By Joakim Ydebäck
Green environmental parties have had a lot of impact on contemporary politics since they emerged in Europe during the 1980s. The impact is evident when we look at breakthroughs like the Paris Agreement, unifying the world’s nations around an environmental cause. And in the autumn of 2018 we have seen the green movement spring to life once more, challenging waves of right-wing populism and breaking new ground in Europe.
A new and greener political landscape
It has been said before but can be said again: Europe is a continent in political transformation. Old ideologies and old parties do not seem to have the answer for new problems, such as migration and climate change. Europeans have in recent years tried to find new solutions when old ideologies, like social democracy and liberal conservatism, have failed to solve these obstacles. Many have turned to alternative ideologies such as right-wing populism and national conservatism, propagated by political parties like Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Rassemblement National (RN), Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) and Sverigedemokraterna (SD), to name just a few. Parties like that have gained prominence and contested the political structure in many countries. However, another alternative has sprung to prominence in elections in recent months: the green alternative.
Germany leads the way
It became clear after the German federal election in 2017 that the two dominant parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), failed to gain the voters’ support. Instead, the newly formed nationalist and social conservative AfD entered the Bundestag and became the third largest party. Nevertheless, a new and shaky grand coalition was formed with Angela Merkel serving as chancellor for a fourth and final time. After a series of crises within the government many voters have fled to other parties. However, according to a recent German poll carried out by the polling service Civey, where 10,005 Germans were asked, it is stated that the most successful party is not the right-wing AfD but rather the environmental and green party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen. In fact, Die Grünen’s triumph in polls makes it Germany’s second-largest party with a large margin, dethroning the SPD who has struggled with voter support for a long time.
The green impact in German politics became even more clear in the local state elections in Bavaria and Hessen. There, the smaller parties which are not part of the federal coalition in Berlin gained significant support. In both cases, Die Grünen became the second largest party and gained considerable new support. What that means for the upcoming state elections and the upcoming federal election in 2021 remains to be seen. Why Die Grünen is benefiting from the political uncertainties in Germany is unclear. However, it has been stated that they represent a middle ground in German politics, a sort of center alternative, that interests both right-wing and left-wing voters. If a party fails to live up to its supporters’ expectations, voters are more keen to give their support to someone else. In Germany, Die Grünen represent an ideology that is favoring openness and globalism and, by being outside of government, are gaining from being in opposition.
A growing trend
This new phenomenon is not exclusive to Germany. It appears that similar green parties, who emphasise the importance of sustainability and environmental preservation, have recently gained large or small successes in neighbouring countries. In the federal election in Luxembourg this October, the environmental party Déi Gréng was the only party from the current coalition government that gained support, gaining three seats in parliament. Meanwhile, in the local elections in Belgium, which also took place in October, the Flemish party Groen and the Francophone Ecolo rallied a lot of support in most provinces and municipalities. Last year in the Netherlands, eco-socialist GroenLinks became the largest left-wing party in parliament, mostly at the expense of the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid. GroenLinks has since then come to contest the role of second largest party in the most recent polls. One Nordic country where green politics have had a lot of impact is Iceland, where the incumbent prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir belongs to the eco-socialist party Vinstri Græn.
What’s next for green parties in Europe?
What would green dominance in Europe mean? We have seen in recent decades how green politics have spread to older political parties, questioning old ways of living and thinking. The biggest triumph yet for the green movement is perhaps the Paris Agreement. And even though that agreement has not been successfully applied yet, with the United States wishing to leave it, it is clear that environmental issues are rapidly gaining attention in international politics. Despite this apparent positive trend, it is a rather new occurrence. Green political successes have been very sparse in Eastern Europe. There, right-wing populist and Eurosceptic parties have become very prominent. In the Nordic countries, agrarian parties are rallying support rather than green parties. During the election in Austria in 2017, their green party failed to reach the four percent threshold, despite the Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen being closely associated with them. In France, a liberal movement headed by President Emmanuel Macron dominates the political scene. And, because the recent upswing for green parties is a new occurrence, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what will happen in the future of European politics. Will green parties take a more definite leading role? If they do, we can expect questions regarding climate change and environmentalism to become even more discussed and highlighted in political debate. Perhaps such waves of globalist and liberal ideals will act as a counter-movement against the traditionalist and anti-globalist tendencies in Europe. We await the elections to the European Parliament in the spring of 2019 with excitement!
Joakim Ydebäck is studying at the Peace and Development Program at Uppsala University. After that, his goal is to somehow make the world just a little bit better. If he were to be offered the position of foreign minister, he would not say no. His four main interests include talk radio, international opinion polls, political crises and somber jazz music.
Cover photo: Georg Kurz
Pictured are Ludwig Hartmann and Katharina Schulze, top candidates for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the Bavarian state election in October 2018, celebrating record results.