Will EU enlargement scuttle or strengthen the objectives of the newborn pan-European Green Party?

Publish date: March 1, 2004

Written by: Soizick Martin

BRUSSELS—A gathering of more than 1,000 members of 32 Green Parties and party leaders from 29 different countries converged on Rome late last month with the goal of establishing a single European Green party to replace the Federation of European Green Parties, or FEGP.

The new pan-European Green Party seeks to be nothing less than the political voice for green issues in Europe and to strengthen the Green contingent’s showing in the European Parliament’s upcoming election, which will be held between June 10th and 13th, said Co-President of the Green/European Free Alliance Parliament group

“Our movement has shown more unity, more determination and more spirit than ever before for achieving the kind of world we believe in”, said Co-President of the Green European Parliament group Monica Frassoni in remarks after the Rome conference.

“Despite our relatively small size as a Group in the European Parliament, we have achieved major political successes. We will have a tough fight on our hands in the next few months but with our new-found spirit of integration and cooperation—the spirit of Rome—we can make Europe a better place for everybody.”

New entrants have weak environmental tradition
But such high hopes could possibly be dashed by the absorption into the European Union, or EU, in May as the EU absorbs 10 new countries from the Eastern Bloc and Central Europe, where a tradition of environmental activism is lacking or has in the past been quashed by authorities. Five of the new countries entering the EU—Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia—operate antiquated nuclear power plants. All but Slovenia operate Soviet design reactors that are well past their prime.

Close to 1,300 participants, 221 delegates and 200 members of the media attended Rome summit which ran from February 20th to 22nd, according to reports from the European Parliament Green figures. The second day of the meeting was held in the town hall of Rome, the highly historic place where the treaty creating the European Economic Community in 1957 was singed by the so-called “6” comprised of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The new Party’s plan is to “green Europe,” phasing out nuclear energy, promoting renewable energy sources and campaigning against genetically modified food. The Greens/European Free Alliance group in the EP is currently composed of 44 members, of the 626 EP seats.

Cautious Optimism
Speaking at the Rome Congress, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher said that for the EU to fully play its role in the world, it should focus on representing equality, agreeing on a new constitution and developing a sustainable international economic policy. He also announced that he wouldn’t run for election to the EP or to any job in the European Commission.

“Beautiful ideas are all very well”, he said, “but we must fight for power. It’s a challenge. We must keep our values, but we must also be realistic”.

Sometimes differing in their opinions, Green politicians nonetheless committed themselves to a common cause. The objective of the coordinated campaign launched Rome is to get 45-50 Green MEPs elected. A global structure for the campaign will be created, with common posters and slogans, as well as a common web site and a “green dream team” composed of all the heads of the party lists of national Green parties.

One sign the new Green party may be able to achieve some of its goals came on the first day of the gathering, when Vaira Vike-Freiberga, president of Latvia—which will be entering the EU on May 1—appointed that country’s former environmental minister, Indulis Emsis, to the post prime minister, the first Green prime minister of any European nation.

On Friday 20, Europe got its very first Green Prime Minister, when the President of EU entrant Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga asked former environment Minsiter Indulis Emsis to form a government.

New EU countries from Soviet Bloc lack environmental experience
The Greens, however, will have to campaign hard in the EP elections, as they are unlikely to benefit from the absorption of the 10 new eastern bloc states, where environmental movements are at a stand-still. Analysts suggest that these countries seek the economic boons associated with EU membership, rather than the environmental ones.

“We will have very few elected parliamentarians in the accessing countries,” said Co-President of the Green EP group Daniel Cohn-Bendit in an interview with the French daily newpaper, Le Monde.

“Today at the East, there are small groups, which increasingly support an environmental position. But we can learn a lot from the German experience. At the beginning, the environmental movement was almost non-existent in the German Eastern Landers after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But little by little, it became a political reality. This is because a middle class is emerging with new reflexes to address the economic evolution."

Current Member States also pose a challenge
But the Greens also face political challenge among the EU 15 current Member States.

Each of these countries, apart from Germany, will lose some seats in the new system that will take effect after May.

For France, for example, which currently represents the biggest Green delegation in the EP with nine MEPs, is sure to lose seats because of new election procedures that will govern the June election. Even if the French obtain the same healthy 9.72 percent they did .1999, they would, come June’s election, have only seven elected parliamentarians.

The German Greens, however, have good chance to make a stronger showing than they did in 1999 when they were divided on the question of military intervention in Kosovo. In 1999, they scratched out seven seats instead of their previous 12. Then three MEPs left the group to join the Socialists and Communists. And Cohn-Bendit is sure that German Greens will “double or triple their results” in June.

The new Greens and the Environment
The Green electoral campaign launched in Rome will be based on a manifesto that was adopted by the FEGP in November 2003. Along with issues of the environment, globalisation, democracy and peace issues, EU Greens intend to pay specific attention to sustainable development, and to what Cohn-Bendit calls “the energy revolution” in the lines of Le Monde.

“What is the future?” Cohn-Bendit asked.

“The future is wind power, solar energy, energy efficiency and hydrogen through solar origin. This is an ambitious scientific programme—we are the Party of the future. The perspective for the future science is based on renewable energies, and the nuclear option is a science from the past."