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Greenwashing politics?

Why green parties are not a solution to climate woes

By Martyna Hanak

Image courtesy of European Greens via Flickr


Green wave, green ripple. Europe is turning greener at last. Climate awareness has reached record levels and citizens seem more ready than ever to prevent the planet from going down in flames. And now, the green wave is sweeping over European politics, with a major success in the European Parliament elections of 2019 and recent German federal elections, where the Greens were topping the polls for a shockingly long time. And then, they lost. What could have been the EU’s first fully green government remains but a promise of success in the next elections. Or maybe the ones after that?


Despite catchy slogans and a bona fide mission at the core of their political agenda, European greens are not ready to save the world. And if they don’t solve their identity crisis soon, their time might just never truly come.


Are the greens left or right? Well, it depends. Economically and socially, they tend to exist on the left side of the spectrum. At the same time, their fondness of decentralisation puts them at odds with their socialist peers. In Germany, the Greens are vocal about their support for NATO — a military structure not particularly adored by the left.


There are hardly two green parties in Europe which could see eye to eye. Disagreements range from attitude towards nuclear energy (while hugely disfavoured at the beginning, the resistance seems to have thawed recently, for instance, in Finland), economic growth and globalisation (there have been attempts, rather futile, to separate capitalism from consumerism), nonviolent means of action and plenty others.


Furthermore, as we have yet to see a green majority government, the obligation to join coalitions has created further divides on the green front. In Austria, Greens formed a government with right-wing, anti-immigrant conservatives from the People’s Party.


This flexibility results in confusion of the voters; confusion, in turn, leads to distrust. With policies ranging from far-right to far-left, there is virtually no single common ground for Europe's greens. A common goal remains—saving the planet, to put it simply, but the means to achieve it vary so drastically it’s almost a miracle that the Greens/European Free Alliance still manages to function at all.


The Greens were born in the 1970s out of dissatisfaction with politicians’ passivity towards environmental matters. They were an outcry, an anti-party party. Now, they eat lobsters in parliamentary halls. Granted, in a highly political world, tree-sitting can only get you as far; elected politicians enjoy a considerably greater potential to advocate for their cause. It’s hard to shake off the feeling, however, that a chunk of legitimacy has been lost in the journey. Formerly activists, now merely cogs in the big machine, forced to form coalitions and thus make substantial concessions.


The 2020 Irish elections are a recent case of betrayal, as evidenced by an exodus of prominent members from the Irish Greens after joining the two big players, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, in the government. No tough stance on oil and gas licencing and humble climate commitments earned them a label of neoliberal establishment and corporate puppets.


Climate change played a major role in the recent Norwegian Parliamentary elections, with a nationwide debate surrounding the gradual abandonment of oil and gas exploration at the forefront. Yet the Green Party (Miljøpartiet De Grønne) only managed to garner a modest 3.8% of vote. The party’s former spokesman, Rasmus Hansson, morosely remarked: ‘other parties in Norway have cashed in on our hard work.’ Blinded by a personal defeat, however, Mr Hansson seems to be missing the sight of a promising political trend—the bigger parties begin to care, too.


Long gone are the days when environmental protection existed on the periphery of the political debate. As the problems arise, so do the awareness and, most importantly, the desire to counteract. There remains virtually no large European party which could ignore the issue altogether in their agenda. As climate change enters the political limelight, the Greens are no longer the only group equipped to provide a solution. As follows, climate-aware voters can now turn to parties with more comprehensive programmes while keeping a clear conscience.


With climate change becoming the war of the many, not the few, are we heading towards the future where green parties will become redundant? Paradoxically, if they lose their monopoly on environmental concerns, it will mean that they will have achieved their very goal—introducing climate policies to mainstream politics and engaging all sides of the political spectrum in the supranational rescue mission.