Synthesis/Regeneration 13   (Spring 1997)

The Greens in Spain

by Esteban Cabal, Los Verdes/Grupo Verde de Madrid

During the 1970's and 1980's, Green Parties grew rapidly in Europe, the Americas, and Oceania in response to the arms race, the global ecological crisis, and the inability of the left parties to confront new realities caused by industrial development and the irrational use of new technologies. It became essential to define economic, political, social and environmental goals. In the 1990's, Greens grew and expanded their areas of influence. Presently millions of people vote Green and support the Greens, who have a recognizable presence in the parliaments of many countries and, in some cases, have entered the government. For example, there are regions of France and Germany where Greens comprise the government or are part of a governing coalition. Now Greens are also in the city governments of important capitals such as Rome and Sofia (Bulgaria). Greens have government ministers in the West and the East, in countries such as Finland and Georgia.

Spain is probably the country with the richest environment, yet it has the worst ecological problems in Europe. Paradoxically, Spanish Greens have developed very slowly. Among other reasons, this is because Spain is a country with deep-rooted contradictions. Also, from the beginning, social, ecological, pacifist, and third world solidarity movements were reluctant to participate in electoral efforts.

In Spain, Greens are mainly a social movement and only secondarily a political-electoral force.

In Spain, Greens are mainly a social movement and only secondarily a political-electoral force. We work from within and outside of democratic institutions, but primarily from the outside, since we still have very few representatives in parliament. We have started pressure campaigns for rational policies, from the local as often as from the national level.

We are currently carrying out a campaign against genetically manipulated food from the US. This is an issue which worries us more each time we look at it. We feel that transgenetic food constitutes a serious threat to biodiversity and a true danger to world health. It is also a threat to the survival of traditional cultivation methods and native cultures. Until 1996, transgenetic foods were non-existent in our country. Now the government has begun to import millions of tons of soy and corn from the US. A certain percentage has been genetically altered. Many basic foods are manufactured from this soy and corn: baby food, beer, and possibly animal feed which makes its way up the food chain.

We think that we are dealing with a dangerous technology, such as happened in the past with nuclear and other technologies which were presented as panaceas while having incalculable consequences. Due to the legal vacuum which exists in Spain concerning such transgenetic products, we are asking the government that (1) products which include transgenetics have a special label so that consumers can make a choice, (2) there be a moratorium on importation in order to allow a debate in society and the completion of scientific studies concerning risks and consequences to consumers, and (3) there be a referendum on the moratorium on imports which we are proposing.

The Greens/Green Group (TG/GG) participates in grievance statements and coalition efforts but we also develop our own initiatives and we mobilize people around our own issues. For example, Green groups in the Canary Islands demonstrated against the ocean transportation of plutonium from France to Japan. The protest occurred at the same time that a French ship was crossing the Canary archipelago with a radioactive load.

We center our activities around the destruction of nature (such as garbage incinerators), problems of social injustice (such as unemployment or the scarcity of housing, job discrimination against women, marginalization of certain social groups), attacks by the administration on human rights and civil liberties, outbreaks of racism and xenophobia, and solidarity with the third world. Most of our members, in addition to belonging to the Greens, belong to ecological, anti-military, feminist, solidarity, or other organizations.

When Greens have had elected representatives, either as an opposition party or as part of the government, we have had more success in achieving results from our social and ecological politics.

We think that the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), while providing guidelines for sustainable development and social justice, often finds little political support. This is one reason for our participation in electoral processes. TG/GG knows from experience that, whenever the Green vote grows, it pushes the traditional parties to take our proposals seriously and enact them. But if the Green vote were large enough to let us work with elected representatives in city government, in regional governments, and in the national government, then we would have a better chance to demonstrate that we could serve society by applying our standards and realizing our programs, even though we would still have to ally ourselves with other left parties to form a government. When Greens have had elected representatives, either as an opposition party or as part of the government, we have had more success in achieving results from our social and ecological politics.

Until now, few Greens have been elected, and most of these have been as an opposition party, criticizing neoliberal policies and advocating specific initiatives. In 1991, I was elected as a Green to the City Council of Rivas Vaciamadrid, a municipality bordering the capital of Spain. During the first three years, I remained in the opposition, and only at the beginning of 1994 was I able to enter the governing majority, in coalition with the Communists and Social Democrats. As part of the opposition, we were able to win specific promises from the government to protect the environment, impede urban speculation, improve social benefits, and devote part of the municipal budget to solidarity projects in Cuba, Nicaragua, and other Latin American countries. We also obtained more effective control over processes of industrial pollution and more rational policies of recycling wastes.

Together with local environmental groups, we held demonstrations to block the construction of a macro-incinerator on the edge of town. Many thousands of neighbors came. As a member of the government, I work with citizen participants. Regional councils were created, which, with the participation of citizens and their organizations, influenced the city budget, rejected some projects, and proposed others.

One cannot ignore that, as a political party, the only economic subsidies we receive depend on the number of votes and representatives we win. Without electoral representation, our party would be economically strangled and therefore condemned to marginalization.

Certainly, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." But Greens do not pursue power for ourselves, but rather to share power, to break it up, winning citizen participation in public management. The problem is that citizens are glad that we offer them participation in decision-making, but they also wish to select representatives because they are not eager to participate in a social project which requires too much time and effort. In Spain, several environmental, anti-military and other groups come from a libertarian tradition and have an anti-system outlook. They think that no one can wait for political institutions. They aspire to create an idyllic world, a self-managed society without classes. We are also a party based on self-management, but we recognize that, even on a small scale, such as worker cooperatives, there is always a tendency to delegate specific areas of management to persons who inspire confidence. It is not possible for everyone to be knowledgeable about every area and have an opinion about everything. Nor is it possible that we will all show the same dedication to the collective. Little by little, these libertarian groups are realizing that abstaining from political participation is hardly justifiable in terms of obtained results. Every day, the Greens awaken more sympathy and confidence as a political alternative.

TG/GG is a party of national scope in Spain, but there are other regional Green parties that do not agree with the existence of a national party.

Currently, part of the Green political movement works from inside the Left Unity coalition (the third-ranking political party in the country) which has elected representatives in regional parliaments (Catalonia and the Basque Country) and city council members in cities such as Barcelona and Seville. Another group participates in one of two organizations: TG/GG or The Confederation of Greens. They have also elected members to city councils and regional parliaments in the Balearic Isles.

TG/GG is a party of national scope in Spain, but there are other regional Green parties that do not agree with the existence of a national party. They say that Spain is a false nation, that its regions are the true nations and that the Spanish State is a supranational structure. We do not participate in discussions of whether or not the regions are states because the nationalist argument is often hollow. It is purely rhetorical because the differences in how a federal state is integrated in the European Union are only semantical. We feel that people should be free to decide their own destiny and if a region decides democratically to be independent and create another state, it is their right. But as long as Spain is a State, our structure ought to have the scope of the State so that we can offer alternative solutions to its problems.

We believe that in Spain there should be a governmental alternative of the left which includes the Communists and Social Democrats together with the Greens.

This is not to say that our members in regions like Catalonia, the Basque Country, or Galicia, that have their own language, would not defend the political autonomy of their regions or that they would not speak their mother language. That would be absurd. In fact, in Catalonia, our group is called Els Verds/Grup Verd, in the Basque Country, Berdeak Berde Talde, and in Galicia we are Os Grupo Verde. In reality, these are not ideological differences, although nationalism is a complex problem which is emotional and very important.

Left Unity (LU) is a coalition dominated by the Communists. Depending on circumstances, it may be suitable for us to ally with them. On more than one occasion, we have negotiated with LU concerning our entering their coalition and we would be able to return to these negotiations in the future. But, as of now, we have not decided on the criteria for reaching an agreement. We believe that in Spain there should be a governmental alternative of the left, which includes the Communists and Social Democrats together with the Greens. However, it seems that LU has developed the habit of being the opposition and is not willing to join in a coalition with the Social Democrats. This only benefits the right and helps maintain it in power.

On the other hand, division of Greens into several organizations keeps us stagnated and creates considerable confusion among voters. The divisions are based more on questions of tactics and timing than on ideological differences. Those who work with the United Left have chosen this road out of pragmatism-it is very difficult to start out alone. It is a real problem when there are national elections or elections to the European Parliament without a common platform, without a perspective that represents all of Spain, and without a general program that takes into account the differences between the territories.

In Madrid, as well as several other areas, we are the fourth strongest political party in number of votes.

TG/GG, the party which I represent, is a collective project of people who work for sustainable development and social equality. In Madrid, as well as several other areas, we are the fourth strongest political party in number of votes.

Our political alternative was born as an answer to the passivity of the major powers and traditional parties and their inability to avoid ecological crises or correct social inequalities. We defend citizens and mobilize society against abuses of the State and excesses of the Market. We attempt to introduce our criteria of rationality in the use of new technologies, putting goals of social equality and ecological sanity before economic gain. We believe that a new ecological conscience has emerged which spans human generations.

The electoral law and the law governing the financing of political parties are made by the large parties for their benefit. The only parties which receive government funding are those which are represented in parliament. But in order to be represented in parliament, a party must receive 5% of the votes on that electoral level. Without funding, how can a new party have a good electoral campaign and break the 5% threshold? This system favors political inbreeding, impedes the appearance of new political alternatives, and allows unjust situations. For example, the Greens, with hundreds of thousands of votes in Spain, do not have the right to a single deputy in the national parliament. Meanwhile, some regional parties, with barely a few dozens of thousands of votes, have several deputies and also receive funding from the State.

Unfortunately, problems have worsened instead of being solved. Every day 40,000 of the world's children die of hunger while Westerners display full pantries. The exhaustion of natural resources, effects of climatic changes, increases in immigration, resurgence of xenophobia and racism, and the overflowing growth of unemployment and social marginalization are some of the chilling symptoms of the process of degradation, which should make us reflect on the need to redirect, with great urgency, the politics and economy of the world. Today, the presence of Greens is needed more than ever.

Esteban Cabal is the author of History of the Spanish Greens (Historia del los Verdes), Mandala Ediciones, Madrid, 1996. 149 pp. Paper.

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