What is behind the EU election’s ‘green wave’?
Europe’s Green parties surged unexpectedly in last week’s elections, squeezing the centre and confronting the populist nationalists
Europe’s Green parties pulled off one of the only great surprises of last week’s European elections, increasing their number of MEPs from 51 to 69 - nearly 40% - to emerge as a voting bloc with game-changing new power.
In what some commentators have dubbed a “green wave”, Die Grunen doubled their vote in Germany, coming second to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, while Greens finished second in Finland, third in Belgium and France, and swelled in Austria, the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Europe’s traditional parties of the centre contracted, losing 70 seats and their majority in parliament, though while Euro-sceptic populists won big in Italy, Hungary, and France, as the New York Times reflects, “it was not the deluge that many traditionalists had feared.”
Instead, given populists’ antagonism to the European project, and fragmentation over issues such as their stance on Russia and LGBTQ rights, the Greens are likely now be central to passing legislation, and as a result wield significant parliamentary leverage.
“We have been in a transactional mode so far,” Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens, told the Financial Times. “Now we have the chance to be in a more stable relationship [with other political groups]. We want to be closer to the source of the legislation."
Ska Keller, the group’s other co-president, was clear about their agenda. “It’s a big task and a great responsibility to now put voters’ trust into concrete action to concrete climate protection, into promotion of the social Europe, as well as democracy in the rule of law – here into practice in the European parliament,” she said.
While in the UK the Liberal Democrats were resuscitated as a political force by standing as the clearest counterpoint to the nationalist right, there is a consensus that elsewhere in Europe, Green parties that have played that part. “It is not just that the populists often side with climate deniers”, reflects the Telegraph. “On almost every issue, the Greens are their diametric opposite. While the populists are Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant and nationalist, the Greens are Europhile, immigrant friendly and cosmopolitan.”
In Germany, the Greens have been so successful that Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Alexander Gauland declared that the party now represented “our main enemy.”
The Independent dives deeper on the the demographics driving the surge: “gains for the parties, which are generally pro-EU, environmentalist, and left-leaning, appear to have mostly been concentrated in urban areas and amongst younger voters. An exit poll in France had Les Verts topping the votes of the 18-24 age group with 22 per cent, well ahead of the other parties. In Germany, the same age group showed 34 per cent voting Green – with the next largest party, Angela Merkel’s CDU, on 11 per cent.”
“Our voters, especially the younger generation, for many of whom we are now their first choice, are deeply concerned about the climate crisis, and they are pro-European – but they feel the EU is not delivering”, Bas Eickhout, a Dutch MEP, told the Guardian. “They want us to change the course of Europe.”
The new Green agenda is less hard left, and more cosmopolitan than its older iteration. Its voters have grown up in global cities and are less sceptical about open economies. This spirit is particularly alive in the German Green movement, writes Richard Ogier in the Independent, who argues that given their resounding success, theirs is the blueprint to follow if the green wave is to bring permanent change.
“The way forward, perhaps, is to join the passion of old green radicalism to the more contemporary, inclusive German approach. To seek what French political scientist Antoine Colombani has called 'virtuous interactions' between market forces and government policies for transformative change.”