A Polarised Finland

The 2019 European elections saw Green parties achieve their best ever result. Their new weight in a fractured European Parliament is an opportunity for progress on climate, democracy and the rule of law, and social justice. Green parties often perform better at European elections but this time the success is sustained elsewhere. Local elections in the UK, national elections in Portugal, government coalitions in Finland, Sweden, and Luxembourg – the Greens are advancing at all levels. The major caveat is that the “green wave” is absent from much of southern and eastern Europe. Part of our latest edition looks at where political ecology made electoral gains, bringing together analyses of five Green parties to see where they stand. Simo Raittila looks at where the Finnish Greens stand after entering a progressive coalition government in 2019.

The EU elections of 2019 were the Greens’ best result to date. The second largest party, the Greens gained two MEP seats and a third one since Brexit. Since then, Heikki Isotalo, press officer of the Finnish Greens, has calculated that support for the old parties has dropped below 50 per cent for the first time based on polling from late 2019. While the Greens have steadily increased their support through the decades, the right-wing populist Finns Party, another “young party”, has pocketed between 17.5 and 19 per cent of the vote in the three parliamentary elections since 2011. Finnish politics is highly polarised.

The political divide seems to have moved on from a traditional economic left-right divide to social and cultural issues or identity. Political scientists have named one alternative political axis “GAL-TAN” (Green, Alternative, and Libertarian versus Traditionalist, Authoritarian, and Nationalist). The Greens and Finns benefit from this: Greens stand strongly for climate action, the old parties are on the fence, and the populists are firmly against.

As power has shifted, it is increasingly hard to build a solid coalition government in the Finnish parliament. Two of the old established parties (the Social Democrats, the Centre Party, and the National Coalition Party) are insufficient as a base; now the younger parties have to be accommodated. Future coalitions will have to rely on broad-based cooperation over the left-right divide or always include either the Greens or the Finns Party. A minority government would be another solution, but one that has not been seen in Finnish politics for over 40 years.

The current government includes the Social Democrats, the Centre Party, the Greens, the Left Alliance, and the Swedish People’s Party.
To oppose the rise of the populist right, Green New Deal policies need to materialise and to be on a scale large enough to change the narrative and to give people hope and trust in a just future. The Greens especially need to deliver now that they are in office.

One fear is that the parties in the coalition will only be able to agree on watered-down solutions. If the Finns Party becomes popular enough, some Centre Party and National Coalition politicians have already hinted at cooperation. These signals were sent even though the Finns and its politicians have become more openly racist since their botched coalition with two more moderate conservative parties from 2015 to 2017.

This article is part of our latest edition, “A World Alive: Green Politics in Europe and Beyond”.

The Greens in a New Ireland

The 2019 European elections saw Green parties achieve their best ever result. Their new weight in a fractured European Parliament is an opportunity for progress on climate, democracy and the rule of law, and social justice. Green parties often perform better at European elections but this time the success is sustained elsewhere. Local elections in the UK, national elections in Portugal, government coalitions in Finland, Sweden, and Luxembourg – the Greens are advancing at all levels. The major caveat is that the “green wave” is absent from much of southern and eastern Europe. Part of our latest edition looks at where political ecology made electoral gains, bringing together analyses of five Green parties to see where they are and to assess their prospects for the years to come. In Ireland, major advances at the European elections in 2019 were carried through to a strong general election result in early 2020. With government negotiations still up in the air, Dan Boyle explains how the Irish Greens bounced back.

After the elections in February 2020, three parties are near identical in their parliamentary numbers. Comhaontas Glas (the Green Party) is now the fourth largest party. The biggest winners were left-wing Sinn Féin. The most likely scenario is a government with a Fianna Fáil (most seats) — Sinn Féin (most votes) nexus. Though it could depend on independents, a third party would give the coalition greater stability and the Greens will be first approached. At the time of writing, the outcome is uncertain.

Today seems a long way from March 2011 when, as a member of the Seanad (the upper house), I witnessed a new government elected in the Dáil (the lower house). Some weeks earlier the Greens had left government, precipitating a general election in which the party lost all of its seats. The Greens’ first experience of government coincided with the global downturn of 2008. There would be no Green participation in the following parliament. We had been told that government participation had thrown back environmental politics in Ireland by a generation.

Eamon Ryan made himself available to lead the party back from the wilderness. The party returned to its volunteer roots to reorganise. The commitment of these volunteers, especially a newer, younger cohort, proved crucial to the party’s revitalisation.

The first electoral tests were local and European elections in 2014. The party won an additional 10 seats in local councils, steady if not spectacular. Green parliamentary representation was restored in the general election of 2016, giving the party access to state funding again. With this support, the party began to professionalise in many areas, including the better management of membership databases, improving social media messaging, and engaging in greater outreach, especially outside of Dublin.

Ireland, whose politics had never been that ideological, was becoming more liberal. Public votes on same-sex marriage in 2015 and abortion rights in 2018 saw a new Ireland emerge. This liberalism helped the electorate see the Green Party in a positive light. In the local and European elections of 2019, the party quadrupled local government representation and elected two MEPs.

What the recent successes will mean for the Green political agenda remains to be seen. The main issues on which the election was fought, housing and health, can easily be accommodated between the parties. It is on environmental policy where agreement will be difficult. While Sinn Féin talks approvingly about sustainability, it is committed to infrastructure spending biased towards roads and against public transport and even talks of reducing Ireland’s small carbon tax. A 7 per cent yearly reduction in emissions will be Comhaontas Glas’s priority for any programme for government.

This article is part of our latest edition, “A World Alive: Green Politics in Europe and Beyond”.

The Wild World of Belgian Politics

The 2019 European elections saw Green parties achieve their best ever result. Their new weight in a fractured European Parliament is an opportunity for progress on climate, democracy and the rule of law, and social justice. Green parties often perform better at European elections but this time the success is sustained elsewhere. Local elections in the UK, national elections in Portugal, government coalitions in Finland, Sweden, and Luxembourg – the Greens are advancing at all levels. The major caveat is that the “green wave” is absent from much of southern and eastern Europe. Part of our latest edition looks at where political ecology made electoral gains, bringing together analyses of five Green parties to assess their prospects for the years to come. Here Luc Barbé explains where Belgium’s two Green parties, Groen and Ecolo, sit in a divided political landscape.

Belgium has two Green parties: the Dutch-speaking Groen in Flanders and Brussels and the French-speaking Ecolo in Wallonia and Brussels. Most observers saw the results of Ecolo as a handsome victory, although the party achieved a few per cent more in 1999 and 2009. The results of Groen were a major disappointment. Given the polls and the prominence of the climate crisis, it had hoped for much more.

Ecolo is a member of the Walloon and French Community governments. Ecolo and Groen are members of the Brussels government and may also participate in the federal government, depending on negotiations in early 2020.

There are two common challenges for both parties. European climate policy has changed significantly in recent months with the new lending policy of the European Investment Bank, new standards for sustainable investment and, especially, the EU Commission’s European Green Deal. Despite its questionable coherence – where is agricultural policy? – for many citizens, this appears to be a structural break. Making it clear that tackling the climate crisis requires more than just greening the current economic model here and there will be a major challenge. That climate change is becoming increasingly visible should help both Green parties. Expert report after expert report confirms that intervention is urgent. Young people are likely to take to the streets more often and voices from the world of business calling for a carbon-neutral society are growing louder.

Possible federal government participation poses challenges for both Ecolo and Groen. The next government will be faced with a difficult budgetary situation with little room for manoeuvre. Will the new government be willing and able to pursue a radical climate policy? What about social justice and migration policy? How will these questions play out in a federal government run by an unwieldy coalition of seven or eight parties? Ecolo will be able to point to achievements in Wallonia, Brussels, and the French Community governments. Groen will not have that possibility. In order to convince voters in 2024, both parties will need to develop projects of their own that look to the future and that can counter-balance potential fallout from government participation.

Groen faces three specific challenges. First, to part of the electorate, the party’s message comes across as urban, elitist, and moralising. Other parties do their best to reinforce this impression. The party has been trying to correct that for years, but so far with only modest results. Second, under pressure from extreme right-wing Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) and separatist New Flemish Alliance, diversity and migration have been the most important issues in Flanders for years. Groen positions itself as the radical opposite to these parties and its core voters appreciate that. But other potential voters are deterred by Groen’sradicalism. For too many voters, Groen has a disquieting, even threatening, position on both the open/closed society and the climate fault lines. How do you deal with that without giving up your values?

The third challenge for Groen is the tension between the Green programme and science. The trend of fact-checking in the press generally works well for Groen. But on GMOs and 5G, Groen has faced attacks from journalists because, according to them, the scientific foundations of the party’s positions are either weak or non-existent. The pressure may increase in the coming years and reduce the party’s credibility. Will Groen in 2024 finally become a medium-sized party with the support of 12 to 15 per cent of the electorate? That objective is not yet within reach, but it is a pre-condition for a real place in Flemish party politics.

Ecolo has a specific challenge of its own. In the last year, new movements such as Extinction Rebellion have been organising civil disobedience campaigns in municipalities where Ecolo is in the majority and therefore jointly responsible for policing. Ecolo finds itself on two sides, creating tensions within Ecolo and between Ecolo and movements and citizens. In French-speaking Belgium, the demand for participation and co-management has grown in recent years. Many municipalities organise citizens’ committees and the Brussels Parliament has mixed committees of citizens and members of parliament, a radical and innovative initiative. In the coming years, Ecolo has the opportunity to strengthen these dynamics further.

The current context in Belgium offers Ecolo and Groen promising opportunities, as on climate, but also challenges, such as possible government participation. Belgian politics has been unstable for years and election results are volatile, particularly in Flanders. In the next elections in 2024, parties could rise or fall by 5 or 10 per cent. This naturally causes great nervousness in party headquarters. The winners of the next elections will be those parties with a novel and compelling story. Participation in government will improve the image of some parties and seriously damage that of others. Finally, one question is crucial. How can Green parties encourage people who, rightly or wrongly, resent politics because they feel that they are living in a time of social decline to believe in a better future of socially just and inclusive green change?

This article is part of our latest edition, “A World Alive: Green Politics in Europe and Beyond”.

A Step Up for the German Greens

The 2019 European elections saw Green parties achieve their best ever result. Their new weight in a fractured European Parliament is an opportunity for progress on climate, democracy and the rule of law, and social justice. Green parties often perform better at European elections but this time the success is sustained elsewhere. Local elections in the UK, national elections in Portugal, government coalitions in Finland, Sweden, and Luxembourg – the Greens are advancing at all levels. The major caveat is that the “green wave” is absent from much of southern and eastern Europe. Part of our latest edition looks at where political ecology made electoral gains, bringing together analyses of five Green parties to see where they are and to assess their prospects for the years to come. The first is journalist Peter Unfried’s analysis of the German Greens.

The German Greens were originally defined by guilt over the Holocaust and World War II, the social liberalisation of 1968, and the anti-nuclear movement. The party was characterised by “Green culture”, a minority attitude which assumed the mainstream to be culturally and morally inferior. Realpolitik was less important than being seen to be different. This imprinting meant that many important developments passed the Greens by – as in the case of German reunification or the development of a power-political European Union.

This changed decisively with the election of Winfried Kretschmann as prime minister of the Baden-Württemberg region in 2011. The fact that the Greens now had their first prime minister encouraged large sections of the party to move away from their usual “know it all” worldview.

This change in outlook did not reach the federal level until 2018, with the election of Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck as party chairs. They named their first country-wide summer tour “Unity and Justice and Freedom”, the title of the national anthem. In the past, state-sceptical Greens would have found this outrageous, but Habeck reinvented them as the defender of the res publica, its institutions, and the constitution.

Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP and long-standing chair of the European Greens, divides the party’s history into three phases. Phase one represented total opposition (“against”). In phase two, the party became somewhat constructive, entering into coalitions with the Social Democrats, but was seen as narrowly focused on the environment and gender (“for and against”). Now, phase three represents the attempt to become the leading force of a new, heterogeneous majority (“for”). The political backdrop is the failure of the former federal “people’s parties” to find an answer to the climate crisis, the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and the dwindling viability of the half-right, half-left politics of compromise to which the Federal Republic owes a good 70 years.

That the Greens will be part of the next government is clear to almost everyone, from German industry to Emmanuel Macron. The question is whether they will play a central role, and what they can achieve in Brussels with the help of the Scandinavian, Benelux, and above all the French governments on socio-environmental transformation, the defence of liberal democracy, and European prosperity and security. Their success in forming majorities in the European Parliament will be crucial. If the German European Greens stay stuck in the second phase and waver between progressive policies and a grotesque “it’d be nice if it were nicer” form of opposition, it could prove problematic. The “green wave” of the EU elections did not apply to the EU parliamentary group. It applied to Baerbock and Habeck alone.

This article is part of our latest edition, “A World Alive: Green Politics in Europe and Beyond”.

All Ground Is Fertile Ground: Attitudes to Ecology across Europe

From the changing climate to people’s immediate surroundings, ecological issues tangibly shape daily lives everywhere. While perceptions vary from place to place, fundamentally the environment knows no borders. To question conclusions too easily drawn about the link between political trends and geographic differences in economic prosperity, we went back to the numbers to learn more about attitudes around Europe. Looking at surveys on three issues – climate change, organic farming, and biodiversity – as well as figures on real exposure to air pollution, the picture that emerges is complex. If but a snapshot, it challenges common assumptions to deepen our understandings of what ecology means on the ground.

This article is part of our latest edition, “A World Alive: Green Politics in Europe and Beyond”.

Europe Ecologie – Les Verts après les élections européennes : quitte ou double

La tendance historique des écologistes en France lors des différentes élections est d’alterner résultats brillants et déconvenues amères. Dans cette mise en perspective du bon crû 2019, Emiliano Grossman explore les conditions auxquelles le succès éclatant et relativement surprenant d’EELV aux élections européennes de 2019 pourrait s’inscrire dans la durée – et faire mentir enfin le schéma des marées vertes qui montent et redescendent sans cesse. Outre la nécessité de fédérer un électorat très divers et plutôt volatil, vite fatigué par les dissensions internes, il insiste sur l’urgence pour EELV de se doter d’une stratégie claire de dépassement de ses réflexes historiques. Et rappelle sans la nommer, l’intérêt d’ouvrir une fenêtre d’Overton pour l’écologie en favorisant le clivage environnemental, dont la diffusion aux extrêmes du spectre pourra conférer au parti de l’écologie la centralité électorale nécessaire à la constitution des majorités.

Après une séquence électorale présidentielle-législative 2017 très décevante, prolongeant les difficultés rencontrées depuis 2012, Europe Ecologie – Les Verts (EELV) a pu reprendre des couleurs à l’occasion des élections au Parlement européen de juin 2019. Avec 13,5% des suffrages exprimés, dans un contexte de hausse de la participation souvent défavorable à cet électorat plus mobilisé, EELV n’a pas seulement déjoué tous les pronostics, mais il a également approché les 16,3% du scrutin de 2009 – à ce jour le meilleur résultat d’un parti vert dans un scrutin national.

Le contexte était sans doute favorable: les mobilisations de lycéens un peu partout ont contribué à la visibilité des enjeux climatiques. Et bien que la campagne européenne n’ait été ni très vivante, ni très suivie, les enjeux environnementaux se sont imposés. Or ils restent associés à EELV, même si d’autres partis tentent régulièrement de se mettre en avant sur cet enjeu. EELV a ainsi profité de la mobilisation de la conscience écologique au sens large, plus que de la mobilisation de ses seuls militants.

Néanmoins, l’interprétation de ces résultats en termes de tendance reste délicate. 2017 n’était-elle qu’un accident? EELV a-t-il été simplement une victime collatérale des bouleversements du système partisan français ? Le résultat de 2019 serait-elle alors le « vrai » poids de l’écologie en France ? Ou, au contraire, n’est-elle que le produit d’un contexte favorable? Comme souvent, la vérité se situe quelque part entre ces deux marques, dans un espace qui comporte autant de risques que d’opportunités.

EELV aux européennes, un résultat à ne pas surestimer

De manière générale, au vu des variations historiques du vote vert en France, les résultats des européennes sont à prendre avec précaution. En effet, si les écologistes français, dans diverses configurations partisanes successives, ont souvent obtenu des bons résultats aux élections européennes, ils ont rarement réussi à reproduire ces résultats à l’occasion de scrutins nationaux, comme le montre le graphique ci-dessous.

Graphique 1 – Résultats électoraux des partis écologistes en France (19892019)

Comme on peut le voir, les résultats exceptionnels obtenus aux élections européennes de 2009 ont été suivis de résultats médiocres aux élections présidentielle et législatives de 2012. Les résultats aux élections municipales – ici pour les villes de plus de 30000 habitants – sont meilleurs, mais n’ont dépassé les 10% qu’une fois en 25 ans. Les raisons de cet écart entre les résultats aux européennes et ceux des autres élections sont connues. Les Verts, en France et ailleurs, ont traditionnellement adopté l’Europe comme partie intégrante de leur corpus doctrinal, et non comme une menace. Ils ont, de ce fait, régulièrement fait campagne sur l’Europe quand la plupart des partis de gouvernement prenaient soin de rester aussi évasifs et souples que possibles sur la question – à l’exception de certaines générations du Parti Socialiste fortement attachées au projet européen. Face à la montée d’un sentiment eurosceptique depuis le début des années 90, les Verts sont souvent apparus comme une des rares offres politiques véritablement pro-européenne. Mais il est vrai aussi que la faible participation à ces élections diminue en général la part des partis de gouvernement et augmente, mécaniquement, celle des autres partis, dont les Verts. De manière générale, les partis au pouvoir – à l’exception de 2019 – tendent à négliger cette élection en France, considérée comme plus favorable à l’opposition. Les élections européennes ont toujours été et restent en France des élections de “second ordre”, selon l’expression forgée à l’origine par les politistes allemands Karl-Heinz Reif et Hermann Schmitt. C’est sans doute ce qui peut expliquer aussi les scores relativement bons aux élections régionales. Cependant, les configurations assez diverses des listes vertes à ces élections – plusieurs listes concurrentes, EELV autonome, gauche plurielle, alliances ponctuelles – les rendent plus difficilement comparables dans le temps.

En revanche, les élections législatives et présidentielles mobilisent, elles, l’ensemble des partis au maximum. Les dépenses, les efforts pour accroître la présence médiatique et la mobilisation des militants atteignent leur zénith pendant les campagnes pour ces élections, réduisant l’impact des organisations partisanes plus faibles en membres et moyens financiers. L’implantation locale d’EELV plus faible en dehors des villes explique quant à elle les dynamiques des résultats aux élections municipales.

Les chiffres passés ne plaident donc pas en faveur de bons résultats aux municipales de 2020 ou à la présidentielle et aux législatives de 2022. Mais y aurait-il des raisons d’espérer mieux ?

Un contexte enfin favorable ?

A l’évidence, le contexte a changé depuis 2009. La visibilité des enjeux environnementaux est désormais structurelle ; les mauvaises nouvelles du climat s’accumulent et une prise de conscience d’une ampleur inédite semble à l’œuvre, sous l’impulsion, notamment, des plus jeunes générations, comme le souligne le phénomène Gretha Thunberg. Dans les sondages, les Français sont de plus en plus nombreux à mettre le changement climatique au premier rang de la liste de leurs préoccupations. On a vu les effets de ce contexte favorable en juin 2019, quand les sondages prédisaient pourtant un score bien plus faible.

Si ce contexte favorable se maintient, il rend pour autant l’analyse des résultats des européennes aussi un peu plus incertaine. Car il est plus difficile de déterminer ce qui dépend des mérites de la campagne d’EELV et de l’attrait de ses leaders et de leurs prises de position, d’une part, et ce qui est dû à des éléments contexte qui dépassent très largement le parti.

Le graphique 2 présente ainsi l’évolution du vote entre 2017 et 2019 pour les principaux candidats et partis. Les données proviennent de deux vagues du panel ELLIPSE du Centre de données sociopolitiques de Sciences Po (CDSP). Les données n’étant pas pondérées, ce n’est pas les résultats électoraux qui nous intéressent ici, mais bien les “migrations” électorales.

On voit que les électeurs verts de 2019 viennent dans des proportions équivalentes des électeurs d’Emmanuel Macron et de Jean-Luc Mélenchon en 2017. Il est assez clair également que l’apport des votes “hamonistes”, s’il est important par rapport à ces derniers, est relativement modeste au vu des apports d’autres candidats.

Graphique 2 – Vote aux présidentielles de 2017 et aux européennes de 2019

La variété des origines des électeurs peut d’abord être considérée comme un atout : EELV semble actuellement capable d’attirer un large éventail d’électeurs aux sensibilités politiques très diverses. Il est vrai qu’aujourd’hui le parti occupe un espace clairement identifié sur le spectre politique français : clairement à gauche, comme l’illustre le graphique 3, qui fait le lien entre les partis centristes et la France insoumise. Et si l’électeur médian vert se situe légèrement plus à droite (au-dessus dans le graphique 3) de celui du PS, les deux partis se ressemblent sur ce plan. Mais nous verrons plus loin que l’essentiel de la compétition ne se joue peut-être pas ou plus seulement sur l’axe gauche-droite.

Ces “migrations” ne concernent pas que les électeurs verts. C’est l’ensemble du système partisan qui a été bouleversé en 2017. Et nous sommes encore loin d’une consolidation. Le succès de La République en marche (LRM) est pour l’instant incarné par son leader et rien n’assure que le parti pourra lui survivre, notamment, en cas de défaite en 2022. Par ailleurs, le départ d’électeurs LRM vers les Verts a été plus que compensé par l’afflux de votes “fillonistes”, comme le montre le graphique 2, changeant à cette occasion assez fondamentalement la composition de l’électorat de LRM.

Tout le système partisan se trouve donc dans un état de grande fluidité. On retrouve ici la conséquence de la concurrence du clivage gauche-droite de longue date par un clivage culturel autour des questions de progressisme ou conservatisme culturel (voir à ce titre le travail de Vincent Tiberj). Si le Rassemblement national (RN) occupe “naturellement” l’extrémité conservatrice de ce clivage, EELV serait le candidat naturel pour en occuper l’extrémité progressiste. Or force est de constater que pour des raisons trop longues à expliquer ici, d’autres mouvements lui ont régulièrement contesté cette place.

En outre le contexte est clairement propice à une plus grande insistance sur les questions environnementales. Mais la crédibilité d’Emmanuel Macron et de son parti sur ces questions reste limitée, malgré les ralliements récents de plusieurs anciens cadres d’EELV. On peut considérer avec les observateurs du champ politique que l’environnement est un enjeu consensuel : personne n’y est opposé, mais les partis diffèrent quant à l’importance qu’ils y accordent. Mais ces derniers mois ont illustré que la question du “degré” ou de l’importance est en train de devenir fortement clivante en France et ailleurs.

Un autre élément central s’ajoute ici : si EELV ne peut pas prétendre incarner le mouvement écologiste français dans sa totalité, EELV reste le “propriétaire” des enjeux écologiques dans l’arène électorale, pour reprendre une expression du politiste John Petrocik. Autrement dit, les électeurs associent cet enjeu avec EELV plutôt que toute autre force politique. De ce fait, les tentatives de la France insoumise ou des différents mouvements issus du PS de jouer la carte écologiste semblent avoir finalement joué en faveur du parti écologiste historique. Malgré leurs efforts, ces forces ont clairement échoué à apparaître comme des alternatives crédibles sur cet enjeu.

Deux perspectives émergent comme une alternative probable pour les années à venir. Premièrement, on peut imaginer que le clivage culturel évoqué se “reverdisse” ce qui obligerait LRM et le RN à prendre plus clairement position sur cet enjeu. En tout état de cause, cela se traduirait par une tendance favorable à EELV en raison de sa “propriété” sur cette question. Ou alors, on peut imaginer l’émergence d’un clivage environnemental distinct du clivage culturel. Ce clivage serait nécessairement moins structurant que le culturel, mais se révélerait probablement très puissant parmi les classes d’âge les plus jeunes.

Quelle que soit la tendance qui l’emportera, la situation présente doit donc avant tout être vue comme une occasion historique pour EELV de changer de statut. Même si ce changement n’interviendra qu’au prix d’une prise de conscience interne, pouvant générer des tensions au sein des militants historiques et de son électorat.

Une cohabitation difficile en vue

Les expériences passées, cf. le graphique 1, montrent en effet qu’EELV a souvent eu du mal à capitaliser sur ses moments forts. Certes, il est assez difficile d’évaluer quelle part des électeurs de 2017 étaient des électeurs verts réguliers qui ont dû faire face à l’absence d’un candidat vert lors du scrutin présidentiel. Le défi central est donc de comprendre les spécificités de cet électorat afin de le consolider et – si possible – l’accroître.

Where French parties sit on the Left-Right axis

Graphique 3 – Positionnement gauche-droite par parti

C’est là que se pose la question des jeunes électeurs. Si EELV est bien le premier choix à gauche pour les jeunes, il est talonné de près par la France insoumise. Malheureusement les effectifs pour ces catégories d’électeurs dans notre enquête ne sont pas assez importants pour en tirer des conclusions définitives, mais on peut soupçonner que l’importance des enjeux environnementaux sera un élément décisif dans la bataille pour les “primo-votants” de 2022. Là encore, il s’agit d’une opportunité, plutôt que d’une probabilité.

La diversité des électeurs implique un danger évident : comment faire cohabiter des sensibilités politiques aussi diverses ? Les différences entre FI et LRM semblent criantes sur le graphique 3. Et pourtant c’est bien de ces partis que pourraient (re)venir d’autres électeurs verts.

Si Yannick Jadot a dit ne pas « faire de différence entre ceux qui sont écologistes depuis une heure et ceux qui le sont depuis quarante ans », il n’est pas certain que les militants et cadres historiques d’EELV l’entendent de la même oreille. La perspective d’un changement de statut pour EELV pourrait  bouleverser l’organisation et le débat internes… même si le congrès EELV de cette fin d’année 2019 et la désignation d’un nouveau leader sous le signe du rassemblement et de la continuité semblent démentir cette potentialité.

Pour partie, on rencontre ici un problème de croissance classique pour les formations politiques en dynamique positive. Il est normal que nouveaux et anciens électeurs ne partagent pas exactement la même vision du politique, des partis et de leurs fonctions ou du travail des représentants. Il est probable également que la grande dispersion des électeurs en termes d’auto-positionnement gauche-droite fasse régulièrement problème. Mais il faut rester conscient que malgré un contexte certainement favorable, les choses ne risquent pas d’en être plus faciles pour autant. Entre volatilité passée et diversité actuelle, il est donc important de procéder de manière réfléchie et stratégique – si l’objectif est la conquête du pouvoir.

Une diversité qu’il faudra apprendre à gérer

L’électeur vert potentiel est urbain et de tous âges. Il se caractérise d’abord par sa préoccupation pour l’environnement. Son positionnement idéologique est moins clair : de l’extrême-gauche au centre, il n’est pas très attaché à un parti, pour le moment – ce qui ne veut pas dire, pour autant, qu’il ne cherche pas un foyer politique. Pour l’instant, le principal point commun à une grande partie de cet électorat est donc sa relative volatilité et sa proximité ponctuelle au parti vert ; il faut ajouter, plus fondamentalement, sa préoccupation pour les enjeux climatiques et la biodiversité. Sans une stratégie qui tienne compte des caractéristiques spécifiques de ces électeurs, des résultats faibles – classiques au vu du graphique 1 – sont à prévoir pour les échéances électorales de 2020 et 2022. Pour EELV, il en résulte une série de choix stratégiques. Quelques pistes pour les distinguer et les comprendre :

1. Un discours politique axé sur l’écologie

Autant il a été important à certaines époques de s’éloigner de l’image d’un parti “monothématique”, autant il est important aujourd’hui de privilégier cette entrée en matière. Il ne s’agit pas de laisser de côté des sujets comme les inégalités, mais de privilégier leur compréhension à travers une grille écologiste. La conciliation du large éventail de positions gauche-droite est à ce prix. Au-delà des débats de court terme sur l’opportunité de telle ou telle alliance, il est fondamental de développer un langage et des références en commun pour une partie croissante de l’électorat.

Cela implique un travail ambitieux sur le projet politique d’EELV et, plus largement, sur l’écologie politique dans la société française aujourd’hui. C’est dès maintenant qu’il faut préparer ce projet, entamer un travail de réflexion en invitant des experts, des militants d’autres pays, des acteurs sociétaux à tous les niveaux.

2. Un parti tourné vers l’extérieur

Les discussions internes, le foisonnement d’idées sont nécessaires dans la perspective du premier point, mais il ne faut pas que cela se limite aux seuls initiés. Entre les très nombreuses “défections” de ces dernières années – vers le PS, d’abord, puis vers LRM et les Insoumis et les attaques publiques entre leaders, un parti immature et instable est particulièrement décourageant pour les nouveaux électeurs.

Il faut pourtant un débat et qu’EELV soit en mesure de le structurer ; mais ce doit être un débat qui mobilise au-delà du parti. Une occasion pour des nouveaux et futurs électeurs de s’exprimer. Bruno Latour disait récemment que les jeunes générations ont besoin de décrire le monde dans lequel nous vivons. Dans ce scénario EELV serait le catalyseur, le facilitateur de cette expression des jeunes. Mais cela impliquera une ouverture réelle vers l’extérieur.

3. Une stratégie de conquête du pouvoir

Tous ces efforts  resteront cependant vains si EELV n’ambitionne pas clairement la conquête du pouvoir. Le potentiel électoral, que j’estime large, n’a de chance d’être réalisé qu’à condition d’une ambition claire et ouvertement affichée. Les électeurs nouveaux, volatiles ou futurs ne resteront que si ce parti est prêt à faire les sacrifices nécessaires, à mettre l’organisation au service de cet objectif et à y soumettre les velléités personnelles des militants et responsables historiques.

Europe Ecologie Les Verts after the EU elections: Do or Die

Over the past decades, the electoral fortunes of the French Greens have alternated between stunning performances and bitter disappointments. Drawing from the results of the 2019 European elections, Emiliano Grossman asks how EELV’s success might be sustained over time. Can the pattern of constantly rising and falling green waves be broken? Faced with the task of uniting a diverse and flighty electorate that is quick to tire of internal divisions, EELV needs a clear strategy to avoid the bad habits of the past. As ecology emerges as a new societal divide, the Overton window is moving on green issues. If they navigate this situation right, the Greens might hold the keys to power in the years to come.

After a disappointing presidential-legislative election season in 2017, which prolonged the difficulties experienced since 2012, Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV) regained momentum at the European Parliament elections of May 2019. The party won 13.5 per cent of votes cast despite a high turnout, something that can work against its more mobilised electorate. EELV outdid all forecasts and came close to the 16.3 per cent score of the 2009 election – the best result of any Green party in a French national election to date.

The context was undoubtedly favourable. Protests by high-school students pushed climate issues up the agenda. And although the European election campaign was lacklustre overall, environmental issues were central and remained associated with EELV despite the efforts of other parties. EELV thus benefited from heightened environmental awareness across society, not just the energy of its activist base.

Nevertheless, interpreting the trends underlying this result remains tricky. Was the poor result in 2017 just an accident? Was EELV simply another victim of the French party system being turned on its head? In that case, might 2019 show the true strength of ecology in France? Or was 2019 just down to favourable circumstances? As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere between the two, in a space that holds both opportunities and risks.

Don’t overestimate the success

Given the historical fluctuations in the green vote in France, European election results should be taken with caution. French ecologists, in various formations, have often obtained good results in European elections, but have rarely reproduced them nationally.

Graph 1: Electoral results of ecologist parties in France (1989-2019)

As shown above, the exceptional 2009 European election was followed by poor results in the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections. Showings at local elections – here for cities with more than 30 000 inhabitants – are better, but have only surpassed 10 per cent once in 25 years. The reasons for the discrepancy are known. Greens, in France as elsewhere, have traditionally adopted Europe as an integral part of their doctrinal corpus, rather than paint it as a threat. As a result, the Greens have regularly campaigned on Europe when most parties of government were careful to be as evasive and flexible as possible – with the exception of certain incarnations of the Socialist Party. Faced with the rise of Euroscepticism since the early 1990s, the Greens have often appeared as one of the few truly pro-European political offerings.

In France, European elections have always been “second-order elections”

It is also true that the low turnout at these elections generally reduces the score of governing parties and mechanically increases that of the opposition, Greens included. As a result, ruling parties – though not in 2019 – have tended to neglect this election. In France, European elections have always been “second-order elections”, to use the term coined by German political scientists Karl-Heinz Reif and Hermann Schmitt. This factor may also explain the Greens’ relatively high scores in regional elections. However, the rather diverse configurations of the green lists in these elections – including competing lists, an autonomous EELV, the Plural Left coalition, and ad hoc alliances – make them more difficult to compare over time.

On the other hand, legislative and presidential elections mobilise all parties to the maximum. Spending, media presence, and activism all reach their peak during legislative and presidential campaigns, reducing the impact of parties with smaller memberships and less money. The weaker local presence of EELV outside cities explains the trends in municipal election results.

Past figures do not, therefore, point to good results at the 2020 municipal elections or the 2022 presidential and legislative elections. But might things now be different?

Promise at last?

The world has changed since 2009. The prominence of environmental issues is now structural. Bad climate news is accumulating and awareness is growing to unprecedented heights. As highlighted by the Greta Thunberg phenomenon, the younger generations are driving this shift. In surveys, increasing numbers of French people put climate change at the top of their concerns. This brought results in May 2019, when polls had predicted the Greens a much lower score.

These positive conditions complicate analysis of the European election results. What success resulted from the merits of the EELV campaign, leadership, and programme? And what was due to circumstantial factors that go well beyond the party?

Graph 2 shows the evolution of voting for the main candidates and parties between 2017 and 2019. The data come from two working periods of the ELLIPSE panel of the Sciences Po’s Center for Sociopolitical Data. Since the data are not weighted, it is not the results that are of interest here, but rather the movement between parties.

The green electorate of 2019 came in equal proportions from the 2017 voters of centrist now-President Emmanuel Macron and left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The contribution of Hamonist votes – the 2017 Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon was green leaning and supported by EELV – while important, was relatively modest compared to the contributions of other candidates.

Graph 2: Voting in the 2017 presidential elections and the 2019 European elections

A diversity of voters’ backgrounds is first an asset. EELV currently attracts a wide range of voters with diverse political sensibilities. As shown below, the party is clearly on the Left, sitting somewhere between centrist parties and Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise. Although the median green voter is slightly more to the right than the PS, the two parties are broadly similar. But, as will be discussed later, competition is no longer only taking place on the left-right axis.

Shifting party loyalties do not only apply to green voters. The entire party system was disrupted in 2017 and no consolidation is in sight. The success of Macron’s La République en Marche (LRM) is currently embodied by its leader and there is no guarantee that the party will be able to outlive him politically, particularly in the event of defeat in 2022. Moreover, the departure of LRM voters to the Greens was more than offset by the influx of centre-right Fillonist votes – François Fillon was the Les Républicains candidate in 2017 – that has fundamentally changed the LRM electorate.

The party system is therefore in a state of great fluidity. The longstanding left-right divide faces competition from a new divide pitting cultural progressivism against conservatism. If Rassemblement National occupies the conservative end of this spectrum, EELV might be the natural candidate to occupy the progressive end. Though it must be noted that it is unlikely to keep this position unchallenged.

The attempts of La France Insoumise and the PS to play the green card seem ultimately to have benefited the historic Green party.

What’s more, the context is conducive to a greater emphasis on environmental issues. The environmental credibility of Emmanuel Macron and his party remains limited, despite recent defections to LRM by several senior EELV figures. Political commentators are correct to say that the environment is a consensual issue in that no one is opposed to it. But the parties differ in the importance they attach to it and recent months have shown that this degree of importance is becoming crucial, in France as elsewhere.

Although EELV cannot claim to embody the French environmental movement in its entirety, EELV “owns” environmental issues in the electoral arena, to use political scientist John Petrocik’s term. In other words, voters associate the environment with EELV above any other political force. As a result, the attempts of La France Insoumise and various factions of the PS to play the green card seem ultimately to have benefited the historic Green party. Despite their efforts, non-green parties have failed to emerge as credible alternatives.

Two likely scenarios are emerging for the coming years. First, the cultural divide could be “greened”. This would mean LRM and the RN taking a clearer position on the issue. If it was to transpire, it may well favour EELV because of the party’s ownership on this subject. Or, one can imagine the emergence of an environmental divide distinct from the cultural divide. This cleavage would necessarily be less predictive of affiliation than the cultural one, but would probably prove powerful among the youngest age groups.

Whatever comes to pass, the present situation is a historic opportunity for EELV to change its status. But this will require an internal political reckoning with the potential for tensions among seasoned activists and their wider electorate.

A difficult cohabitation

EELV has often had difficulty building on its successes. Of course, it is difficult to assess what proportion of the voters in 2017 were regular supporters who did not have a Green to vote for at the presidential election. The central challenge is therefore to understand this electorate in order to consolidate and, if possible, expand it.

Graph 3: Left-right positioning by party

Graph 3: Left-right positioning by party

That is where young voters come in. EELV is the first choice on the Left for young people, closely followed by La France Insoumise. Unfortunately, the numbers for these categories of voters in our survey are not large enough to draw definitive conclusions, but environmental issues will likely be decisive in the battle for the first-time voters of 2022. Again, this is an opportunity, rather than a probability.

The diversity of voters implies an obvious danger: how can such diverse political sensibilities be brought together? The differences between FI and LRM are striking in Graph 3. Yet it is from these parties that green voters might come (back) from.

Yannick Jadot said that he did not distinguish between people who had been “ecologists for an hour and those who have been ecologists for 40 years”, but it is not certain that EELV’s activists and senior figures see it the same way. The prospect of a change of status for EELV could disrupt internal organisation and debate. Though the EELV congress at the end of 2019 and the appointment of a new leader under the banner of unity and continuity would seem to make this less likely.

In part, this dilemma is the classic growth problem for political groups that are doing well. New and old voters will not share the same vision of politics, parties and their functions, or the work of representatives. It is also likely that having voters at different points on the left-right spectrum will prove to be a headache. Between past volatility and current diversity, it will be important to proceed in a thoughtful and strategic way if the objective is to achieve power.

Careful management of diversity

The potential green voter is urban and of all ages, characterised mainly by their concern for the environment. The voter’s ideological position is less clear: from the far left to the centre. The voter is not very attached to a party at the moment, although that does not mean that they are not looking for a political home. For the time being, the main quality shared by much of this electorate is its relative volatility and its occasional proximity to the Green party, as well as a substantive concern for the climate and biodiversity. Without a strategy that takes into account the specific characteristics of these voters, poor results – the classic scenario – are to be expected in 2020 and 2022. For EELV, these observations imply a series of strategic choices. Some ways to distinguish and understand them:

1. An ecology-centred political discourse

Just as it was important at certain times in the past to move away from the image of a single-issue party, today environmental issues should be the priority. It is not a question of leaving out subjects such as inequality, but of promoting their understanding through an ecological prism. This is the price of reconciling the wide range of left-right positions. Beyond short-term debates on the desirability of a particular alliance, it is essential to develop a common language for a growing part of the electorate.

This implies an ambitious effort at building both the EELV political project and, more broadly, political ecology in contemporary French society. It is time to undertake the thinking around this project, by inviting experts and activists from other countries and societal actors at all levels.

2. An outward-looking party

Internal discussions and the proliferation of ideas are necessary to the first point, but they must not be limited to insiders alone. Between the many defections of recent years – first to the Socialists, then to LRM and LFI – and the public spats between leaders, an immature and unstable party will not attract new voters.

A debate is needed and EELV must guide it. But it must be a debate that mobilises beyond the party, as an opportunity for new and future voters to express themselves. Bruno Latour recently said that the younger generations need to be able to describe the world in which we live. In this scenario, EELV would be the catalyst, the facilitator of this expression of young people. But this will demand a real effort to open up towards the outside world.

3. A strategy to conquer power

All these efforts will remain in vain if EELV does not unambiguously aim to win power. The electoral potential, which I believe to be broad, can only be realised if there is ambition, clear and openly expressed. New, volatile or future voters will only stick around if the party is willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and to put both the organisation and the personal desires of activists and senior leaders at the service of taking power.

Basic Income in Scotland: Progress in a Time of Chaos

Rising homelessness and child poverty have risen sharply in the United Kingdom in recent years as changes such as universal credit have forced people into hardship since first introduced by the Conservative government. Yet despite ongoing austerity and Brexit uncertainty, new ideas for positive change are still finding space to gain ground. In Scotland, universal basic income has forced its way onto the agenda and councils and the Scottish Government are looking at trials. Jamie Cooke, head of the RSA Scotland, asks where interest in basic income comes from and what it might mean for Scotland, the UK, and the global basic income movement.

Astute readers might have noticed a degree of chaos in the United Kingdom just now. As we grapple with the ongoing Brexit mess and growing interest in a second referendum on Scottish independence, it would be fair to guess that fresh ideas for social progress would be off the table as we hunker down and attempt to make it through the coming months.

Fascinatingly this is not the case. Instead, new ideas for changing lives in Scotland and the UK for the better are continuing to develop. This discussion has partly been fuelled by the realisation of how much the British social security system, universal credit, is fundamentally flawed. First announced in 2010, universal credit was intended to streamline the multitude of social security payments in the UK into a single payment. However poor design and deliberate political choices around the severity of sanctions and waiting periods undermined the system from the beginning.

Reports from agencies as varied as the National Audit Office and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Professor Philip Alston have savaged universal credit on a series of levels, particularly its inability to meet the very targets it was supposedly created to meet. Universal credit is a system founded on mistrust and punishment. Sanctions are meted out to claimants for the slightest infringement and its design is so off-putting and unintelligible that many people give up on accessing the support they are entitled to. Change is therefore necessary – if universal credit is doomed to failure, then what should replace it?

In Scotland, a key part of this discussion has centred on the idea of a basic income. Building on previous work in Scotland from economists such as Annie Miller and the late Ailsa MacKay, and in particular, growing out of the work of the Fairer Fife Commission of 2015, basic income has rapidly moved from being a fringe concept to one debated at the highest levels and across civil society. The Scottish Government committed 250 000 pounds towards feasibility work to explore the potential for basic income pilots in Scotland. Four areas of the country – Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Ayrshire, and Fife – have come together as potential test sites. There is now an opportunity to take the discussions forward to explore what a basic income could mean for Scotland and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has welcomed the innovation being shown. The Feasibility Group just released their interim report, and in 2020 will publish their final report and recommendations on what sort of experiments, if any, can be carried out in Scotland.

Sanctions are meted out to claimants for the slightest infringement and its design is so off-putting and unintelligible that many people give up on accessing the support they are entitled to.

Basic income has attracted this interest for several reasons. As a small, broadly progressive nation, Scotland offers a realistic space for social change. Alongside that openness, Scotland has deeply entrenched issues around inequality and poor health in some areas that have proved resistant to the social policy approaches taken over the past decades. This has opened up both a desire for change and a willingness to experiment with new, seemingly radical, ideas. Our work at the RSA has shown that a basic income in Scotland, even at a modest level, could have significant impacts on poverty and destitution. At a slightly higher level, it would eliminate destitution altogether in Scotland. This potential, not even factoring in positive effects on behaviour and wellbeing, is an exciting area to explore in a country like Scotland.

Universal credit: a new, broken system

So far, so positive. There is no doubting the openness to basic income which exists in Scotland, and the opportunity that this offers to consider it in a realistic way, with potential for genuine change in future. However, a number of challenges stand in front of progress, which will need to be addressed (or circumvented) moving forward.

The most critical aspect is the devolved nature of Scotland within the wider United Kingdom. Currently around 15 per cent of social security spending and decision-making is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, whilst the bulk remains under the control of the UK Government. In terms of introducing or testing new systems such as basic income, or indeed in changing the failings of the current system, the Scottish Government and Members of the Scottish Parliament are limited in what they can do. Although a new Scottish social security agency has been set up with the additional powers devolved to Scotland following the 2014 referendum on independence, it is currently focused on changing the harsh language used around benefits and attempting to mitigate the worst impacts of universal credit. The Scottish Government is spending around 100 million pounds per year alleviating the effects of UK benefit cuts. At this stage, fundamental change remains difficult.

The UK Government Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is a significant hurdle for basic income experiments. Given that the department runs the British social security system, it would have a critical role to play in any experiments. If it were to take a hostile approach to basic income (as remains likely given the stance of the current UK Government), then large-scale experiments would be virtually impossible to deliver from an ethical perspective. The impact on participants who were removed from the universal credit system, and then left to try and re-join upon completion of an experiment, would be significant. Even if the DWP took a laissez-faire approach and did not remove participants (perhaps by protecting their benefit status for the experiment’s duration), there would still be significant challenges delivering a basic income and ensuring no detriment to those taking part.

On top of the complex devolution settlement as it stands, universal credit itself is still in the process of being rolled out. This implementation has taken place to differing degrees in different places and, in some areas, the interaction between new and legacy benefits is a mess. With the system in chaos and those on the frontline having to work flat out to prevent harm to their service users, the space for innovation around topics such as basic income is restricted. Finding paths through that space is an important task for everyone looking to create new ideas around the social contract we wish to see.

The opportunity in constitutional uncertainty

The ongoing political chaos cannot be overlooked as a barrier to large-scale social experiments. Brexit uncertainty, with the social and economic impacts that it brings, makes it difficult to do more than simply stay afloat. Likewise, the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence also presents a challenge. Constitutional flux makes arguing for large experiments harder and innovation scares both sides in the debate, as neither wants to be seen to get something “wrong”. Given that this uncertainty may be around for years, the political complexities of pushing through experimentation and change are significant.

This outlook may sound negative, and there are certainly numerous difficulties confronting us. But, that does not mean that progress is impossible, or indeed not already underway. As mentioned, the very fact that basic income is talked about across the country is a huge positive. The current chaos is encouraging charities, residents, and others to question the status quo and ask what sort of society we wish to see. In many ways, it chimes with the reactions from civil society that are starting to emerge around the climate crisis – a refusal to accept that things must continue as they always have done. This harnessing of civic creativity and connectivity is a good thing – it removes basic income from being a party political issue, and instead allows it to be connected to research and real-world experience. It can also help keep the discussion ‘honest’ and that the interests and expertise of groups working in areas such as poverty reduction or gender equality are not lost from the wider discussion.

Constitutional flux makes arguing for large experiments harder and innovation scares both sides in the debate.

The political and constitutional chaos also opens up opportunities for new coalitions of interest. Basic income in Scotland is not a policy of the status quo – something would need to change in the devolution settlement for Scotland to have the power to introduce it. Yet, whilst independence is one avenue to achieve that, there are also arguments which could be made for a more federal UK, or further devolution of powers to Scotland. These possibilities mean that whilst a potential referendum on independence might slow the delivery of ideas for larger experiments, it might allow a vibrant space for discussion across the constitutional divide. With a general election set for December 12th, there is also the potential for change at Westminster. The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has indicated that a British Labour government would support basic income experiments. A Conservative government facing the collapse of universal credit and requiring public support could also conceivably be open to new approaches to social security in the UK.

Growing global momentum

The growth of interest in basic income across the UK is strengthening the case for finding opportunities for progress. No longer is Scotland a lone area of interest – now activity is building elsewhere. A network of activists across the north of England has driven motions by city councils in Sheffield and Liverpool to support basic income experiments and is using UBI Labs to develop and share skills and knowledge. In Wales, the First Minister Mark Drakeford has indicated interest in basic income experiments before, and the activist network Basic Income Wales is pushing forward the debate. The global interest is important too, as the work in Scotland connects with similar ideas in Canada, the US, Finland, and elsewhere.

It is these connections that offer the best next steps for basic income development in Scotland. With the complexities, political and structural, outlined above, it is time to reset expectations around basic income experiments. The reality is that even large-scale experiments can’t ‘prove’ basic income – at best, they can demonstrate some of the effects that the policy can have within whichever timescale the experiment is delivered in. Yet, experiments are useful – they provide some indication of impacts and are opportunities for politicians to engage with ideas without feeling that they have to fully commit to them. Furthermore, experiments allow civil society and communities to shape what is important within the policy.

The reality is that even large-scale experiments can’t ‘prove’ basic income – at best, they can demonstrate some of the effects that the policy can have

In light of this, the experimental stages of basic income in Scotland most likely look at smaller, or micro-scale, experiments, potentially run for short periods of time with small groups of people. Whilst these would provide limited data, they would permit careful, and realistic, testing of the mechanics of basic income payments; the supporting structures or services that might be required alongside a basic income; and some potential impacts on areas such as health.

Moreover, networking these opportunities (possibly carried out with community organisations and their members) with the wider movement can make them more valuable. A small experiment run with 20 people in Glasgow might not provide much data – but if that experiment is connected and analysed alongside others taking place in Sheffield, Leeds, Porth in Wales, and Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, you suddenly create a much richer source for debate. These micro-experiments, as long as they are clear about their limitations, could be relatively low cost and simple to deliver, creating models that could be used in a variety of settings. Driven by the people directly involved and affected, they would ensure that, whilst academically rigorous, they were not detached from real life – but rather were expressions and responses to the needs and aspirations of people living in our communities.

There are significant opportunities for the basic income debate to continue to move forward, even in the face of numerous complexities. It is possible that the interim and final reports of the Scottish working group may suggest other ways forward and address some of the issues outlined above – the joy of such a situation is that the micro-experiments and network building could sit constructively alongside them; and if the answers are not there then they offer a way for progress to continue.

In amongst the chaos and the uncertainty, people in Scotland, working with colleagues in the rest of the UK and across the world, are choosing to not accept the status quo but to dream, and deliver, a better world. It is an exciting movement to be part of and a reminder that progress is possible even in the most challenging of times.

The Austrian Greens Make Their Comeback

The Austrian Greens suffered a serious setback in 2017 when the party split and subsequently failed to pass the 4-per-cent electoral threshold. This September in an early election held after a corruption scandal collapsed the right-wing government, the party achieved a historic high, gaining 13.9 per cent of the votes. From appealing across the rural-urban divide to new electoral coalitions, the strategic questions emerging from the recent Austrian election are relevant for green and progressive parties all over Europe. Bartłomiej Kozek discusses the reasons for their turnaround with Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic, a newly elected MP.

Bartłomiej Kozek: From dropping out of parliament after the 2017 parliamentary elections, this time around the Greens are one of the two chief winners along with the Christian-democratic Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) led by Sebastian Kurz. How has the situation changed?

Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic: After 2017, we needed to rebuild from a low base. Opinion polls usually give our party more votes that we receive on polling day, so this time around mobilising our voters was a priority. We made sure our supporters knew that they had to turn out and that passing the threshold could not be taken for granted.

This strategy paid off. According to exit poll analysis, large swathes of the electorate that we lost to the Social Democrats in 2017 returned to the Greens. More left-leaning voters were put off by the centre-left’s flirtation with anti-immigrant rhetoric. We even gained a significant boost from former ÖVP voters discouraged by their party’s neoliberal turn and who appreciated our social policies.

18 months ago the situation was different. Only two Greens sat in the Austrian parliament in the upper, far less powerful Federal Council. There was no official parliamentary group and we were left with two small rooms with no staff and budget.

How did you manage to bounce back?

An association of people supporting our parliamentary work was founded. This allowed us to employ a skeleton crew to help with practical matters like accounting. The Green political foundation lost the financial support it received from the state but used the last of its money to launch the Congresses of the Future. These events were a chance for people and experts interested in green thinking to discuss the future of the party and the country.

The knowledge gathered in these quarterly meetings helped shape our manifesto. The last Congress of the Future in 2018 brought together 700 people – a huge number for a party trailing in the polls and considering that at the time an early election was not on the cards. Over the last two years, the party has returned to its roots and shown that the visions of Austria that first emerged 30 years ago are still relevant, especially in the current climate crisis. This realisation convinced new people to join our cause.

The Greens have relatively consistent levels of support across the country. How have you avoided being seen as just another liberal party of the urban elite?

We are aware that the Greens may have such an image and it haunts us from time to time. The media can sometimes seize on a single topic to exploit this stereotype. During the Amazon fires this summer, the Greens were attacked for criticising the low-cost meat industry. This critique became their proof of excessive intellectualism and a detachment from the “lives of normal people.”

The Greens have always been a mixed bunch. Some people became active in the party due to its environmental credentials, others were energised by women’s or minority rights. It is natural that sometimes one of these topics dominates more than others, but it can lead to Greens being attacked for supposedly forgetting about the rest of our message.

Years of political work have shown that environmental and sustainability issues – animal rights and access to public transport to name a few – do mobilise people living outside big cities. In each region, our political profile is a bit different but still fits within a single, federal party.

Having a modest budget meant that, instead of billboards, the Green campaign relied on leaflets, social media, and creativity. This also meant going out on the streets and talking to people. In such circumstances, it is hard to look like someone detached from normal life. Our message to potential voters was that the crucial ecological transformation depends on progressive social and economic policies.

What are your main policy achievements on the regional level?

We have coalition experience in different regional bodies. Our first coalition in Upper Austria with the ÖVP allowed us to increase the number of kindergarten places. After the coalition changed and ÖVP allied with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), kindergarten fees were raised and many of our successes around equal rights for women in the workplace were undone. It shows the difference that having Greens in power makes.

Small steps change the city for the better, limiting air pollution, and improving quality of life.

In the case of Vienna’s red-green coalition, the yearly public transport pass for 365 euro is a major success and has driven demand for investment in sustainable transport. Vienna also has the highest regional child allowance, which helps to curb child poverty. With Greens in government, Vienna is expanding its cycling network and creating new public spaces in places previously reserved for car traffic. Small steps – from investing in parks to planting fruit trees and installing water siphons – change the city for the better, limiting air pollution, and improving quality of life even in the face of climate change.

How did the governing coalition between Sebastian Kurz’s ÖVP and the right-wing populist FPÖ help the Greens regain the electorate’s trust?

Going into the election, most Austrian voters considered renewing the coalition to be the best outcome for the country – even despite the scandal around the shady dealings of leading FPÖ politicians in Ibiza. Kurz successfully portrayed himself almost as a victim of his right-wing allies. And the FPÖ tried to limit the damage from the scandal with some success: their vote share dropped to 16.2 per cent from 20.5 per cent in 2017.

Large parts of the electorate felt as if the ÖVP-FPÖ government was turning back the clock of social progress. The Kurz government tried to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and plotted a neoliberal course supported by its rich sponsors. Elements of the welfare state came under attack under the pretext of use and abuse by immigrants. The maximum working time was raised to 12 hours a day and 60 hours a week. It hit women particularly hard as now they are forced to go part-time and take a pay cut or work a heavy schedule of hours. Funding for women’s rights groups has been cut too.

Viable opposition was seen to be missing in Parliament and the Greens were remembered as people who knew what they were talking about. The Social Democrats, on the other hand, were recently part of a grand coalition with the ÖVP and seemed mostly to be upset about losing the post of chancellor. Meanwhile, the Liberals from the NEOS party are waiting to join the next government.

What was the strategy of the Kurz government in Europe? Was the European Union visible in the election campaign?

Its positions were reactionary and authoritarian. It is no coincidence that its allies on the European scene were the governments of Hungary and Poland, as well as Matteo Salvini when he was deputy prime minister of Italy for the far-right Lega. Kurz and his allies from FPÖ see Austria as part of the EU, but their view of the EU is that of a loose alliance of countries pursuing their own interests and policies. Another vision of Europe is needed badly – a vision that recognises that no country is an island when it comes to transnational issues such as climate change and asylum.

What issues were most important to the Green campaign? How do you combine environmental topics such as the climate crisis with social policy?

Our campaign reminded people that the climate is a social justice issue that influences the lives of people from different walks of life including disadvantaged groups. For the last two years, the Greens have consciously invested in building such connections. On social issues and human rights, we aim to undo the government reforms that limited access to social support. Government investment, particularly in infrastructure, needs to be redirected into more sustainable projects. The tax system should be reformed from an ecological and social tax point of view and major changes are needed to better serve rural areas. It is appalling that in a country as rich as Austria still has villages without decent internet access or public transport.

No country is an island when it comes to transnational issues such as climate change and asylum.

Our three main themes of the campaign – climate, corruption, and social justice – matched the main issues in the public debate. The climate became a prominent topic due to the Fridays for Future movement and the UN Climate Action Summit in New York that took place shortly before the election. As the election was prompted by a corruption affair, it was hard to forget the need for greater transparency in politics and we emphasised this as well as the need for democratic control of the executive branch.

What challenges and opportunities await the Greens in the coming years?

As ecology starts to become the defining issue of the day, we are attracting voters from across the political spectrum, including some that only agree with our environmental policy. This situation is both an opportunity and a challenge as we seek to create a consistent vision that can win the support of both ecologically-minded Christian Democrats and left-wing voters who are sceptical of the coalitions that the Greens have made with the ÖVP in Tirol. Throughout all this, rebuilding party structures and maintaining the balance between regional differences and national coherence will be of utmost importance.

Les enfants qui nous accusent

C’est sans doute le premier mouvement social d’enfants à l’échelle mondiale. Il y a un an, en Suède, une adolescente commençait une grève hebdomadaire, seule, devant son lycée. Progressivement, ce sont des milliers de jeunes qui lui ont emboîté le pas et sont entrés en grève tous les vendredis. Même si elle concerne principalement les pays les plus développés, il faut bien constater que cette dynamique est totalement inédite à bien des égards : une mobilisation pour la justice climatique, portée par des jeunes, à l’échelle internationale. Au-delà de l’icône que représente Greta Thunberg, ils sont des millions à s’engager dans les Fridays for Future, Youth for Climate et autres Climate Strikes. Portrait d’une génération qui refuse d’être sacrifiée.

L’angoisse des millénials

Être né dans les années 2000, c’est avoir appris à l’école tout l’abécédaire des “petits gestes” de la protection de l’environnement. Cette génération été éduquée avec le changement climatique comme élément permanent de son horizon, comme une donnée incontournable de l’avenir. Elle a aussi fait confiance au monde des adultes pour chercher toutes les solutions possibles pour contrer cette menace. Dès lors, comment est-il possible de comprendre l’afflux constamment croissant d’informations toujours plus inquiétantes, au rythme implacable des événements climatiques extrêmes et des alarmes du GIEC ?

Cette génération été éduquée avec le changement climatique comme élément permanent de son horizon.

C’est cette dissonance cognitive, générant colère et angoisse, qui est au fondement de l’engagement de ces jeunes : le passage à l’action permet de conjurer le sentiment d’anxiété sur le changement climatique, désignée par le néologisme “solastalgie”. N’étant qu’à l’orée de l’âge adulte, leur possibilité de projection dans l’avenir est complètement obérée. “Quand je passais le brevet des collèges, je demandais à mes parents quel était le but de passer des examens, puisque de toute façon on va vers un effondrement”, raconte Sylvain, vingt ans, de Youth for Climate Marseille

Face à cette injustice générationnelle flagrante, ils se sont politisés à rebours de l’injonction aux gestes individuels et ont raccroché une pensée systémique autour des causes du changement climatique. L’activisme est pour eux un remède à l’inquiétude de devenir adulte avec une épée de Damoclès au-dessus de la tête.

Des écologistes comme les autres ?

Quand on les observe, on se rend rapidement compte que ces activistes ne sont pas nécessairement plus représentatifs de la population européenne que leurs aînés militants écologistes : plutôt blancs, plutôt éduqués, plutôt urbains, bref plutôt membre de l’élite que des classes populaires. Ainsi, lors du Congrès annuel des Jeunes Européens qui a eu lieu à Marseille début septembre[1], il fallait bien constater parmi les participants, déjà, leur grande aisance dans une ou plusieurs autres langues européennes, dès l’âge de quinze ou seize ans. Ils maîtrisent parfaitement tout le vocabulaire de la construction de stratégies politiques, passant sans difficultés d’un débat sur la transition énergétique à l’échelle européenne à l’importance du renforcement des capacités des activistes. Ils ne semblent avoir qu’une obsession : l’organisation de la mobilisation, aussi bien dans leurs pays qu’à l’échelle européenne, certains étant également en lien avec d’autres réseaux internationaux. “On travaille avec les mouvements de jeunes aux Etats-Unis”, évoque ainsi Nathan, vingt ans.

Certains n’en sont pas à leurs premiers faits d’armes : Petr, dix-huit ans, impliqué dans Fridays for Future à Prague, est déjà passé par plusieurs autres mouvements, comme Mladí zelení (les jeunes Verts Tchèques) ou Limity jsme my, qui dénonce l’extractivisme par le blocage de mines de charbon.

Pour ceux qui débutent dans le militantisme, cela peut être aussi un moyen de se réaliser personnellement : Mahaut, vingt ans et mobilisée au sein de Youth for Climate Marseille, ne savait pas comment s’engager. “L’activisme me paraissait inatteignable, j’étais la “fin-du-mondiste” de ma classe. Mais une fois qu’on est dedans, on désacralise complètement tout ça, on ne s’arrête plus. On est encore plus légitimes qu’on ne le pensait”.

Une puissance de frappe impressionnante

Clope au bec et bagues aux dents, Linus a quinze ans et est engagé en Allemagne dans les grèves hebdomadaires de Fridays for Future. Avec Jakob, dix-huit ans, ils évoquent leur militantisme au quotidien : animation de rencontres nationales, répartition des groupes de travail, recherche de financements, gestion des relations avec les médias (“y compris les vieux médias, c’est-à-dire tout ce qui n’est pas en ligne”)… Entre 400 et 500 groupes locaux participent aux grèves toutes les semaines, représentant jusqu’à 300 000 personnes lors de la journée d’action du 15 mars 2019. Sans prétention ni fausse modestie, Linus et Jakob sont pleinement conscients que l’ampleur de ce succès s’explique notamment par l’hyperconnexion de cette génération digital native. Les réseaux sociaux ont un rôle d’“agent de socialisation”, permettant de se retrouver plus vite, même dans des groupes hétérogènes, selon les propres termes de Sylvain. Illustrant ce fossé générationnel, Nathan raconte : “J’ai travaillé pendant des mois avec des gens sans les voir, ce n’était pas si frustrant. Mon père m’a dit que lui ne pourrait pas”.

Chacun semble trouver sans problème sa place sur l’éventail des tâches militantes : Ana, vingt-et-un ans, originaire de Porto, développe des actions dans le champ de l’éducation ; Evi*, dix-neuf ans, basée à Thessalonique, travaille sur les différents leviers de sensibilisation du grand public ; Ashley*, dix-huit ans, aujourd’hui en Finlande après quelques années aux Etats-Unis, anime localement un groupe qui participe aux grèves pour le climat. Dans le petit groupe de travail qu’elles constituent avec quelques autres ce matin-là, tout le monde partage un même langage et une même vision : les questions stratégiques semblent avoir déjà été évacuées depuis longtemps, et les revendications, comme l’arrêt des énergies fossiles, sont aisément mises en commun. Il faut dire que tous s’accordent sur le caractère systémique du problème du changement climatique, et la diversité des problématiques que cela implique.

La complémentarité des tactiques comme credo

Ce consensus quasi instantané est aussi le reflet de leur volonté commune de laisser de côté la question des étiquettes partisanes. Mahaut et Sylvain détaillent : “A Marseille, il y avait à la fois un éparpillement et un isolement des activistes écologistes. Mais nous croisions toujours les mêmes personnes partout, donc autant travailler ensemble. Nous avons une charte : tant que les activistes la respectent, il n’y a pas besoin de validation pour monter une action. A partir de là, ça se fait assez spontanément. Tous les modes d’action sont nécessaires de la même façon à tous les niveaux, du local à l’international”. Même son de cloche du côté de Jakob et Linus, qui affirment accepter tout le monde sans se soucier d’une quelconque appartenance d’origine.

Unanimement, les jeunes activistes assument de prendre le parti de la complémentarité des tactiques. Même si le fait d’avoir à la fois un pied dans les institutions et un autre dans le mouvement social est une spécificité des mouvements écologistes, qui peut être source de tensions au fil des choix stratégiques effectués, leur malléabilité leur permet de laisser derrière eux ce qui ne semble plus être que de vieilles querelles. Ainsi, quand on demande à Petr quelle voie il estime être la plus efficace entre le plaidoyer institutionnel et un militantisme plus radical, il soupire : “Personne ne sait comment résoudre la crise climatique. Tout le monde essaie d’y travailler, et toutes les facettes de l’activisme pour le climat contribuent à faire bouger les choses”. Begüm*, jeune turque de vingt-trois ans, basée en Allemagne, revendique un militantisme polymorphe : elle impulse une démarche zéro déchet à l’université, s’engage dans des ateliers d’alphabétisation de femmes migrantes, et est ambassadrice pour l’Office franco-allemand pour la Jeunesse (OFAJ). “Je viens d’une niche très autonome et radicale. J’ai participé deux fois aux grèves pour le climat, les marches pour le climat c’est très bien, mais je trouve plus utile d’aider concrètement”, explique-t-elle.

Toutes les facettes de l’activisme pour le climat contribuent à faire bouger les choses.

Tout est important, chacun apporte sa pierre à l’édifice : la désobéissance civile, l’activisme au niveau local, etc”, renchérit Nathan, qui travaille à construire une coalition européenne de jeunes pour l’environnement et le climat, mettant ses efforts dans l’institutionnalisation de réseaux informels pour activer les leviers européens. “Ça ne sert à rien d’aller dans des réunions juste pour serrer des mains. Le plaidoyer peut ne pas changer grand-chose. Toutes les deux semaines, je rejoins les grèves pour le climat : nous faisons partie des mêmes mouvements. Il ne faut pas que, le jour où il n’y a plus de jeunes dans la rue, les politiques s’arrêtent !

Alors qu’ils reconnaissent tous s’inscrire dans la même dynamique portée par Greta Thunberg, ils vivent également, dans une moindre proportion, les tentatives de décrédibilisation qu’elle subit de la part des réseaux conservateurs. Même si la plupart d’entre eux sont soutenus par leurs familles, ils constatent qu’en tant que jeunes, il est difficile d’être pris au sérieux, aussi bien par leurs adversaires en politique ou dans les entreprises, que par de partenaires potentiels. Linus et Jakob précisent par exemple que le soutien de Scientists for future les a beaucoup aidé à ce que leurs revendications soient perçues comme légitimes. A partir de là et au vu de l’urgence, le choix de jouer sur tous les tableaux devient presque logique : ils essaient de faire avancer leur cause par tous les moyens possibles.

Être radical

Dans ce contexte, quel est le sens de l’injonction à la radicalité qu’on retrouve souvent dans ces mouvements ? Où se positionnent-ils sur l’échiquier politique ? Leurs réponses demeurent évasives et relativisent les termes, comme s’ils ne se reconnaissaient dans aucune des propositions politiques traditionnelles.

A ces questions, Petr botte en touche : “Si être anticapitaliste c’est défendre son avenir, alors oui je suis probablement anticapitaliste. Mais je ne ressens pas le besoin de me définir comme tel”, explique-t-il. Sylvain élude : “On n’arrive pas à se définir, peut-être qu’on ne veut pas se définir tout court. Je pense qu’il ne faut pas trop se projeter dans le futur, mais peut-être que demain je dirai autre chose”.

Néanmoins, des éléments communs reviennent dans leur discours, révélant un consensus sur la nécessité de sortir du productivisme, ainsi qu’une préoccupation pour les inégalités. Mahaut déclare ainsi : “On ne peut plus dire “j’aime l’écologie et j’aime l’industrie” comme me l’a dit un militant du parti communiste, ce n’est plus possible”. Begüm abonde dans le même sens : “On ne peut pas résoudre les problème environnementaux avec des entreprises capitalistes. La lutte pour l’écologie est forcément anti fasciste aussi, ça va ensemble”. Petr étrille les politiques environnementales d’Emmanuel Macron tout en soulignant l’importance présence de femmes et de personnes queers parmi les activistes de Fridays for Future. Sylvain affirme carrément : “Si je peux ne pas travailler, ça me va très bien, le plein emploi c’est du bullshit !”. S’il faut analyser leurs positionnements politiques, sans doute vaut-il mieux se baser sur ce qu’ils expriment de leur perception du monde plutôt que sur les schémas d’analyse de ces dernières décennies : si la question d’une potentielle affiliation idéologique peut sembler remise aux calendes, sans doute est-ce parce qu’elle est en train de définir ses propres contours.

Connaître son histoire

En effet, loin d’eux l’idée de faire table rase des jalons posés par les générations précédentes. A l’évocation du projet de Generation Climate Europe, Nathan jubile : “On s’attendait à se retrouver face à un mur, mais en fait il y a aussi une attente de leur part. Les institutions sont ravies de ce projet. On n’a plus qu’à poser les fondations, tout a déjà été déblayé par ceux qui nous ont précédé”. Il apprécie tout particulièrement de pouvoir échanger avec la jeune et nouvellement élue eurodéputée Kim Van Sparrentak, ancienne porte-parole de la Fédération des Jeunes Verts Européens, pour bénéficier de contacts pour ce projet, et se projette déjà dans l’étape d’après en cherchant des partenaires pour le pérenniser.

Même si leur génération a massivement apporté ses suffrages aux écologistes lors du dernier scrutin européen, le raccrochement à cette famille politique n’est pas automatique pour ces activistes. Mais ils sont tout de même nombreux à être reconnaissants de recevoir une transmission d’expériences : certains parlent d’une vraie leçon d’humilité, conscients qu’ils ont le devoir de ne pas reproduire les travers de leurs aînés et que les connexions historiques sont nécessaires pour cela, en tout cas dans les cas où les partis écologistes ont pu produire une analyse sérieuse de leurs échecs et succès.

Par exemple, la grève massive qui a eu lieu début 2019 en Hongrie a réussi à regagner des droits sociaux que la nouvelle loi travail – rebaptisée loi esclavagiste – du gouvernement Orban venait de retirer : le succès de cette mobilisation était dû à la convergence entre mouvements étudiants et syndicats ouvriers, inspirée de mai 1968 en France. “Être un activiste est un privilège. Il faut une structure organisée et des revendications claires pour que la stratégie réussisse”, rapporte une étudiante impliquée dans cette lutte. Du haut de ses trente ans, Kim Van Sparrentak rappelle que lors de l’action de blocage de masse d’une mine de charbon en Allemagne portée par Ende Gelände en juin 2019, les personnes âgées dans les villages autour de la mine étaient heureux d’aider les activistes autant qu’ils pouvaient. Un phénomène similaire a été constaté lors de l’action d’occupation d’un champ gazier à Groningue par Code Rood en 2018 : “Tout le monde peut avoir un rôle, les chemins ne sont pas toujours ceux qu’on croit”, avertit-elle.

La revanche des générations futures

Cela n’empêche pas, bien sûr, un clash des générations : tout le monde ne voit pas d’un bon œil un mouvement qui, par son succès et l’incroyable efficacité de ses outils, ringardise littéralement certaines icônes historiques. Ainsi, Nils, membre de l’exécutif de la Fédération des Jeunes Verts Européens, quand on lui demande comment réagissent certaines figures politiques des Verts à ces mouvements, s’agace : “Dans une interview qu’il a donné cet été dans Die Zeit, Daniel Cohn-Bendit dit que les revendications portées par Fridays for Future sont impossibles à réaliser. Mais ce n’est pas à un homme de soixante-dix ans de dire aux jeunes ce qu’ils doivent faire !”. L’ancien leader de Mai 1968 douchant les rêves de la jeunesse : on appréciera l’ironie. Mais même si l’incompréhension entre les générations est aussi vieille que le monde, la crainte du chaos qu’entraînerait le dérèglement climatique donne un poids particulier à la parole de celle qui arrive : puisque c’est elle qui en subira les conséquences, pourquoi lui dénier sa légitimité à agir ?

L’ancien leader de Mai 1968 douchant les rêves de la jeunesse : on appréciera l’ironie.

De nombreux médias ont pourtant massivement relayé des réactions sceptiques vis-à-vis du recours porté entre autres par Greta Thunberg auprès du Comité des droits de l’enfant des Nations Unies. Même si sa réponse n’aura pas de valeur contraignante, la reconnaissance potentielle que les droits des enfants plaignants aient pu être violés à cause de l’inaction climatique des Etats revêt une très forte valeur symbolique. A l’instar de la jeune Suédoise et de son discours accusateur ponctué de “Comment osez-vous ?”, les jeunes ne veulent pas porter la responsabilité des actes de ceux qui les ont précédés. Ils ouvrent ainsi la voie, aux côtés d’autres initiatives similaires comme la pétition L’affaire du siècle, à la construction d’une justice climatique intergénérationnelle.

Une autre question reste en suspens : quels choix d’activisme feront ces jeunes lorsqu’ils auront, dans quelques années, la possibilité de prendre des responsabilités dans les institutions à la place de ceux qu’ils accusent ? Que restera-t-il de la mémoire de cet immense mouvement collectif ? Petr y a déjà réfléchi : un de ses objectifs est de construire un mouvement fort qui puisse subsister après qu’il ait quitté le lycée. Pour cela, une des pistes qu’il pointe pour un activisme efficace, démocratique et durable est… La fête. “Nous devons aussi nous amuser, pas uniquement travailler. Il faut un peu de désordre pour organiser les gens”. Quoi de plus normal quand on est jeune ?

[1] Organisé par la Fondation Heinrich Böll, la Fédération des Jeunes Verts Européens et la Fondation Verte Européenne.

* Le nom a été changé

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