A “green wave” swept the European Parliament on May 26, 2019 as Green parties across Europe had their strongest-ever EU parliamentary election performance. Bas Eickhout (left, the Netherlands) and Ska Keller (right, Germany) are two of these recently-elected Green European parliament members. (Photo: © Sien Verstraeten / European Greens)
The European Parliament ushered in a new wave of Green party members for its 2019 election. Jon Henley, Europe correspondent for the Guardian, talks about what’s on the Green party agenda and how deconsolidated power in the European Parliament will encourage parties to compromise.
BASCOMB: From PRI and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bobby Bascomb, in for Steve Curwood.
Every 5 years, citizens of the European Union elect new representatives for the EU Parliament. And in the elections that wrapped up on May 26, voters gave a clear signal that the environment was high on their list of priorities. Green party members gained roughly 20 seats on top of the 51 they had previously, many at the expense of some center-left seats. For more, Jon Henley, a Europe correspondent for the Guardian, joins me now from Paris. Welcome to Living on Earth, Jon!
HENLEY: Thank you.
BASCOMB: So, Jon, just how big and where were the Green party’s wins this go-around in the EU Parliament elections?
HENLEY: Well, they were, they were big. And they were unexpected. I guess the big standout performance was in Germany, where the Green Party actually finished second, behind the ruling sort of center-right conservatives of the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and they beat her coalition partners, who are the big Social Democrat, kind of center-left Party in Germany. And they came in on around about 18%. I mean, they basically doubled their score in Germany over the previous European Parliament elections. So, they finished second in Germany, they also finished second in Finland. And really surprisingly, something that nobody saw coming at all, they finished third in France, where they’re led by a, kind of a former leading Greenpeace official in France called Yannick Jadot. And they stole a lot of votes, particularly from the sort of Democrat center-left party in France.
BASCOMB: What do you think propelled so many people to vote for the Green Party this time?
HENLEY: Well, there’s several reasons. The main one, I guess, pretty obviously, is that the climate crisis has really shot up everybody’s agenda in Europe over the last few months. We’ve had the kind of Friday for Future protests, which have got masses of young people — school students and, and college students — out on the streets, you know, in towns and cities around Europe. We’ve had the two big kind of UN Climate reports, really saying that, effectively, time is running out.
So, people have become a lot more conscious of the whole climate debate in Europe, and they turn logically enough to the party that has had a very strong stance on the environment for many years now, which is the Greens. That’s one factor.
A second factor, particularly in kind of northwestern Europe — countries like Sweden, and Germany, and Denmark, and the Netherlands — increasingly, the national Green parties in those countries are either in the national government, like they are, for example, in Sweden, they’re part of the governing coalition that runs the country, or they’re in kind of regional governments and local government. That’s particularly the case in Germany, they co-run 11 out of the 16 German states. And they’ve proved themselves to be very responsible, and very effective in government. And as one sort of political scientist said to me the other day, you know, when you compare the Greens, who’ve been in government, local and national government, to the kind of wackier fringes that you see, you know, coming up on the kind of nationalist, populist end of the spectrum, then, you know, if you’re a reasonably progressive voter, then the Greens really start to look like the adults in the room.
And I guess the final reason is that they’re really benefiting from a trend that we’ve seen across Europe over the last two or three, four years, which is a complete kind of fragmentation of the political landscape. Basically, the two big parties that have run most European countries since the end of the Second World War, kind of the center-right, Christian Democrat, kind of conservative parties, and the center-left Socialist, Social Democrat parties — are really kind of shrinking quite quite rapidly and quite fast. And they’re being supplanted by, or they’re losing lots of votes to, a whole range of smaller parties, both on the, on the right, on the far right, so the kind of nationalist populist fringe, but also on the left. And the Greens are very much part of that progressive move. MORE