Author - Aditya Mathur
Green parties, who were once considered extreme outliers, are slowly but steadily making inroads into mainstream politics, notably in Europe. Greens have grown from single-issue environmentalists to broad-based political parties capable of winning elections and serving at the highest levels of government all around the world.
With climate change becoming a real issue and traditional parties losing support to numerous alternatives, greens are in a better position than ever to play a larger role. They may even lead the next administration in Germany, the world's fourth largest economy. However, topics such as nuclear energy, military power, foreign policy, and cooperation with right-wing and populist parties continue to split the movement.
What is a green political party?
Green political parties are part of a larger social movement that aims to realign civilisation in more sustainable and humane paths, according to proponents. Their environmental concerns started with nuclear power resistance, but have now expanded to encompass climate change, pollution, and industrial agriculture. There are about eighty full-fledged green parties, according to the Global Greens network.
They frequently cover a wide range of interrelated social and economic topics. The majority of green parties have stated that they will support the following four pillars:
● Nonviolence, ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, and social justice
● Opposition to war and the weapons industry, particularly nuclear weapons; distrust of global trade agreements and the consumerist industrial culture;
● a desire for decentralised decision-making and localism;
● and a dedication to social justice, including racial and ethnic fairness, economic equality, and women’s empowerment.
What is their significance?
Greens are ready to play kingmaker in several of the world's most powerful countries, and their decisions will increasingly define public policy and democracy's destiny.
According to some analysts, the health of democratic regimes around the world is deteriorating. The world is fifteen years into a "democratic recession," according to Freedom House, a pro-democracy watchdog group based in Washington, DC. Rising populism, according to CFR Senior Fellow Yascha Mounk, is fuelled by deteriorating living standards and malfunctioning institutions. Meanwhile, some evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic's economic and social devastation, as well as the perception of bungled responses in leading democracies, has eroded public trust in authorities.
Greens are further complicating the political calculus in the middle of this upheaval. Because of their outsider position, they have been able to capitalise on discontent with the current system, while their distinctive philosophy has attracted adherents from both sides of the traditional left-right divide. Some analysts argue that they are uniquely positioned to attract disgruntled voters away from the far right—especially since Germany's greens have tacked to the centre in many areas, supporting international institutions such as the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance.
What are the main points of contention among global green parties?
Internal divisions within the Green Party have long existed, resulting in leadership battles, splintering parties, and ongoing disputes about how to capitalise on the party's growing popularity.
The most fundamental disagreements revolve around the movement's very essence. Some regard it as largely an activist movement devoted to direct action and civil disobedience, such as the eco-terrorist group Earth First! Others, on the other hand, advocate a more traditional election tactic. The "realos," or moderates, and the "fundis," or radicals, have battled it out in Germany. The latter was epitomised by Petra Kelly, the founder of the West German Green Party, who regarded it as a "anti-party party" but whose vision was mainly overshadowed by the moderates, especially following Fischer's entry into power in 1998.
Other topics of discussion among greens include:
Policy on energy. Despite their lengthy resistance to nuclear power, some environmentalists, most notably in Finland, are revising their views in light of the pressing need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Technology, globalisation, and economic expansion all play a part. Some greens maintain more extreme critiques of perpetual economic expansion, consumerism based on energy-intensive commerce and supply chains, and technology remedies to climate change, echoing historical conflicts between activists and pragmatists. They advocate for "degrowth," or a drastic reduction in both production and consumption to sustainable levels. Others advocate for "green growth" and are willing to consider technical solutions like carbon capture and geoengineering.
Nonviolence is a commitment. Green parties advocate peaceful conflict resolution and disarmament, if not pure pacifism, a stance that has been put to the test by their engagement in government policy. The Greens in Germany have endorsed a number of military interventions, and greatly support NATO.
The European Union's Role Most European green parties are pro-EU, but given the elements of localism and decentralisation in their philosophy, this hasn't always been the case. The original Danish green party was expelled from the broader European green confederation in 2008 due to its euroskepticism, and Sweden's greens campaigned against the country's admittance into the EU.
Environmental conservatism on the right. Environmental protection is combined with nationalism, distrust of government, and opposition to left-wing attitudes to immigration, secularism, and social liberalism by a small but persistent right-wing strain of green politics. Mainstream green organisations have largely shunned these groupings, as witnessed most recently with the Latvian Green Party.
What are the opponents' complaints?
Political opponents of the Green Party have long portrayed them as parties of starry-eyed youth and rich urbanites. Greens in Europe are striving to change their image in order to compete for working-class voters. Experts say their utility is still limited in Southern and Eastern Europe, where growth is weak and unemployment is high, as well as in many rural areas across the continent. Greens' criticisms of industrial development have sparked suspicion even in wealthier countries, such as Germany's manufacturing powerhouse. Greens should find ways to effectively pitch their proposals to heavily unionised areas like the automotive industry, according to labour organisations.
The months-long Yellow Vests protests in France, which were started by an environmentally justified hike in the country's gasoline tax that disproportionately impacted lower-income workers, demonstrated some of these issues. Leaders of the Green Party claim they've learnt from the Yellow Vests and promise strong redistributive policies to guarantee that climate efforts don't disproportionately affect the poor.
What does the future hold for green politics?
The various European green parties have the strongest potential prospects in the next years. Germany, in particular, has been at the epicentre of broader European trends such as centrist parties' diminishing popularity, the growth of populist, anti-immigration, or otherwise fringe parties, and the debate over energy policy, with Berlin's commitment to close all nuclear reactors by 2022. The German Greens are polling well ahead of national elections in September 2021. Some experts believe they will form part of the future administration, with Annalena Baerbock, its leader, as the next chancellor.
The irony, according to observers, is that the greens symbolise stability and continuity rather than the anti-establishment radicalism of the 1980s during this turbulent moment in German politics. Uwe Jun, a German political scientist, claims that the party is transitioning from childhood to adulthood. "It's a lot more pragmatic, and extreme ideals aren't as important."
While the Baerbock-led party is advocating for more severe climate targets—70 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, up from the present aim of 55 percent—it is also positioning itself as the centrist option in other areas. The party's foreign policy agenda is pro-EU, considers NATO "indispensable," and is harsher on China and Russia than any other major political party. It is particularly opposed to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, which Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has backed against US opposition.