HISTORY - LEADERSHIP - POLICY - PROSPECTS
A SERIES ON PARTY GROUPS IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
PART IV: The Greens | EFA
By Moritz Osterhuber
A Green History in the European Parliament
When the European Council finally agreed to organise the first-ever direct elections for the European Parliament in 1979 - a democratic commitment legally enshrined in the 1957 Rome Treaties - Green parties from the nine EEC Member States organised and formed a federation. It went by the name Coordination of European Green and Radical Parties (CEGRP) but was little more than a loose partnership of convenience. It did not put forward a common programme for the 1979 elections and no representative of a Green national party was elected. This, however, was soon to change.
Five years later, in 1984, Green and Radical parties were more united and agreed on concerted action, passing a Joint Declaration and rallying under the European Green Coordination (EGC). 11 MEPS were elected and subsequently formed the Green Alternative European Link (GRAEL). The Greens’ salience and influence in the parliament increased over time and was coslidated into the European Green Party that we know today in February 2004, ahead of the elections of the same year. The Greens thus bundled and integrated the efforts of parties that they describe as ‘pan-European’ but remained in essence primarily national political vehicles into a full-fledged European party with common campaigns, policy positions and manifestos.
In the parliamentary work, the Greens form the biggest faction in a party group with independent MEPs, minority repesentatives and pirate parties named “The Greens/European Free Alliance”. It was founded in 1999 under the banner of a social and environmental agenda to improve living and working conditions and ensure individual rights for all EU citizens. It subsequently advocated to bolster the powers and therefore clout of the European Parliament in oversight activities and legislative procedures. The group is also committed to decentralisation, the principle of subsidiarity and solidarity in its vision to bring about a European Union based on multi-level governance and guided by social, cultural and ecological values.
The Greens/EFA Fact
Earlier this year, the Greens/EFA urged the European Parliament to invite the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg to speak in front of the plenary. Various party groups however voiced their opposition to the idea, including the EPP, ALDE and the ECR. Greta Thunberg still got the chance to address MEPs in the Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) in April. Her visits part of a larger series in which the EP invited 60 climate activists to discuss future environmental policy. After Greta Thunberg’s speech, Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP, lead candidate for the 2019 elections and former researcher at the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, encouraged his colleagues to turn verbal commitment on environmental protection into tangible votes. Before, Greta Thunberg had urged politicians to ‘panic like the house is on fire” – not an unlikely long-term scenario with unaltered emission levels.
Figureheads – Statesmen – Leaders
The Greens/EFA’s Spitzenkandidaten for the post of the Commission Presidency are Ska Keller and Bas Eickhout. None of the currently 28 Commissioners or heads of state and government in the European Council currently come from a member of the Greens/EFA parliamentary group in the Parliament.
The Green Policy Platform: “If the climate were a bank, governments would have saved it long ago”
Greens largely believe that the EU in its current state of affairs is torn between two poles that shape politics but also impede meaningful progress and perpetuate stagnation. These poles are nationalists on one side and conservatives on the other. In the group’s narrative, the former largely come in the shape of populists, demagogues and Euro-sceptics that want change at the expense of democracy, fairness and equality. The latter, on the other hand, would merely seek to maintain status quo relations and would contribute thereby to “destroy […] our common future”. Against this background, the Greens/EFA pledge to offer a ‘third way’. What they propose is a mixture of classic welfare state economics with environmentalism and liberalism. That is a reinforced commitment to democracy, inclusion, individual rights and the rule of law alongside a market economy that puts “people and planet […] before profit”.
Naturally, climate change and the multifaceted challenges it entails for European societies and economies is thecommon thread and dominating theme in the Greens/EFA programme for 2019. Key demands include (but are not limited to):
- Taking decisive action to combat climate change and its effects
This includes taxing kerosene and other greenhouse gas emitting industries, while phasing out coal-fired plants, increasing energy efficiency and transitioning to energy supply that is fed 100% from renewable sources. The party group is also dedicated to investing heavily in greens industries and relocating public and private funds from fossil fuel industries to sustainable sectors. Further proposed measures include to impose a VAT on flights (the aviation industry is an industry oddly left out), improve train services across the continent and implement a comprehensive reform of agricultural policy that limits the rural sector’s negative impact on the environment.
As climate change is the key topic for the Greens/EFA in this 2019 elections there are plenty more proposals to discover and details to dive in but broadly speaking. the Greens/EFA are committed to delivering on the EU’s pledge to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030 as agreed in the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and pledge to guide the EU into an environmentally sustainable future.
- Gradual Evolution of the European Union in a full-blown framework of multi-level governance according to the principle of subsidiarity
- Sustainable and Fair Relations with Third Countries and the Wider World, including a Firm Commitment to the International Multilateral Rules-Based System
Here, the Greens/EFA emphasise the need to ‘practice what you preach’, meaning that ecological and social standards within the EU-28(27) cannot be compromised or watered down by free trade and other agreements with countries outside the Union.
- Reform of the Economic and Monetary Union in a way that ensures fairness between all Member States and leads to convergence of economic performance and living standards across the Union
This point is perhaps best summarised by the keywords Cohesion, Socio-Economic Fairness and Redistribution. The Greens/EFA pledge to end tax discrepancies between EU Member States to prevent excessive benefits for corporations that move operations to low-tax environments within the Union. An increase in sustainable
With a manifesto and party programme built on environmental protection, investment in green technology and transition to renewable energy sources, what the Greens/EFA are actually proposing is close to a ‘Green New Deal’ for the European Union. In fact, the party group’s platform for the EP elections in 2009 bore the title “A Green New Deal for Europe”. This was after journalists from the New York Times and British think tank New Economics Foundationseriously contemplated the concept in 2007 and 2008 but almost a decade before a variation of the proposal got introduced to the US Congress. The Greens/EFA’s plan for 2019 still includes major issues from 2009, including substantial investment schemes and minimum wages, and encapsulates the essence of what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey are proposing for the US.