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Synthesis/Regeneration 20   (Fall, 1999)

Europe-wide, Greens advance despite shift toward center-right.

French Greens Surge Ahead
in Elections for European Parliament

by Rene Wadlow, Editor, Transnational Perspectives

The conflict in Kosovo overshadowed the campaign for the 626 member European Parliament, elected from the 15 countries of the European Union on the basis of proportional representation. On June 13, 1999, the deputies of the European Parliament were elected on a national basis-the number depending on the population of each country. They will group themselves into political parties or confederations of parties seated in a traditional left-right semi circle. The Greens have 36 seats in the new Parliament, up from 27 in the outgoing Parliament. The biggest Green advance was in France where the group elected nine members to the European Parliament, having had none in the previous session of the Parliament. Each Parliament is elected for a five year period.

It was not that the Kosovo war was hotly debated during the campaign but rather that the war and refugee flows drew all the psychic energy available that would otherwise have been given over to the issues to be debated in the upcoming parliament: employment, immigration, agriculture, food security, urban-rural balance and planning, social security, and energy policies. The flow of Kosovo refugees widely reported on television created an outpouring of sympathy and concrete actions of food and clothes collection, and other forms of humanitarian aid. From small villages through large cities, there were collections of food; plans were made for refugee families, etc. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, Europeans were made conscious of other Europeans leaving houses like their own, needing clothes and goods like their own. There was a form of cultural identification with the situation that did not exist for other massive refugee flows such as those from the Sudan or Rwanda. For older Europeans, the bombing, fleeing persons were a reminder of the Second World War, and of events which they never expected to see in Europe again.

The Kosovo conflict raised passions but mostly a numbing sense of "how could this happen here?" The positive response was to deal massively with the humanitarian response. Questions of security in the Balkans, of the future political status of Kosovo, of the punishment of genocide and other war crimes was left to be decided later or by specialists. When the campaign for the European Parliament was mentioned, usually at the end of the television news, viewers were worn out emotionally. The low price that European farmers receive for pork did not have the same impact as the vision of people who had been wandering along mountain paths for days without any food.

In most countries, the debate for the European elections was a mirror image of the debates for the national parliaments, very often with the same political personalities involved. National issues such as employment, agriculture, education, health and social security are at the center of debates within most countries of the European Union. Although there is a strong influence of the European Union on all these issues, the influence is indirect and complicated. Thus most political candidates do not take the time to explain how European- level decisions are translated through national parliaments and administrations to the local level. Some candidates probably do not know the answers; others feel that people are not really interested and so make no effort to explain.

The exception to this rule was the leader of the list for the French Greens, les Verts, Daniel Cohn-Bendit who has been an active deputy in the European Parliament since 1994, having been elected originally in Germany as a member of Die Grünen. The election laws for the European Parliament allow a citizen of any of the 15 member states to run for election to the European Parliament in any of the states. Some parties have a few, often token, "foreigners" on their list. No other party had a non-citizen as head of the list-sure for election if the party receives more than 5% of the votes.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit is not particularly a "team player" and does not make a strong distinction between his personal views and the party doctrine.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, however, was well known in France, having been one of the student leaders of the manifestations of May 1968. His photo, facing a tall policeman, is in all the history books to illustrate the strongest popular uprising in France since the end of the Second World War—a month and a half of riots, debates, and new publications. He was also a hope for a European future, symbolizing the person at home in more than one national culture. Daniel Cohn- Bendit was born in France 53 years ago, his father being a left-wing German-Jewish lawyer who had left Germany for France as soon as Hitler came to power. The family had returned to Germany in 1957 but Daniel wanted to do his studies in France where his older brother was also studying. By 1968 he was a student leader in Paris—the right place at the right time to influence discussions on the nature of a new society. Being German, Jewish and left wing did not endear him to the French police authorities, and at the height of the demonstrations, he was expelled from France and forbidden to return. That edict remained in force for 10 years. Thus Cohn-Bendit made his way to Germany.

From 1989 to 1997 Cohn-Bendit was deputy mayor of Frankfurt in charge of multicultural affairs, a new and experimental post in a city in which 25% of the population are foreigners, some of whom, like the Turks and the Kurds or the Serbs and the Kosovars, do not like one another and are often disliked by the ethnic Germans. In 1994 Cohn- Bendit was elected to the European Parliament where he played an active role, especially on social and foreign policy questions. He was a leader in the European Parliament's efforts for peace in Algeria. Daniel Cohn-Bendit is a close friend of Joschka Fischer, the Grunen leader, now Foreign Minister of Germany, and as such, a key player in the Kosovo conflict.

Cohn-Bendit, knowing well how the European Parliament works and enthusiastic that the Parliament can be the vehicle for better control by the people on the technostructure if the European administration ran a campaign closely centered on European issues with a strong social and ecological dimension.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit is not particularly a "team player" and does not make a strong distinction between his personal views and the party doctrine. Thus some of the French Greens were not overly happy when he was chosen to lead the list. The Green Party leader, Dominique Voynet, is the Minister of the Environment and did not want to give up that position to run for the European Parliament. However, the Green Party members quickly realized that Daniel Cohn-Bendit had a wide appeal. Ecological ideas need to have a recognizable face. Moreover, as a German citizen, he had no ambitions within the French political system.

With Daniel Cohn-Bendit as leader, the French Greens moved from 2.95% of the votes in 1994 elections to 9.71% in 1999 getting nine people elected to the Parliament. The Independent Ecologist Movement, led by a former president of the Greens, who had also served in the European Parliament, Antoine Waechter, received 1.5% of the votes, making the total ecological vote over 11%, the second strongest current on the left, after the Socialist Party which received some 22% of the votes.

The French Greens have the largest number of ecological deputies in the new European Parliament, followed by 7 from Germany, 4 from the Netherlands, and 2 each from Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Austria, etc., making a total of 36. As there are 40 deputies who did not run on a party ticket, there may be a few more who will join the Green Group once the parliament structures itself—it being virtually impossible to have any constructive role as a non-party independent.

My analysis of the Cohn-Bendit victory is to stress the need to have a highly visible and articulate engine for party success.

The Greens are now a solid part of the European Parliament structure based on their vote gathering potential at the national level. My analysis of the Cohn-Bendit victory is to stress the need to have a highly visible and articulate engine for party success. Good ideas are not enough, leadership must be embodied in someone who can explain, who comes across well on television, and in public meetings, who knows how the system works but who does more than work the system. The leader must be a symbol of the aims of the movement and must be able to design programs once elected. Daniel Cohn-Bendit has many of these qualities and, without being copied, can serve as inspiration to others.

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