Party Goals and the Process of Change Finding a Role for the Greens

It is clear from the history of the emergence of Green parties that there was never a clear blueprint for what a Green party should seek to do or how its role should develop over time. In many cases, the creation of the Greens was largely due to frustration regarding the failure of established parties to deal with new issues and concerns, rather than a real desire to reshape party politics. Activists, therefore, came into Green party politics largely instilled with ideas from new social movement activism and organization, and with a general picture of what was wrong with established political parties. What exactly the role of the new party would be other than the voice of the new social movements', and how this role would evolve over time remained a relatively open question that the parties have been forced to tackle as they evolved under the public spotlight.

The different patterns of development and change identified within the Green parties in this book are all largely reflective of the parties' desire to develop a clear and effective role within their respective political systems. At times, this has involved not only developing a role as a new political party within a competitive, established party system, but it has also involved the Green parties in seeking a clear demarcation of their role within the wider environmental movement. The need to change has often been due to pressures on the Green party that have questioned its ability to fulfil its role. Factional conflict has often been reflective of uncertainties and disagreements within the party regarding what its role should be, its perceived success in fulfilling this role, and what aspect of the party needed reform in order to achieve this. As the comparative analysis in this book demonstrates, while all four parties have been faced with a similar dilemma, the responses have been quite diverse. Indeed, the manner in which this problem has been tackled has been intrinsically linked to the political context in which the different parties operate.

Divisions over these issues were undoubtedly at the heart of the factional disputes within the German Greens. While different perceptions of the role of the party were accommodated during its formative years, as it became more successful and more established, so these differences became harder to smooth over. Many argued that the

German Greens were not one party but had numerous different identities. As the party gained electoral success, there was increasing pressure from the different factions to control the role and the direction in which the party should develop. Under the glare of an interested and often hostile media, these factional differences expanded into deep internal conflict. In this case, political opportunities emerging from electoral successes forced the party to confront its roles and responsibilities head on. The realo-fundis factional splits within Die Grünen, as outlined earlier, represented a debate over the future direction and style of the party. Should it become parliamentary focused and seek to partake in coalitions, or should it prioritize its role as the radical party voice of the social movements and stand alone in the party system?

Interestingly, out of the three parties discussed in this book, the party who has experienced the least electoral success has experienced the most comparable levels of factional conflict with that of the German Greens. While the party has not been afforded similar political opportunities, the UK Green party has found itself similarly divided over what its role should be. In this case, it has been a lack of electoral success that has forced the UK Green party to confront what its main roles and responsibilities should be, and these questions have proven equally as divisive. As a political party, it faces severe barriers to gaining parliamentary representation and has achieved little in the way of significant electoral breakthrough. Attempts to change the party into a more professional' and electable' organization have faced direct criticism from those party activists who claim that, given the systemic constraints, the party's main aims and efforts should be focused in other directions. However, the party finds itself similarly marginalized as an environmental pressure group or movement. The environmental movements have developed an effective network that provides much greater access to decision-making and influence than the UK Green party can achieve. The Green party undoubtedly finds itself in an awkward dilemma, unsure as to its precise role within the UK political system. This lack of clear direction has obviously been a vital factor in accounting for the internal splits within the party.

By contrast, the Swedish Green party appears to have been more united in defining its role. The party has developed within a political system that prioritizes party politics and marginalizes movements, and faces an electoral system with relatively weak barriers to gaining representation at both local and national levels. In addition, the party has enjoyed relatively strong support from within the environmental movement, which was active in the formation of the party. The lack of conflict over development and change within Miljopartiet de Gröna reflects the party's clarity in focusing upon a parliamentary role. In contrast to the deep divisions experienced in Germany and the

UK, the Swedish Greens have been relatively unified in seeking to improve the electoral and parliamentary strength of the party and to demonstrate its effectiveness as a national political actor.

The experiences within Les Verts exhibit aspects of all of the above examples. As in Sweden, the party has had to develop a role within a political system that marginalizes movement protest and emphasizes the importance of political parties. It therefore emerged as a development from within the environmental movements as an attempt to gain political recognition for environmental issues and concerns. As in the UK, however, the party has faced the challenge of competing within a system that gives political credibility to parties with parliamentary representation, but which marginalizes small parties. The only options available are, therefore, marginalization or coalition. Factional splits within the French Greens cannot be effectively explained by a division over the party's role, on this occasion, as the party was relatively unified in seeking to develop a parliamentary role. In this instance, it was not so much what the role should be, but what was the most effective strategy in order that the party could achieve this. The pattern of change within Les Verts represents a gradual evolution of the party's perception of how best to develop the role as the party voice of the environmental movement, given the restrictive external conditions.

For the Greens in Sweden, France and Germany, a key factor in defining the parties' contemporary role has been the development of a new relationship with the established parties of the left. In each case, Green party emergence in these countries was connected to the failure of these established parties to successfully champion the causes of the new social movements, leaving activists with little option but to form a new party to represent their views. While this failure was influential in shaping the Greens' neither left, nor right' strategy and their antipathy towards established parties, success for the Greens in each case was always likely to result in forcing some form of dialogue with these parties. In each case, while negotiations have often proved difficult and divisive for the Greens, the eventual outcome has been some form of working relationship or left coalition. Again, the acceptance of these agreements reflects the growing clarity among these parties regarding their desired role within the system and how best to achieve this. There is a level of pragmatism within the parties' attitudes towards these agreements. While activists are wary of developing a role as the environmental wing' of the left parties, they also recognize that these agreements are vital if the Greens are to gain political experience and solidify their expanding parliamentary roles.

A vital aspect in the process of developing and defining the role of any political party inevitably involves the prioritization of party goals. The Greens have been no exception to this and lessons from broader party literature - in particular, the work of Harmel and Janda - have provided significant insight into the complexities and pressures surrounding the link between party change and party goals. While the experiences of the German Greens have been extensively covered elsewhere, the analysis in the preceding chapters demonstrated the diversity among the Green parties regarding the prioritization of party goals and the impact of challenges to these goals on the process of party change. Once again, a balance between internal and external pressures on party goals helps to explain the variation in the patterns of change and the prioritization of party goals within the different Green parties.

This book focused upon three of Harmel and Janda's primary goals' - namely, winning votes', advocating interests/ideology' and implementing party democracy'. Each of these goals has played a role in influencing the pattern of development and change within the Greens, although the influence of these goals has varied over time and between the different parties. The parties' initial concerns focused predominantly upon challenging the established focus of party politics, and as such they concentrated upon raising awareness of environmental concerns and advocating a new form of party organization and party democracy. At a wider level, the Green parties also sought greater democracy and participation throughout the party systems. However, given that parties who fail to break the threshold of national parliamentary representation tend to face political marginalization and gain little or no influence, the Greens implicitly had to focus upon winning electoral support if they were to stand any chance of achieving any of their other initial objectives.

Regardless of the Greens' attitude to electoral competition, therefore, the electoral goal became a key dimension in the development of all of the Green parties. As a result, both electoral success and failure have been key stimuli in instigating transformation within the European Green parties. In addition, this book also highlights an alternative party goal, which is to gain an influential role within the party system. As demonstrated, this may not necessarily correspond with winning votes or seats. This alternative party goal is identified as a key factor in influencing party strategies towards relationships with other political parties, especially in the case of Les Verts. With the advent of government participation, the Greens are facing the pressures of an additional goal - namely, maintaining public office. Undoubtedly, this will be at the forefront of the Greens' future decisions regarding the maintenance of coalition agreements. Furthermore, party goals not only vary over time, but they may also vary between different areas of party activity. For example, while electoral' goals may shape changes to party strategy, organizational reforms may be introduced in line with the parties' goal of implementing party democracy'. As such, a more complex picture of party change emerges.

It is not only the prioritization of goals that has differed between parties, but also the perception of how these goals can best be achieved. The four parties have often identified different aspects of party development and reform as imperative to achieving the same primary goal. These differences again reflect not only the internal characteristics of the parties, but also the external environment in which they compete. Hence, while organizational reforms were perceived as the primary requirement for the UK and Swedish Greens to achieve their electoral goals, in France and Germany strategic relationships with other parties provided the primary focus for achieving the same goal.

As with party roles, factional conflict and debate are linked to a pattern of uncertainty. Given the constant fluctuation in party goals, conflict over change has primarily occurred when either there is debate over the primary party's goals, or when disagreement exists concerning how best to achieve these goals. In particular, parties have often become divided over the extent to which electoral goals should take precedence, reflecting the debates regarding what exactly the role of the Greens should be. Without doubt, this book has demonstrated that one of the main external driving forces to shape the transformation of the European Green parties has been the opportunities available for the parties to gain electoral success and, subsequently, parliamentary representation. As a consequence, external barriers to achieving these objectives, such as the electoral system, party funding and the attitudes of other competitors towards the Greens, have helped to shape the perception of how attainable electoral successes are. Where electoral barriers have been seen as a surpassable hurdle, the emphasis upon electoral goals in the process of party reform has predominated. However, where these objectives have remained marginal, the debates over the predominance of electoral over other party goals have been more diverse.

Electoral performances have also created challenges and pressures upon party goals other than those of gaining seats. Good or bad electoral performances have, on numerous occasions, created pressures upon other aspects of party activity. In particular, electoral performance has imposed pressures upon the party's organizational commitments to direct democracy and active participation. As the parties have expanded, both in terms of members but also with regard to the different roles and responsibilities that they have accumulated, organizational structures have been placed under increasing strain. As Chapter 5 highlighted, the Greens have had to face the challenge of balancing the desire for democratic organization with the demands of competitive party politics. At times, this has involved practical solu tions overcoming ideological commitments. However, on other occasions the potential of electoral success has not been seen as worth this form of compromise. Often, where reform has been followed by a strong electoral performance, change has provoked little internal conflict and debate. However, where change has not produced the desired electoral successes, the response has usually been internal division and conflict.

Overall, the process of transformation within the Greens has reflected a balancing act between the ideological goals and commitments inherent within the Greens' historical roots, and the electoral opportunities and constraints facing the parties. Electoral goals and electoral experiences, as one might expect, have played a significant role in influencing the process of development and change within the European Green parties. Indeed, it could be argued that given the original rationale for the formation of the parties, the primary role of a Green party must be to translate support for environmental movements and Green issues into parliamentary representation and, where possible, influence over policy-making. However, does this mean that the Green parties of today have simply succumbed to the demands of the parliamentary process? Is the picture of Green party transformation simply a process of institutionalization within the established party political process of the European party systems?

Was this article helpful?

0 0


  • Caradoc
    Has the green party had any electoral success?
    9 years ago

Post a comment