lessons of Change Evolving or Conforming

Undoubtedly, at the heart of the process of transformation lies a pattern of pragmatic compromise within the Greens as they have grown into their roles as political parties. This book, however, raises some important questions regarding the extent of this compromise' and the potential impact that this has upon the future development of the Greens. While one would be foolish to suggest that the Greens are the same today as when they emerged on the political scene, it would also be wrong to suggest that the process of transformation has merely turned the Greens into part of the establishment'.

During their formative years, the parties focused primarily upon highlighting the Green challenge' to established party politics, and attempted to offer the electorate a distinctly new' form of politics, both in terms of ideology and in terms of active participation within the party. Success, however, brings with it a new set of challenges. As the Greens have grown in stature, they have faced the more difficult task of marrying the desire to represent the ecological, new social movement identity at the heart of the new politics' with the challenge of becoming effective and influential political actors within the national party systems of which they are a part. Having gained support from the electorate for the concept of a new form of politics, it was now up to the Greens to actually demonstrate that this new form of politics was possible, that change could be implemented and was not just an ideological concept, and that a Green vote was not a wasted' one.

This transformation from radical opposition to the implementers of Green politics has been at the centre of the explanations for both the reform processes and the conflicts that have marked Green party development at the end of the 20th century. A leading Green party activist in the UK summarized the difficulties facing the Greens as follows:

Part of it is the problems which come with any new political party trying to work within a particular form of system. What you really are, I think, is a transitional phase anyway. You're trying to marry two sets of things. One is what works for the situation in which you find yourself and the other is where you want to be at the end of the day. And a lot of the problems revolve around this tension of time scales (Interview, 7 August 1995).

The changes witnessed within the Greens have largely reflected an attempt to fit the notion of Green politics to the political systems within which they operate - finding a method for gaining the initial foothold for the development of Green politics. The analysis in this book focused upon three major aspects of the Green identity that were at the heart of the distinctiveness of the new politics' parties. The emergence of the Greens represented a challenge to the establishment not only in terms of the environmental issues that they espoused, but also by challenging the very credibility of the established parties as representatives of the people and highlighting the democratic and participatory deficits within these parties' organizational structures. However, to become an established player on the political scene, the Greens had to go beyond merely raising environmental consciousness and providing a critique of the establishment (both of which could, arguably, be provided by the environmental movements without the need of a party format). They had to demonstrate that they could actually change things by developing an active role in governmental decision-making.

In doing this, the Greens have readjusted some of the more unconventional or alternative aspects of the new politics' identity that have proved to be damaging or, at times, simply inoperable within a party political context. As this book has demonstrated, the different national political challenges facing the four Green parties resulted in different aspects of party activity being identified as the primary focal point for pragmatic reform. The differing focus for the reform process, and the significance attached to these reforms, are reflective of the internal characteristics of the parties and the prioritization of different ideological commitments and party goals, as well as the manner in which these internal features interact with external systemic pressures and constraints. In some instances, therefore, it would be fair to say that the process of change has not always been completely of the Greens' own choosing.

If one considers the transformations in party strategy, increased electoral success while giving the Green parties greater political recognition on the one hand, also brought the parties directly into contact and competition with the established political parties, on the other. While the Greens initially maintained a critical distance from the established parties, seeing them as part of the problem, not part of the solution, the pressure on the parties to get their hands dirty' and participate in government (not only from within the Greens themselves, but also from the other parties) has, on a number of occasions, brought this ideological stance into question.

Under these conditions, both the German and the French Greens have moved from a neither left, nor right' autonomous strategy, reflective of the Greens' anti-party' sentiments, towards direct working relationships with established left parties. To a slightly lesser extent, in Sweden the Greens have committed themselves to coalition at both local and municipal level, but have stopped short of a full coalition at national level. The UK Green party remains the only one of the four case studies to maintain its autonomous stance; but one may question whether this is through ideological choice or restricted opportunity. The party's almost complete marginalization within the party system leaves it with little opportunity for strategic links with other parties and, to all intents and purposes, actively encourages the UK Green party to define itself separately from the traditional parties.

This strategic transformation has been strongly influenced by the parties' attempts to achieve a stable basis within their respective party systems, raise environmental awareness, and be perceived as effective national political actors who can influence policy rather than act as marginalized, single-issue' protest groups. Party strategy has, therefore, been closely linked to the political opportunities confronting the Greens within their respective party systems. In the cases of the four parties discussed here, the Greens have had to decide whether there is more to be gained from participation than lost.

Les Verts' strategic options were strongly influenced by the pressures of working within a system that encourages the development of alliances and coalitions and that gauges political credibility on the basis of parliamentary representation and political influence. Whatever the party's own strategic statements, it has largely been perceived by the public, the media and other political parties as a party of the left. This stance was further enhanced by the willingness of both Génération Écologie and, later, the Parti Socialiste to view the Greens as acceptable coalition partners. Thus, a willing coalition partner, combined with the pressures of a party system that rewards small parties who are open to electoral alliances and marginalizes those that are not, provided the main impetus for the Greens to develop an active coalition strategy.

Both the Swedish and German Greens found that electoral success at local and regional levels forced this strategic issue onto the parties' agendas as they became pivotal hinge' parties. Again, the willingness of other parties to see the Greens as coalition partners was a vital factor in changing party strategy. The experiences of working in coalition and, often, the electoral gains that resulted from active participation have played a crucial role in encouraging party members to accept these agreements and to subsequently consider similar relationships at national level. In Sweden, the party's wariness of the Social Democrats and its experiences of the perils of full coalition has resulted in a limited toleration agreement at national level. However, one must also recognize that the party does not yet have the parliamentary strength to be a full coalition partner.

The Green parties have therefore found their strategic position challenged by electoral success. While the parties initially distinguished themselves from the other political parties by maintaining a distance from them, this has been harder to do as they have gained increasing numbers of parliamentary seats. Maintaining this distance also limited what the Green parties could achieve at a practical level and, in many ways, this has been a paradox for the Greens. Green party politics was designed to be different from conventional party politics, and setting themselves apart from the other parties was symbolic of this difference. The increase in Green support, in many ways, implied that a proportion of the electorate wanted to see the type of change outlined by the Greens. However, the nature of party competition meant that the Greens were unable to attempt any of these changes unless they changed their stance. If the Greens wanted to progress as parties, they had to not only compete against the others, but to negotiate with the other political parties in the party system. Failure to adapt to this role often resulted in the Greens being portrayed as a negative, destructive political force that called for change but was not prepared to actively participate in order to achieve it. This was used to strong effect by the established political parties who sought to weaken support for the Greens.

While this change of strategy may be seen as bowing to the inevitable', Green participation in alliances and coalitions has often represented the best method for the Green parties to answer their critics. The only way in which the Greens could overcome the claims of political inexperience and naivety and the arguments that Green politics was impractical, was to gain greater experience through active participation in government and by taking responsibility for policy-making. Participation has given further credibility to the Greens and to their claims that Green politics can play an active and effective role in government.

One must also be wary of seeing the change entirely as a one-way process involving just Green party compromise. While the Green parties were keen to disassociate themselves from other political parties in their formative years, so the other parties disassociated themselves from the Greens. A great deal of time was devoted to presenting the Greens as damaging to the stability of contemporary party systems and as a short-term phenomenon with a limited life span. However, as the Greens have evolved, so the established political parties, especially on the left, have often had to accept that the Greens may be the most suitable coalition partners. In many ways, this recognition of Green politics by the established left parties is a significant achievement when one considers that, for many of the Green parties, the failure of these parties to represent Green issues effectively was a primary motivating force behind the formation of the Greens in the first place.

Strategic issues will clearly have a continued influence upon the future development of the Greens. In particular, the parties will have to decide how far they are prepared to compromise for the sake of maintaining a coalition. As both the German and French Greens have found, as with any small party active within a coalition, while these agreements may have many advantages, they also have the disadvantage of associating the parties with policies with which they don't necessarily agree and that challenge their ideological principles. While the Swedish Greens have been able to avoid this nationally through the limited toleration agreement, it is questionable how successful this will be in the long term.

These experiences also raise the question of how far the Greens' future development relies upon the continuation of these forms of alliances and coalitions. In France, the Greens rely upon the continuation of the left coalition so that the party can maintain national parliamentary representation. Their parliamentary future is therefore intricately linked to the performance of the left government and the maintenance of the coalition. By contrast, the Greens in both Germany and Sweden have managed to break the parliamentary threshold independently. While this arguably gives these two parties an additional level of independence from their coalition partners, neither has yet managed to develop a sustainable electoral base that ensures that they will always break the parliamentary threshold. They must, therefore, balance the demands of coalition with the need to maintain support among their own electorate. This has been difficult due to the often unrealistic perception of what a junior coalition partner can actually achieve. As small parties operating in highly competitive environments, the Greens' strategic options are definitely limited.

Increasing support and electoral success were also at the core of the transformation in the organizational structures within the Greens. Again, the parties' alternative organizational structures reflected the Greens' desire to conduct party politics in a different way. As Chapter 5 demonstrated, the model of Green party organization that was adopted reflected an attempt to bring into the party realm many of the ideas and structures that the activists had experienced within the social movements. The notion of being an anti-party' party meant not only challenging the politics of the establishment, but also challenging the way in which those political decisions were to be made. The party's organizational structures were clearly designed to demonstrate the significance of participation and direct horizontal democratic control to the Green way' of conducting politics. As such, they were not designed to fit neatly with the party political systems within which they were competing.

However, the Green parties have found that structures that were effective for a social movement have not always been as applicable to the more rigid and structured realm of party politics. As with strategic change, it is easy to view the organizational reforms within the Greens as evidence of a process of institutionalization of the new politics' ideals and the increasing professionalization of the Greens. Undoubtedly, all four of the Green parties examined here have found themselves forced to compromise on some aspects of their alternative organizational model as their roles and responsibilities increased and as their membership expanded.

In particular, the parties had to accept that while they did not want to create careerist Green politicians, they also had to gain an understanding of how the party process works if they were to change it. Many of the organizational concepts did not take into account the impact that parliamentary representation and responsibility would have on the parties. In particular, the Greens failed to consider the lack of experience within the party. The rotation principle, for example, failed to recognize that some positions required experienced actors. As the parties have grown, so has this experienced activist base.

The pragmatic response of the Swedish Greens to this problem was to accept that an alternative form of organization is only effective if that alternative leads to a better way of conducting politics. The organizational transformation within the Greens represents an acceptance that, while it is important to conduct politics in a more democratic manner, this should not necessarily equate to doing things badly - and, in many cases, the Greens were doing things badly. When put into practice within the party arena, some of the original organizational principles actually restricted democracy and participation in practice as they became slow, unresponsive to issues and debates and led, at times, to crippling internal stalemate between party factions. There was little point in showing the electorate an alternative organizational framework if that framework was perceived to be more inefficient than the established format that it sought to challenge. While there is no question that the original organizational structures gave greater openness to the Greens, they also provided substantial ammunition to their critics and competitors, and raised question marks over their political credibility.

Given this, it is not surprising that organizational change was closely linked to the Greens' increased experience of active participation in party politics and a number of electoral disappointments, following campaigns in which the Greens were portrayed as chaotic and disorganized. Organizational reform was often seen as an important aspect of maintaining the Greens' electoral support. For example, in Sweden, Miljopartiet's relatively unanimous adoption of a new organizational framework was linked to both the party's experiences during its first term in parliament and its subsequent electoral failure in 1991. Organizational change was viewed as a result of practical experience and represented a vital factor in the party regaining national representation.

However, in the case of Germany and the UK, organizational change took on a much broader role since it was tied to debates over the future style and ideological direction of the party. Organizational reform in the UK Greens was instigated as part of the development of a more efficient and election-oriented organization. However, organizational change heightened factional divisions, with the reforms being seen as an attempt to alter the actual nature of the party and to shape its future direction and style. Debates surrounding organizational reform were as much about goal priorities within the UK Green party as they were about the specific reforms themselves.

It is also evident from the comparative analysis presented here that where organizational reform has played a pivotal role within party change, it has often been a response to the practicalities of attempting to utilize a decentralized framework within a relatively centralized party system. Hence, reform played a vital role in the UK and Sweden, while Les Verts found that the decentralized organizational framework proved more applicable within a French party system based upon a regional structure. All parties, however, have found that it has become increasingly difficult to remove personality from party politics. While the Greens continually refused to adopt party leaders, the media has often chosen figureheads, regardless of this. The parties are beginning to accept this as part of the media world in which they operate, but continue to ensure that control over the party by any individual is restricted. Despite these changes, however, Chapter 5 demonstrated that the Greens remain distinctly more democratic and participatory than their competitors and have worked hard to find a way in which they can still reflect their commitments to anti-professionalization, decentralization and active participation, while also competing effectively.

That the Greens are learning to cope and react to the challenge that the competitive party-political environment poses is evident, not only in the way in which they work internally and with others, but also with regard to the way in which they have presented the Green message. As Chapter 6 demonstrated, a greater emphasis has recently been placed upon social' concerns by the Greens. This has primarily been the result of changing national political agendas and an altered competitive environment, in which issues of environmental protection have been superseded by a more traditional economic and welfare focus. While the electoral results of the 1980s reflected the success of the Greens in portraying the dangers facing the natural environment and the need to develop policies to address these concerns, during the 1990s the Green parties have been forced to demonstrate their commitment to wider political concerns. Due to the changing political climate of the 1990s, the Greens have been forced to reprioritize these policies in line with a changing political agenda.

The manner in which Green policy has evolved reflects attempts to represent Green ideology within a specific national context and a competitive party political environment. It also marks a concerted attempt by the Greens to get beyond the image of a single-issue' party that is only effective when dealing with issues of environmental damage. The Greens have faced a relatively rapid learning curve as political actors, and during this process have been challenged to compete on all aspects of party policy, rather than merely focusing upon environmental issues as a conservation movement may be able to.

As the early 1990s demonstrated, the Greens cannot afford to rely upon the prioritization of environmental concerns for their political survival. Not only do these issues fluctuate upon the political agenda, established parties have also proven relatively successful in adopting the rhetoric, if not the realities, of Green discourse. For the Greens in Germany, France and Sweden, the reassessment of policy priorities was a significant factor in the parties' electoral successes during the 1990s, and placed a direct challenge to those who claimed that the Greens could only do well when environmental issues were at the top of the political agenda. In the UK, by contrast, the weak electoral position made the reprioritizing of party policy a less immediate concern. The UK Greens have faced less pressure to justify and substantiate their policies and have only infrequently been viewed as a threat by the established parties. This position has resulted in both a greater emphasis upon detailed policy development within the UK Green party and greater debate and discussion over the repackaging of Green party policy.

Once again, however, this process of transformation provides relatively little evidence to support the claim that the Greens are losing their identity and falling into the mainstream. It is, primarily, evidence that the Greens have recognized the grounds upon which they need to compete, and have found that it is not necessarily dominated by traditional Green issues. Having the most complete and detailed environmental policies has not automatically led to continual electoral success for the Greens. Where the Greens performed well during the late 1980s, the environment played a crucial role at the top of the political agenda. However, the Greens found themselves in a much weaker position when other issues took priority. When the electorate prioritized non-Green' issues, the Greens were not necessarily seen as an effective political choice.

The challenge for the Greens has, therefore, been to remove the reliance upon the prioritization of environmental issues in order to achieve strong electoral performances. In order to do this, the Green parties have had to fight harder on non-Green' social issues. This does not mean that the Greens have de-prioritized the protection of the natural environment; but that they have recognized that there is little point in winning the environmental argument time and time again if the primary political debates lie elsewhere. What the Greens have attempted, in recent years, has been to show the diversity and interconnection between the different aspects of Green politics. In particular, they have attempted to demonstrate that Green politics is as much about social concerns as it is about the natural environment and reflects the problems of the inner-city environment as much as it does the countryside. If anything, therefore, recent developments have forced the Greens to present and develop a fuller picture of Green politics than in their formative years.

Presenting this broader picture may be one thing, but trying to transform the public's perception of the Greens has proved much harder. Green parties are still strongly connected to environmental protection policies, and support still tends to fluctuate in line with the significance of traditional' environmental issues. Government participation, in this respect, has often proved to be a double-edged sword. While, on the one hand, it has given the Greens the opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of Green policies in practice, it has also often further entrenched the public's perception of the Greens. This is primarily due to Green coalition roles often focusing upon environmental portfolios, which - while, in some ways, representing the obvious focal point for the Greens to instigate policy - continues to pigeon hole the parties. In addition, the Greens have often found that while these portfolios give them responsibility for dealing with environmental issues when they occur, it gives them little opportunity to impact upon the actual causes of these problems. Again, the Greens need to change this position if they are to change the perception of the electorate.

Overall then, it would appear that the Green parties have, without doubt, become more aware of the restrictions and constraints that functioning within competitive party systems place upon them. In addition, electoral successes have also made the parties more aware of the importance of this dimension. However, the changes that have accompanied this learning process do not automatically imply a significant ideological dilution in the parties' attempts to represent and reflect both the ecological ideals and distinctive organizational characteristics of the new politics'. Green party development and change has been a transitionary process in which the Greens have sought to develop a more complex interpretation of how to successfully mould these commitments within the confines of a party political environment. Again, this reflects back upon earlier interpretations of parties as being based upon the internal characteristics of the particular party family, and the external pressures of the political environment within which they function.

The pattern of change has also demonstrated that the Green parties cannot function in isolation and, as such, are subject to strong pressures from the external political environment of which they are a part. In many cases, Green parties have faced many of the same pressures, barriers and constraints facing all other small parties who seek to gain a foothold within long-established European party systems. These include electoral barriers, issues of party funding and the adaptation to new issues by the long-standing political parties. These differing circumstances have been reflected in the specific characteristics and responses to party development and change that have been identified in this comparative analysis. Green parties may have similar aims, but they are far from homogeneous in nature. The disparity within the process of change among the European Greens represents their attempts to translate ecological objectives within markedly different national political environments.

The emergence of different types of Green party throughout Europe during this period also reflects a realization within the parties themselves that they should interpret their role not only through a Green party structure based largely upon the German model provided by Die Grünen, but also through the national political context and the respective pressures that are exerted upon them. As the Green parties have matured, many of them have discovered that the party model that had been initially instigated was not necessarily suited to both the national political context within which they were operating, or the levels of party activism within the party itself.

The resulting pattern, therefore, represents a broader interpretation of these parties' commitments to Green ideals based upon ideological frameworks, as well as a significant period of Green party experience. Although the Green parties have undoubtedly reassessed the requirements of a political party, as this book demonstrates, it remains inaccurate to claim that they no longer represent a distinctive party family with a new politics' focus. Although more pragmatic in their overall approach, the Greens continue to act in ways that are different from conventional political parties and continue to seek alternative approaches to the political process. The Green parties have been faced with the challenge of developing an effective political role through which to represent Green politics, within the competitive European party systems. In doing so, Green party evolution has centred upon a process of adaptation, based upon balancing the specific characteristics of what it means to be Green' with the pressures faced by all small political parties who function within a competitive party-political environment. How they continue to develop this balance will shape the impact of the Greens in years to come.

Was this article helpful?

0 0


  • minna
    How green politics evolved?
    23 days ago

Post a comment