Europe's Greens Have Reason to Celebrate - and to Mourn
By Julio Godoy
Despite their strong showing in Germany, the Green parties won just 34 seats in the European Parliament. And in the Eastern European countries not one Green lawmaker was voted in.
PARIS, (Tierramérica).- Germany's Die Gruenen (The Greens) won nearly 12 percent of the vote in the Jun. 13 elections for the European Parliament, among the best results the party has seen in its 21 years of electoral activity, confirming its place as the country's third political force.
But at the same time the German Greens fear an end to their participation in the national government and lament the poor showing by Greens in the rest of Europe.
Germany's Social Democratic Party, with which the Greens are the minor partner in the government coalition, obtained just 21.5 percent of the vote, its worst showing since 1953 -- testimony to the discontentment left-leaning German voters are feeling in regards to the neoliberal social and economic policies the two parties have implemented.
But Krista Sager, parliamentary leader of Die Gruenen, said the election results tested the "modern" nature of her party's voters.
"Our electorate is modern and not ashamed of the policy that our coalition has put into practice," she said, reiterating the argument of social democratic leaders about the need to cut social security benefits in order to "modernize" the country.
Despite Sager's expression of satisfaction, the party receiving most votes in Germany for the European Parliament was the conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union -- which augurs for a premature end to the governing coalition.
And the victory of the German Greens does little to compensate for the mediocre results of the environmental parties in the rest of the European Union. In France, Les Verts (The Greens) had won 10 percent of the vote in 1999, but this time around received just 7.4 percent.
Overall, the Greens will send 34 lawmakers to the European Parliament, based in Strasbourg. They will represent just five percent of the 732-member body, and hold three fewer seats than they did during the legislative session that ended on Jun. 13.
The modest outcome is noteworthy because it comes after the first region-wide coordinated campaign of the European Green Party, which was founded in February with the stated intention of beefing up the environmentalist presence in the EU lawmaking body.
"We want to win the European parliamentary elections in June and consolidate the political presence of the family of Greens (as a) political body that can act in the continental arena," Italy's Monica Frassoni, re-elected to the Euro parliament, had said in a Tierramérica interview back in April.
But the European Green Party will have representatives in less than half of the 25 EU member states and is now only the fifth political force in Strasbourg, behind blocs of liberals and extreme right-wingers, which won 66 seats each.
As in Germany, the votes in the rest of the EU seemed to be dominated by protest against the policies of the national governments -- which are separate from the Euro parliament's -- and in some cases, such as in Austria, the Flemish region of Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands, racist or clearly anti-EU minorities made their voices heard.
Furthermore, the majority of the electorate -- an average of 55 percent -- stayed home. The abstention rate hit 80 percent in parts of Eastern Europe, like Poland, which joined the EU on May 1 and participated for the first time in Europe's parliamentary elections.
The high abstentionism is being chalked up to the fact that many believe the European institutions "are not concerned with essential matters like employment, economic growth, and the defense of public services," and at the same time are responsible for measures that are unpopular at the local level, Pascal Perrinau, director of the French Institute for Observation of Political Life, told Tierramérica.
Among such measures, he cited the example of "the ban on homemade production of certain types of cheese, a much-loved gastronomical tradition" in France.
Environmentalism, which led to the founding of Green parties in Europe 20 years ago, is no longer the main concern of voters, particularly those from the 10 new EU members of Eastern Europe, who did not elect even one Green politician to the European Parliament.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, coordinator of the European Green Party's electoral campaign, admitted that the Greens are facing an immense challenge in those countries and will have to "invest a great deal of time and effort" to create a presence in the new EU member states.
But he said the European Greens "can be pleased with the results," and that "the losses in some countries were compensated with the excellent outcome in others, like Germany."
* Julio Godoy is an IPS correspondent