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Synthesis/Regeneration 14   (Fall 1997)

Worldwide Green

European Greens Reach Outward

by Niki Kortvelyessy, Speaker, European Federation of Green Parties

The Greens in Europe are on a roll. With the naming of Dominique Voynet as Environment Minister to the new French administration, Les Verts became the fifth European Green Party to take part in a current government. Eighteen parties today have members elected to national Parliaments, and nearly all have some representation at the local level.

Within Europe, the Greens are organised according to the established electoral boundaries: normally one national party, with regional or local groups having varying degrees of autonomy. In federal countries such as Germany, each state has a party, whose delegates make up the federal party, die Gruenen, (which merged in 1993 with the citizens' party Alliance 90, from East Germany, forming the new federal party, Alliance 90/die Gruenen).

Similarly the Belgian Greens have two distinct parties in the two state parliaments, and they cooperate in the federal Senate. Only in the Netherlands are there two parallel parties. One is a Red/Green and the other a deep Green, so they attract different constituencies. But competition between Green Parties is generally considered unacceptable. In the UK, the Scottish party became independent in 1991 as a reflection of the then UKGP's belief in devolution of power to the nations of the Queendom.

With the exception of the UK and Malta, all European parliaments fund political parties...

Understanding the importance of cross-border cooperation at an early stage, the European parties have worked together formally since 1984 as the Co-ordination of European Green Parties. This was a loose mutual support network, which met once or twice a year, and elected a five-person Co-Secretariat to administer and direct its work. Its common language was, and remains today, English. Member parties contributed fees according to size to pay for the expenses of the Co-secs, but other than that there were no criteria for joining, with everyone depending on mutual acquaintance of personnel and policies. (With the exception of the UK and Malta, all European parliaments fund political parties in an attempt to avoid graft and corruption among politicians, though I do not claim that they are always successful!) In the outside world, the European Community (founded after World War II, and consisting of 12 west European countries) decided it needed a democratically accountable wing to bring it closer to the people, so in 1979 the first 5-yearly direct elections were held to a European Parliament, with each nation having representation roughly proportional to population. In the 1984 election the Greens from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands had people elected, with generous funding from the European taxpayer, and they offered to provide the Coordination of European Green Parties with a home in the form of a one-room office in the European Parliament building in Brussels. The Green Group in the European Parliament (GGEP) has gone from strength to strength at subsequent elections, and in the current Group there are 28 members from 11 national Green parties.

In November-December 1989, the Iron Curtain collapsed and central Europe embraced democracy, resulting in political parties based on western models popping up in every country at an astonishing pace. The Coordination meeting in March 1990 welcomed Greens from Estonia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria. A year later the number had grown with the break-up of the Soviet Union. Georgia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine also approached the Co-ordination. All Europeans were still reeling from the events in the east, but the size and potency of the Green movement in the new democracies attracted (sometimes subversive) attention from the other political forces. The Co-Secs recommended an overview of the Green political scene in Europe and the delegates eventually decided to explore the potential for a formal Europe-wide structure. Two years of discussions, debates, and workshops took place, all before e-mail was heard of in Europe! It was a long process but it was soon clear that a degree of consensus existed which took our breath away. The possibilities for free speech may have been limited in the east, but it didn't stop people thinking. They were also much better qualified than the western Greens, who tended to be grassroots activists from every possible walk of life, and with very different motivations for being active in Green politics. The east Greens were at that stage mainly scientists, often in very lofty positions, who had access to facts not available to the rest of society, and had seen for themselves the scale of the environmental crisis and its political causes. By 1992 many of them had been elected to Parliament in the first free elections, as the voters identified them as experts who could understand the causes and provide solutions.

In January 1993 the Greens met in Finland, and formally voted on a document which remains the bedrock of Green political identity, the Guiding Principles of the European Greens, as well as a legal Constitution (bylaws) of a new federal structure, with an executive Committee made up of an elected and salaried Secretary-General, two elected but unpaid Spokespersons who act as Chair, Speaker, signatory etc, a Treasurer, and five Committee members in place of the old Co-Secs. The European Federation of Green Parties was born.

The east Greens were at that stage mainly scientists…who had access to facts not available to the rest of society...

The most interesting -- and the most challenging -- aspect of working internationally is the vast diversity of the views, practices, attitudes, and traditions of the member parties. Some of these are dictated by national/cultural norms, others by political realities. The French Greens have no hesitation in having a leader, while the very idea is anathema to the Swedes and the English. Several parties elect people to specific tasks and then give them total power and responsibility in that field, calling them to account only at the end of their mandate. Others demand complete transparency and collective decision making in even quite small things. Some parties are very alternative in their structures and practices, others rather more traditional, preferring to be radical in their activities and policies.

Europeans woke somewhat late to the advent of globalization-indeed in the general public consciousness it's still a hazy concept. The Greens had always been aware of sister parties in other continents, but celebrated them as evidence of the global truth of our beliefs, rather than as indispensable allies in the fight for sustainability and human-scale economics. Having realized that we needed working relationships, we set out to get to know the Greens in Africa, in Australia and New Zealand, and in the United States.

We met very different situations. The Australian Greens have long Parliamentary experience, both at the state and the federal level, having held the balance of power in the federal Senate for two parliamentary sessions. They are well rooted in local groups and are clearly a player on the national political scene. The New Zealand Greens have a long history, but the country only just switched from a winner-takes-all to a proportional electoral system, producing Green Parliamentarians at the first try. In Asia proper we have few contacts-indeed there aren't many democracies. But we have close links with the Taiwan Green Party, who also had their first member elected in 1996, and are in touch with several Japanese Green groups.

In Africa we were astonished to watch the growth of nine national Green parties, small but solid, all in Francophone countries. Their struggles have taught us most as they have achieved so much without even the basic equipment that Europeans take for granted. We would like to work very closely with them, and have decided to use the funds for our next all-Europe meeting for an Africa-Europe meeting instead. We will meet in Niamey, Niger in October, 1997. To be able to communicate fast and easily, the Federation has agreed to fund the setting up of a Global Green e-mail network, coordinated by the NZ Greens. There will be a database of global addresses, a calendar of Green events, elections etc, and conferences and web pages of information, and campaigns. We hope parties will build bi-and multi-lateral relationships, exchange information and join forces in campaigns. We hope it will be completed in 1997.

Several Federation Committee members visited the Greens in the US during the 1996 election campaign, and we were very encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm and commitment of the activists, and impressed by the vision and organization of the Nader campaign. Having lived all my political life in the UK with its very similar electoral system, I have a lot of heartfelt sympathy for the struggle you have in getting recognition, and breaking the two-party stranglehold. Being marginalised by the media, excluded by the law, and ignored by the voters as a "wasted vote" is all sadly familiar territory to me. Yet both the US and UK Greens have broken through in some places and gotten people elected, or frightened the winners by coming very close to victory. It is possible to have influence without power.

It is possible to have influence without power.

The European Greens badly need a US sister party -- daily we are confronted with lost opportunities: the multinationals are carving up the planet between them, exporting their pollution and bottom-line values to the most vulnerable peoples and most fragile ecosystems. NATO dictates to small nations, WTO (World Trade Organization) and MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments) remove the last remnants of democratic control, and all the time the climate worsens, and people all over the world are being devalued.

There was a time when we had a progressive left in Europe; it mobilized workers and thinkers in every country. It came near to changing Europe into something worthwhile, with social justice and democratic control. It never considered the planet, although it might have learnt with time. But its thinkers never faced the Soviet reality, only the dream, and when it collapsed, so did they. Today the European left is a confused mass of contradictions: some have embraced the values of the right in an attempt to "modernise," others pretend that it's still 1960. The workers are marching again, but it all feels like whistling in the dark.

By contrast, the Greens in Europe are united, growing in impact and numbers, and the voters are responding by giving us their votes. We may be hungry for change-pundits talk of us replacing the socialists as the conscience of politics. But in today's world of global markets what use is one small continent on its own?

Greens too are multinational if we have effective allies in all continents. As the other parties adopt our ideas and public opinion catches up with our thinking, we must dare to think big if we want to succeed. Our roots must always remain local and our activity human-scale, but we should be able to confront those who threaten the future, and realise the time has come to act globally!

Full Members of the European Federation of Green Parties (as of May 1997)

Agalev (Flanders, Dutch-language state) Belgium (1)
Alternattiva Demokratika, Malta
Bulgarian Green Party
Bundnis 90/die Grünen, Germany (12)
Comhaontas Glas, Ireland (2)
Confederacion de los Verdes, Spain
Ecolo (Wallonia, French-language state) Belgium (1)
Estonian Greens
Federatione dei Verdi, Italy (4)
De Groenen, Netherlands
GroenLinks, Netherlands (1)
Dei Greng, Luxembourg
De Gronne, Denmark
Die Gruenen, Austria (1)
Georgia Greens
Green Party of England and Wales
Gruene/Les Verts, Switzerland
Les Verts, France (1)
Miljopartiet de Gronne, Norway
Miljopartiet de Grona, Sweden (4)
Os Verdes, Portugal
Politiki Oikologia, Greece
Scottish Green Party
Strana Zeleny, Czech Republic
Strana Zelenych, Slovakia
St.Petersburg Greens, Russia
Partia Zelenych Ukrainu, Ukraine
Vihrea Liitto, Finland (1)
Zold Alternativa, Hungary

Numbers in parentheses indicate number of Green Group members in the European Parliament. Observers, Applicants, etc: Young European Greens, Albanian Green Party, Greens Union of Armenia, Azerbaijan Greens, Lithuanian Greens, Slovenian Green Alternative, Cyprus Greens, Green Fraction in the Freedom Union, Poland.

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