Home News The Green Party is dead. Long live the Green Party!

The Green Party is dead. Long live the Green Party!

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The facts cannot be concealed: in last week’s European Parliament elections, the Green Party lost a third of its seats and suffered a crushing defeat.

In recent years, the European Union has become the world’s most ambitious frontier in the fight against climate change. The EU has achieved this through major policy shifts, such as setting high targets to reduce emissions, preparing to abandon the internal combustion engine, promoting natural restoration and curbing the impact of agriculture on the environment. Green parties in the 27 EU member states have successfully promoted this agenda.

But over the past few years, there has been a clear change in the views of a large segment of European voters.

European voters are anxious about the war in Ukraine and its impact on defense and the economy. The cost-of-living crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic continues to plague the EU’s core member states. Curbing immigration has become a focus for voters. In this new priority, the Greens seem to have lost their appeal – or, worse, to seem out of touch with reality.

“Europe has certainly done a lot on climate action,” Bas Eickhout, a prominent Dutch Green politician and vice president of the European Green Party, said in an interview. “But especially after the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis caused by inflation, I think now there are a lot of people who are worried and asking, ‘Well, can we afford it?’ ”

There are a number of explanations emerging as to why the Green Party performed poorly at the election.

Centrist parties have cannibalized the Green Party’s support by incorporating much of its agenda into their own policies. However, the Green Party’s own identity has failed to fully develop. This has made the Green Party appear to be too narrowly focused on climate, an issue that has fallen down the list of voters’ priorities.

But there is a broader trend working against Europe’s Greens: growing opposition to climate change policies as part of a wider culture war.

In many places, the nationalist agenda of far-right parties has been reinforced by populist appeals to economically strapped citizens. Right-wing parties have risen among voters by specifically targeting Green parties, saying they are unfit to protect poorer working people in a rapidly changing society.

For many voters, the Greens have failed to demonstrate that their proposals are not just expensive, anti-growth policies that would hurt the poorest the most. Some see them as elitist city dwellers who are oblivious to the costs of transitioning to a less climate-harming lifestyle.

Eickhout said the attacks on Tesla have taken hold. “They’re portraying this transition as a very elitist transition that’s only for ‘Tesla people,’ ” he said. “I can tell you that Tesla’s image is already not good.”

Then there are Europe’s farmers, who have protested strongly over the past two years against green policies, particularly those that seek to limit the use of agricultural chemicals and introduce nature conservation measures that would erode farmland. Those protests have spooked moderate voters and politicians.

In Europe, the Greens poll particularly poorly in countries where they are part of governing coalitions, primarily Germany.

Five years ago, a huge youth movement powered the Greens to a fifth of Germany’s vote, but now that they are in the governing coalition, their influence has been eroded. “The Greens can’t please the young progressive voters they want to include while also appeasing wealthier moderate voters,” said Sudha David-Wilp, regional director of the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin office.

The Greens’ poor performance in Germany has caused widespread repercussions, as Germany is the most populous country in the European Union and therefore holds the largest number of seats in the 720-seat European Parliament.

The Green Party’s prospects are not bleak everywhere. The Green Party has performed well in Nordic countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden, possibly in part because of the higher levels of economic prosperity and longer climate change debate in these countries.

They have made surprising gains in eastern and southern Europe, including Italy and Spain, where Green parties have traditionally been weak and in some cases have never elected Green representatives to the European Parliament.

Perhaps the most complex political landscape for the Greens is in the Netherlands, a country with a particularly strong climate change movement, a uniquely organized and powerful farmers’ movement, and a very successful far-right movement. Won the national election late last year.

There, the Greens formally ran in coalition with the social democratic Labour Party and won the election, pushing the far-right party into second place.

For the Greens, this successful collaboration could serve as a model for alliances in upcoming local and national elections elsewhere in the EU, Eickhout said.

“It’s absolutely vital that the Greens have wider credibility, not just on climate,” he said, adding that working with the Social Democrats could help create a compelling progressive alternative to the conservatives and the far right while staying true to the Greens’ climate roots.

The Greens’ poor performance has prompted lamentations that the EU’s Green Deal – a set of policies the bloc has adopted to combat climate change and limit its own contribution to it – has failed.

Experts say those concerns are unrealistic: Many policies designed to meet ambitious carbon-reduction targets are already law.

But Simone Tagliapietra, an expert on EU climate policy at Bruegel, a large Brussels think tank, warned that there was a very real risk of delays and weakening of policies due to a loss of green momentum.

And removing funding for Green Deal policies could also undermine their effectiveness. To avoid this, the EU should push for a joint budget that invests in the green transition and protects the poorest from any economic fallout, he added.

“The radical transformation of the Green Deal raises a thorny question: who will pay for it,” Tagliapietra said. “If these costs end up falling disproportionately on ordinary workers — not to mention the poorest and most vulnerable — then the transformation will exacerbate inequality and be socially and politically unworkable,” he added. “This is not an option.”

Christopher F. Schutz Reporting contributed by Berlin.

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