The pragmatism of the greens makes its way in Europe

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It is not yet clear who will become the next German chancellor, the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz or the Christian Democrat Armin Laschet. But what is known, except for a capital surprise, is that the Greens, the party that a group of environmentalists, pacifists and feminists founded in the late seventies in Karlsruhe, have in their hands to decide who replaces Angela Merkel at the head of the first European economy. If the negotiations bear fruit, they will be the second most important partner of the future tripartite, they will occupy the vice chancellery and aspire to key ministries, such as Finance. His triumph, celebrated by environmental groups from all over Europe, gives wings to the golden dream of a Franco-German axis of green governments that place the climate crisis in the preferential place that, they defend, corresponds to it.

The French elections, seven months from now, may become confirmation that the time for the greens in Europe has come. Environmental parties are already part of the governing coalitions in Belgium, Austria, Finland and Luxembourg, and their electoral base is growing in Switzerland. In France, their enormous success in municipal elections has led them to the mayoralties of large cities such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Grenoble and Strasbourg. The phenomenon, however, seems restricted to the center and north of the Union. The rise of the green parties has not reached the south. In Spain Equo, the only national environmental group, does not even go to the elections under its own initials but is integrated into the More Country platform. The group of environmentalists in the European Parliament barely has members from southern countries. Spain contributes two, Portugal one, but Italy and Greece none.

The Greens who today triumph in Europe are no longer the seasoned activists in protests who made opposition outside the Parliaments of their countries. Moderation and the search for the center vote, the one that identifies neither with the left nor with the right because they seem outdated categories, explains, for example, the rise of Die Grüne in Germany. The evolution towards pragmatism of the party led by Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock is not as recent as it may seem, although it has accelerated since the tandem presides over the formation. The process began in the 1990s, when the Greens reentered Parliament after failing in the first elections in the then newly unified Germany. The government experience – they entered the Executive of the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder in 1998 – put them face to face with reality and confronted the leadership with a good part of the militancy. Perhaps the worst slap was when Joschka Fischer, representative of a pacifist party, supported the intervention of the German Army in Kosovo as Foreign Minister.

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Stepping on the carpet of Parliament confronted the two currents of the German environmental party, then highly ideological. On one side were the slings (of fundamentalists), in favor of keeping the founding principles unaltered, and the Realize (of realists), moderates and pragmatists who believed that to change things you had to get into the political game. Today there are practically no slings in Los Verdes. The Realize they dominate the party, which is cohesive and has shown strong and stable leadership during the electoral campaign. While Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats were embroiled in an ugly internal dispute over the joint candidacy for the Chancellery, with the head of the Bavarian CSU, Markus Söder wanting to snatch it from the leader of the CDU, Armin Laschet, the environmentalists set an example of elegance and tune in by naming Baerbock a candidate without airing personalistic fights.

Sven Giegold, Die Grüne MEP, assures that his training has not lost idealism, but has combined it with realism to advance the green agenda. In the last decade German environmentalists have entered into coalitions in 11 of the 16 countries (Länder), where they have 40 ministers. They have been a government party for a long time, but they had to return to the federal arena that they abandoned almost 20 years ago. Now they do it with another image, of a modern, young party, which is no longer defined by what it prohibits but by what it proposes. The 14.8% of the votes they obtained in the general elections gives the measure of their recent growth. They fell far short of what the polls indicated in the spring, when it seemed that Germany was going to have its first green chancellor, but they almost doubled votes compared to 8.9% achieved in 2017.

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French environmentalism is also installed in moderation. The victory in the environmental primaries, this week, of the moderate Yannick Jadot against the leftist Sandrine Rousseau, reflects a desire to present to the Elysee a green candidate that is neither anti-system, nor favorable to degrowth, and even, at some point, has figured in the pools to be Minister of the Environment with the centrist president Emmanuel Macron. Jadot is an ecologist who does not scare, a government ecologist, an ecologist who would also be easy to imagine in The German Greens of 2021. He is an ecologist who, on paper, could take advantage of the downwind for his political option. His party, Europa Ecología Los Verdes (EELV), with him at the top of the list, gave the surprise in the last European elections: it was third with 13.5% of votes, double what the polls anticipated. His ideas are hegemonic: each in his own way, almost all the parties and the aspirants to govern France, from the extreme left to the extreme right, defend the environment and the fight against climate change.

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But the candidate faces considerable obstacles in his career to the Elysee. The first is the division of your own field. He won the primaries, in which more than 100,000 French people vote, but he did not convince. The advantage is minimal, with 51% of the vote for Jadot compared to 49% for his rival, Rousseau. One cannot speak of a mass conversion of French environmentalists to pragmatism. And many Rousseau voters feel closer to the radical and populist left (and now green, like almost all parties) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon than to Jadot’s consensual environmentalism.

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The second obstacle, for Jadot, is the overabundance of candidates on the French left. There are five registered in the polls. In addition to Jadot, the socialist candidate and mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo; Mélenchon; the communist Fabien Roussel, and the ex-socialist Arnaud Montebourg. Too much supply for the low demand in a country that, according to several polls, leans to the right.

Jadot has a specific problem with Hidalgo. Both will fight for an almost identical space: that of social environmentalism, a center-left with a deep green conscience, but at the same time – and unlike other options on the left – favorable to the European Union and the free market economy. Jadot’s advantage is his decades-old green credentials – he was a Greenpeace leader in France -, the relative novelty of his face on the French scene, and the rise of the green brand compared to the decline of the Socialist Party. The advantage of Hidalgo is his experience of government in a big city like Paris, where he has governed in alliance with the greens and can present tangible results: he has promoted an ecological revolution with the opening of bike lanes and the incipient expulsion of the car from the urban center .

The question is, first, if Jadot will annul Hidalgo, if just the opposite will happen or if both will annul each other. There are polls that give both a support below 10%, far from going to the second round in which the two most voted candidates concur. The second question is whether, finally, one of the two will end up withdrawing to support the other in the form of a ticket or coalition. The polls in the coming months will give clues for the tiebreaker. Jadot, already elected as a candidate in the 2017 green primaries, ended up withdrawing in favor of the socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon. Today he could consider that it is up to Hidalgo to give him the square and that his turn has finally come.

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