There Is Life in the Party Yet

No profession is less trustworthy than politicians, global polls have found. Even bankers and advertising executives inspire more faith, and journalists scarcely perform better. Some think we are better off without them – and technology seems to suggest that this is becoming increasingly feasible. While some populist politicians have embraced the distrust, political philosopher Jan-Werner Müller warns this is fundamentally corrosive for democracy. The key to a healthy democracy is not getting rid of politicians and journalists but building and maintaining an open, creative, and dynamic civil society.

Green European Journal: You have called political parties and the media “democracy’s critical infrastructure”. What do you mean by that?

Jan-Werner Müller: The critical infrastructure of democracy is about basic political rights – the right to assembly, to free speech, to association – and the role that intermediary powers such as political parties and the media have in facilitating their use and, especially, in amplifying their impact. It is like a physical infrastructure in that it is about citizens reaching others and being reached by them.

So how do parties contribute?

Political parties offer a representation of society, especially its underlying conflicts and cleavages. They do not mechanically reproduce something that is already out there; it is a much more dynamic and creative process. Parties, as the political theorist Nancy Rosenblum has put it, consciously stage the conflict. Now, you could argue that social movements do this too; in fact, so do many other actors. The difference is that parties also aim to get hold of the levers of power.

The dynamics are not mutually exclusive – social movements influence and sometimes even become parties – but parties remain more important than we often assume. Many academics, often on the Left, have a strong anti-party attitude. They think that parties are inherently unrepresentative and potentially oligarchic, increasing inequality, and so on. In some countries, many people share this anti-party animus, sometimes justifiably. But modern representative democracy cannot work without proper parties.

What does “proper” mean? Parties should offer pluralism, both internally and externally. Ideally, parties would be regulated to ensure they contain a meaningful level of internal pluralism. Not infinite pluralism, because after all, someone becomes a partisan precisely because they believe in certain principles. But no principle ever applies itself: even with a commitment to a particular understanding of freedom or environmental protection, for instance, there is always more to be discussed in terms of how to apply principles in particular contexts, how different principles coincide, and what kinds of compromises are acceptable.

The advantage of these processes is that their participants get used to the notion that those who find themselves on the losing side can still accept the outcome. Because the right procedures were undertaken and everybody had a chance to express themselves, they can accept that the other side could be right. Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election, and what followed, is a reminder of the important role played by losers in a democracy. What’s more, internal debates produce new perspectives, bring forward empirical evidence, and allow more people to talk about their lived experiences. None of this can happen in one- person parties.

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Many party landscapes have been shaken up in the last decade. Political forces, perhaps most notably the Five Star Movement in Italy, increasingly declare themselves to be movements. What does the rise of movement parties say about democracy today?

The appearance of new actors and institutions is a good thing in principle. Some people like to complain that there are too many old parties, that the system is ossified, and that we are faced with a “crisis of representation”. But then again, people also called it a crisis when parties like Podemos or SYRIZA emerged in Spain and Greece, accusing them of being “dangerous insurgents”. You start to wonder, what is not a crisis of representation? If nothing changes, it’s a crisis, and if something changes, then it’s also a crisis. In theory, it is positive if the system is sufficiently open to new political actors. While there has been a certain amount of whining about the decline of people’s parties, it is not a sign of anything going wrong with democracy.

However, some so-called movement parties lack internal pluralistic structures and transparency. Some believe in what political sociologist Paolo Gerbaudo refers to as “participationism”. This stresses members’ active involvement and engagement, especially online, but it is very difficult to assess how decisions are actually made, and what the clicks really mean: it can be unclear what the role of supporters is beyond occasionally clicking on something and going along with what the “great leader” says.

Political parties offer a representation of society, especially its  underlying conflicts and cleavages

In other cases, calling yourself a movement is just PR. When Sebastian Kurz refashioned the Austrian People’s Party, he called it a movement but it’s the same old party, only more subservient to a highly power- conscious leader. Macron’s La République En Marche is still a party; there’s nothing to justify considering it a movement. Italy’s Five Star Movement is probably the most radical attempt to break with both the party form and the professional media (which their figurehead, Beppe Grillo, always denounced as corrupt), yet it increasingly resembles a traditional party. You can find the good or the bad in that, but it confirms that those that make a great fanfare about being movements often end up like conventional parties.

The social bonds that used to tie parties together are not as strong as they used to be. Can the party form still reflect the diversity of modern society?

It is clear that a fundamental set of changes within society will have consequences for parties and party systems, and the general institutional form that parties take. Pining for a return to the 1950s or 1960s, when people’s social identities were often more immediately translated into the large people’s parties, is not productive. This is not coming back.

Forms of engagement might change and people might not have life-long memberships like they used to, but it would be premature to declare that “there’s no life left in the party”. If you had told someone 15 years ago that [Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-wing party] La France Insoumise would gain half a million supporters (though what that means is debatable), or that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the UK would reach half a million members, it would have been hard to believe. People are still willing to join parties and become engaged in one way or another.

Going back to the idea of critical infrastructure, do political systems need to think harder about regulating parties to maintain healthy, pluralistic democracies?

A lot starts with party financing. Europeans like to turn up their noses at the United States because spending 14 billion dollars on federal election campaigns is so obscene. But looking closely at how different European countries regulate their own systems, from a normative point of view, it is not much better. The numbers are smaller but there is still inequality, unfairness, and dark money. Think about how tax deductions mean that the poor effectively subsidise the political preferences of the wealthy. My suggestion – following the lead of a number of academics and politicians – is that everyone should have a voucher of equal worth to spend on democracy’s critical infrastructure.

What is the role of the media, particularly traditional media, in political life?

Media systems operate differently, so not all critical infrastructures are the same. In the UK, the BBC is of course different from a highly commercialised infrastructure, which is again different from the media landscapes in countries where pluralism has been drastically reduced, such as Hungary and, to some extent, Poland. That said, one of journalism’s primary obligations is to inform citizens about the representations offered by political parties and, to a degree, to judge these.

Beyond that, there is nothing inherently wrong with journalists or media institutions taking a stance. We tend to forget that many socialist parties used to have their own newspapers, and many leaders emerged not from the trade union movement but out of journalism. Taking a stance doesn’t mean inventing falsehoods like Fox News in the US but interpreting and reporting on the world from a particular point of view. As long as everybody roughly knows what they’re getting, where it’s coming from, and why it looks the way it does, there’s nothing wrong with that. There is still plenty of room for regulation – in terms of not inciting violence, not spreading misinformation or disinformation, and not denigrating certain groups (in the way right-wing populists do) – that can coexist with an open system that brings out the creative and dynamic dimension of democracy much more clearly than today.

Unlike traditional media, social media offers a direct connection between users and politicians, pundits, and influencers. How does social media change our democratic politics?

Social media is still mediated, just in very untransparent ways. It may seem like a direct relation, which encourages the conclusion that there is an affinity between social media and populism, but this directness is an illusion. Social media companies, like traditional media, are intermediaries – they are also part of the critical infrastructure of our democracies.

Of course, social media companies are the first to say that they are only in the business of “connecting people”, that they take no stance, and that deleting the account of the president of the United States makes them very uncomfortable. But social media technology, just like physical infrastructure, could be set up in different ways. The business models and the underlying algorithms which influence how these systems work can have highly pernicious effects on democratic debate. Currently, they are black boxes. While total transparency is an illusion, researchers must be able to understand these systems to assess their likely effects and what could, and should, be changed.

At the same time, I am reluctant to say that social media is bound to be harmful to democracy. It brings creativity and openness, and there is a lot to be said about the access it offers. It also allows self-appointed representatives to hit upon issues that would otherwise be overlooked.

#MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter could only have grown in the way they did through social media.

The hard question is moving from having more representations out there through social media to structured debate. With parties and traditional media, we know roughly how debate works: exchanging claims, pushing back, saying when an attack is unjust, and so forth. This kind of structured debate is much more difficult on social media.

The question about the link between media technologies and democracy was also raised during previous media revolutions. In the 1930s, the philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin famously argued that just as cinema had replaced the traditional actor with the film star, the traditional politician had been replaced by the dictator. I would reject any technological determinism, but questions about the link between social media and democracy are legitimate.

What do you make of the growing calls for democratic innovations such as citizens’ assemblies?

Citizens’ assemblies are especially useful where there is reason to believe that parties will make poor decisions or none at all. When it comes to shrinking the size of parliament or changing the electoral system, parties may be reluctant to take decisions against their interests, so different forms of decision-making make sense. To take two examples from Ireland, the 2016 to 2017 Citizens’ Assembly and the 2018 referendum on abortion also show how collective decisions that have a strong ethical element but don’t require great expertise can be tackled effectively through comprehensive debate.

The purpose of elections remains to show the relative strength of different groups in society in a peaceful way

However, some want to go much further and replace party politics altogether. This is another sign of the anti-party impetus, and I have two major reservations. First, democracy depends on losers knowing what to do. When a party-political struggle is lost, the party uses the time until the next election to mobilise more people and refine its arguments before trying again. If randomly selected citizens make a decision, it is unclear how that decision could be revised. What should the losers do, and which institutions could they draw on to strengthen their side? Some hard-nosed political scientists argue that elections happen in the shadow of civil war. Thankfully, this is not the case in Europe today. The purpose of elections remains to show the relative strength of different groups in society in a peaceful way. Parties remain particularly good at this, but that function disappears with groups of randomly selected citizens.

Second, the evidence on participation and citizens’ assemblies is not clear cut. Some findings show that they further benefit the advantaged. Yes, the selection criteria can be tweaked, and it is not true that only the privileged will show up, but any form that moves away from traditional parties does tend to privilege well-educated, well-off people with more time and resources. Citizens’ assemblies might have a place, but they are no replacement for party politics.

Turning the Tide

The crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, far-right militia storming the US Capitol, French generals talking openly of civil war: the vital signs of democracy around the world do not look good. In many countries, public faith in democracy is waning. Dissatisfaction with democracy has been rising globally since the early 1990s, especially after the 2008 financial crisis.1 Whether it is about attacks on its integrity or simply about navigating the distortions of electoral systems, democracy and its organising principles require constant protection, maintenance, and repair.

The global trend towards populism in recent years prompted many debates about a “crisis of democracy”. That it closely followed the financial crisis suggests that inequality and economic downturn are essential parts of the story. But the roots go back further and economics does not explain everything. Societies are changing with culture an increasingly central battleground, and technology is rewiring how we live, work, and communicate. With the pandemic, the steady shift online of everything from the media ecosystem to community meetings has accelerated. All together, these factors play into how democracies function and malfunction.

The upsurge in calls for better representation and democratic rights in established democracies forces a reflection on how our political systems are far from perfect. The gilets jaunes protests were about forcing a distant metropolitan politics to consider the realities of rural towns and suburbs when setting climate policy. The Black Lives Matter movement is about basic rights such as equal treatment under the law as well as overturning persistent injustices. Who, what, and how politics represents is up for discussion – and rightly so. It was a non-voter (then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg) sitting outside the Swedish Parliament demanding that her generation’s interests be taken seriously that sparked the 2019 descent of the global climate movement into the streets. But the experiences of Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and many other countries offer clear warnings. If democracy is perceived not to be working, there are more and less democratic ways of fixing it.

from representing future generations to recovering the commons, green politics pushes democracy further

Democrats therefore face the dual challenge of preserving what we have got while also deepening democracy and representation to include all people meaningfully and equally. In some countries, the first is more urgent but the two are invariably linked. This dual task has always been at the heart of the green political project. With democratic principles at their core, Greens unambiguously defend human rights everywhere and the fresh, often-female face of green politics is on the front line of opposition to right-wing authoritarianism. But more than that, from representing future generations to recovering the commons, green politics pushes democracy further and provides a new axis about which to ground our institutions.

What can Greens bring to the struggle over democracy’s future? First, creativity and willingness to challenge established ways of doing politics through driving equal representation, active citizenship, and participation. The success of representative democracy depends on its representativeness. Guaranteeing real diversity and inclusion in politics is therefore central to bridging the gulf that exists between political institutions and society at large. The experiments in citizens’ assemblies and other innovations mushrooming across the world are only part of the answer. Long supported by Greens, they promise ways to revitalise politics and include sidelined perspectives and interests. But, as critics point out, these are imperfect exercises. Increasingly influential Green parties cannot afford to throw the baby of representative democracy (and their role as parties) out with the bathwater. Innovations alone will not suffice to fend off an alternative, exclusionary version of democracy that is on the rise.

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Second, Greens have a crucial role to play in defining a new common good that all society can rally around. More than anything, democracy is the story of a community determining its future. In Europe, universal suffrage has been the shared (though not always joint) achievement of the labour, women’s, and democratic movements. But the achievements of 20th-century social democracy were bound up with a fossil economy that is necessarily in retreat. As ecological crisis redefines the conditions for prosperity in the 21st century, it is up to the green movement to protect democracy by leading the progressive vision of a sustainable, socially just future. Distinct from its social democratic and neoliberal predecessors, it promises to both restore the social fabric on which any political community depends while allowing people to flourish as individuals.

it is up to the green movement to protect democracy by leading the progressive vision of a sustainable, socially just future.

Third, the need for greater democracy in the European Union itself cannot be ignored. The EU’s actions are often democratically and constitutionally fraught – as popular votes and court rulings regularly demonstrate. The result is that its achievements are fragile and deadlock is never far away. European democracy will only be built slowly but increased transparency in decision-making, a more representative EU-level politics, and greater support for European media and civil society can all contribute. With federalist visions in retreat, the most promising avenues for building genuinely transnational forms of democratic politics may be found in strengthening connections between different levels of political power across Europe.

The stakes are high, but there are grounds for hope. Democracy is not an endpoint; it is resilient and flexible. How it evolves matters and will depend on the forces that steer it. For Greens and progressives, there is no better time to put forward a broad, positive vision of democracy and representation built on freedom, equality, and inclusion. As the movement that politicised the relationship between society and nature in the West, green politics is at the forefront of not just democracy’s defence, but its reinvention.


1 Roberto Stefan Foa et al. (2020). The Global Satisfaction with Democracy Report 2020. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Centre for the Future of Democracy.

La Strana Squadra di Draghi

Uscire dalla pandemia, voltare pagina dopo anni di stagnazione e introdurre il clima come priorità politica: il compito del nuovo governo italiano non sarà per nulla facile. L’arrivo di Mario Draghi come premier ha rovesciato le dinamiche della politica italiana, ma le questioni più difficili devono ancora arrivare. Luca Misculin spiega le sfide che il governo Draghi affronterà, da un modello di sviluppo da ripensare a una coalizione composta da avversari da tenere a bada.

Negli ultimi due anni il mestiere di raccontare la politica italiana è diventato quasi impossibile. Dalle elezioni politiche del 2018 a oggi sono avvenuti così tanti colpi di scena che azzardare previsioni o descrivere scenari è ormai rarissimo: la brutta figura è dietro l’angolo.

Basta rivolgere uno sguardo superficiale al terzo governo in tre anni di legislatura, che a metà febbraio ha ricevuto la fiducia delle due camere. Il Parlamento più euroscettico eletto nella storia italiana, in cui Lega e Movimento 5 Stelle hanno ottenuto complessivamente il 50 per cento dei voti, ha appena deciso di sostenere a larghissima maggioranza un governo guidato dall’ex presidente della Banca Centrale Europea, Mario Draghi. Il Movimento 5 Stelle, nato all’apice della carriera di Silvio Berlusconi per rappresentare le frustrazioni contro le élite nazionali e i suoi governi, si trova oggi nella stessa maggioranza. I due partiti che alle prossime elezioni politiche guideranno verosimilmente le coalizioni di centrosinistra e centrodestra, Partito Democratico e Lega, si sono appena impegnati a governare il paese insieme.

Lo spaesamento non riguarda solo le persone che per lavoro raccontano la politica o se ne occupano tutto il giorno. Prima che fosse costretto alle dimissioni dalle mosse di Matteo Renzi, l’ex presidente del Consiglio Giuseppe Conte era il politico di gran lunga più apprezzato secondo i sondaggi. Oggi nelle stesse classifica è stato sostituito dal suo successore Mario Draghi con percentuali analoghe.

L’impressione è che fra le convulsioni delle ultime settimane sia iniziata una fase nuova che nessuno riesce ancora a comprendere appieno, l’ennesimo cambio delle carte in tavola per un paese che non si è mai ripreso davvero dai postumi della crisi economica sperimentata fra 2008 e 2011. Per il momento l’arrivo di Draghi – «l’uomo della Provvidenza», come lo ha definito l’influente analista politico Alessandro De Angelis – ha spiazzato l’elettorato, i giornalisti e gli stessi protagonisti della politica: ma in pochi dubitano che sarà indolore. Almeno per questi ultimi, che nei prossimi mesi saranno messi di fronte a scelta difficili.

La solidità del nuovo governo Draghi passa soprattutto dalla Lega, il partito che lo ha più criticato negli scorsi anni ma che vuole ritagliarsi un nuovo spazio politico come partito nazionale e moderato, naturale interlocutore del Partito Popolare Europeo dopo la progressiva scomparsa di Forza Italia, che ormai ha i giorni contati. La nuova veste si addice poco a Matteo Salvini, anche letteralmente: era abituato ai comizi in felpa e cappellino nelle piazze dei paesi, oggi è costretto nella giacca e cravatta richiesta ai leader della maggioranza di governo. Ma qualcosa doveva pure inventarsi, dopo che il suo partito aveva perso dieci punti in un anno e la sua leadership stava dando segni di logoramento. «Noi non sollecitiamo nessuno ad entrare», dice una fonte del gruppo del PPE al Parlamento Europeo: «e non prenderemo in considerazione la cosa finché non sarà la Lega a chiedercelo». Li aspettano al varco, insomma.

Nel Movimento 5 Stelle stanno invece emergendo le crepe che erano state temporaneamente nascoste dal sostegno unitario a Conte, che era stato espresso proprio dal Movimento. Il divario fra l’ala moderata e governista e quella radicale si è allargato a tal punto che ormai esistono due Movimenti distinti, col primo temporaneamente al governo e quindi ben posizionato per far valere le proprie istanze, e il secondo che guadagnerà maggiore appeal mano a mano che si avvicinerà il giorno delle elezioni. Ma una generale reinvenzione sarà necessaria: in Europa i partiti populisti “puri” nati dopo la crisi finanziaria sono scomparsi o hanno lasciato spazio ad altre esperienze, e il Movimento 5 Stelle deve decidere cosa fare da grande. Non è chiaro se la scelta di Conte come nuovo leader, compiuta di recente, porterà in una direzione oppure in un’altra, dato che l’ex presidente del Consiglio ha buoni rapporti con entrambe le ali del partito.

I partiti populisti “puri” nati dopo la crisi finanziaria sono scomparsi o hanno lasciato spazio ad altre esperienze, e il Movimento 5 Stelle deve decidere cosa fare da grande.

Anche il Partito Democratico dovrà trovare per forza una nuova identità. Nel governo Conte i temi che aveva messo in agenda all’inizio del mandato – cittadinanza per i minori stranieri nati in Italia e legge sul salario minimo – sono stati completamente oscurati dalla battaglia del Movimento 5 Stelle sulla riduzione del numero dei parlamentari e successivamente messi in secondo piano dalla pandemia da coronavirus. Il gruppo dirigente attorno al segretario Nicola Zingaretti però ha investito molto sulla politica della “romanizzazione dei barbari”, cioè del progressivo avvicinamento al Movimento 5 Stelle nel tentativo di inglobarli nell’alleanza di centrosinistra, e guadagnare competitività in vista delle prossime elezioni. Ma in molti, dentro e fuori dal partito, ritengono che la strategia sia dettata da un bieco calcolo politico privo di contenuti, e che per ritrovare se stesso il PD abbia bisogno di trovare nuove priorità e leader più freschi (Zingaretti fa parte dell’ultima generazione di dirigenti che si formarono nel Partito Comunista Italiano).

Ma se le scelte dei partiti diventeranno evidenti solo nei prossimi mesi o nei prossimi anni, la nomina di Draghi ha portato comunque dei punti fermi. Il primo ha a che fare con la comunicazione.

«Noi comunichiamo quello che facciamo. Non abbiamo fatto ancora niente e non comunichiamo niente», avrebbe detto Draghi ad alcuni collaboratori nei giorni immediatamente successivi alla propria nomina, secondo il Corriere della Sera. In un mondo come quello della politica italiana in cui comunicatori politici e addetti stampa sono dei personaggi a pieno titolo nel dibattito pubblico e i cronisti politici occupano spesso le prime dieci pagine dei principali italiani, l’intenzione di Draghi di introdurre una certa sobrietà appare coraggiosa. Il nuovo presidente del Consiglio l’ha certificata con la nomina di una portavoce come Paola Ansuini, ex responsabile delle comunicazioni alla Banca d’Italia.

Anche nel suo primo discorso da presidente del Consiglio, tenuto il 17 febbraio al Senato e durato 52 minuti, Draghi ha parlato con frasi secche e povere di aggettivi, avverbi, subordinate. Una rivoluzione rispetto al suo predecessore, un avvocato e professore universitario che parlava nell’italiano barocco tipico della classe dirigente del Novecento, formata sulla retorica dei pensatori latini. 

Ma nel discorso in cui ha chiesto la fiducia al Senato il tema più ricorrente è stato l’ambiente, fra la sorpresa di parlamentari e commentatori. Draghi ha indicato il cambiamento climatico come la prossima grande sfida che dovrà affrontare l’umanità dopo la pandemia: «Quando usciremo, e usciremo, dalla pandemia, che mondo troveremo?», si è chiesto Draghi in uno dei passaggi più sentiti dell’intero discorso: «Alcuni pensano che la tragedia nella quale abbiamo vissuto per più di dodici mesi sia stata simile ad una lunga interruzione di corrente. Prima o poi la luce ritorna, e tutto ricomincia come prima. La scienza, ma semplicemente il buon senso, suggeriscono che potrebbe non essere così. Il riscaldamento del pianeta ha effetti diretti sulle nostre vite e sulla nostra salute, dall’inquinamento, alla fragilità idrogeologica, all’innalzamento del livello dei mari che potrebbe rendere ampie zone di alcune città litoranee non più abitabili».

Il tema della salvaguardia dell’ambiente è entrato così in maniera fragorosa nell’aula del Senato, dove in precedenza veniva nominato soltanto di passaggio, come un cenno obbligato e di poco conto. Nessun presidente del Consiglio, prima di Draghi, aveva dato così tanta concretezza al tema – il passaggio sul mare che si mangerà la terra non può non risuonare nel paese di Venezia – parlandone con cognizione di causa.

L’Italia, peraltro, avrebbe bisogno da anni di una strategia nuova sulla transizione verso un’economia più sostenibile: tutte le principali crisi aziendali irrisolte sono legate a vecchi modelli di sviluppo – l’acciaieria ILVA, in Puglia, e le miniere di carbone in Sardegna – mentre le città italiane sono ai primi posti in Europa per morti da inquinamento atmosferico secondo la recente classifica pubblicata da The Lancet Planetary Health. Cambiare i costumi italiani in così poco tempo, però, sarà molto complicato. Secondo una recente rilevazione del Parlamento Europeo gli italiani sono fra gli europei occidentali meno sensibili alle minacce del cambiamento climatico: nel 2019 solo uno su quattro indicò che combattere il cambiamento climatico doveva essere una delle principali priorità del nuovo Parlamento.

L’Italia, peraltro, avrebbe bisogno da anni di una strategia nuova sulla transizione verso un’economia più sostenibile: tutte le principali crisi aziendali irrisolte sono legate a vecchi modelli di sviluppo.

Nel suo discorso Draghi ha parlato a lungo di scuola e occupazione giovanile, auspicando una riforma degli istituti tecnici che viene invocata ciclicamente dagli esperti, e mai messa in pratica dalla politica. Poi ha sottolineato che mancano ancora moltissimi passaggi per raggiungere la parità di genere nei vari contesti della società italiana: senza però giustificare la sua scelta di scegliere soltanto 8 ministre su 24 componenti del suo governo.

Un altro punto fermo del governo di Draghi, e sulla sua sincerità c’è da esserne certi, sarà la convinta adesione al progetto di integrazione europea. Draghi lo ha fatto capire sia nel suo discorso sia nelle prime conversazioni con collaboratori e ministri: il nuovo governo guarda favorevolmente alla progressiva cessione di sovranità alle istituzioni europee.

Draghi potrebbe averlo detto in pubblico per cautelarsi con la Lega e le sue pulsioni euroscettiche, che come a dirgli: sapevate benissimo a cosa andavate incontro, quando avete deciso di sostenere il mio governo. Ma al contempo potrebbe essere stata una mossa per entrare con maggiore capitale politico nel Consiglio Europeo, e approfittare del vuoto di potere che si creerà nei prossimi mesi, quando Angela Merkel si farà da parte ed Emmanuel Macron sarà impegnato in una lunga e potenzialmente pericolosa campagna elettorale per la rielezione. I più cauti osservano comunque che nei prossimi mesi l’Unione Europea non dovrà prendere scelte complesse dal punto di vista economico – il bilancio pluriennale e il Next Generation EU sono già stati approvati in via definitiva – ma scegliere invece quale forma dare alla propria politica estera, e dare concretezza al corposo dibattito sull’autonomia strategia: tutti temi su cui Draghi non sembra avere una competenza pari alle grandi questioni economiche.

La classe politica che sostiene Draghi è la stessa che ha prodotto anni di governi litigiosi e improduttivi

Ma naturalmente Draghi per non fallire non dovrà limitarsi a scalare le gerarchie del Consiglio Europeo, a impostare nuovi temi nell’agenda politica e comunicare in maniera diversa rispetto ai suoi predecessori. Per mettere in pratica il suo ambizioso programma di riforme sul piano economico, sociale, giudiziario e ambientale e non sprecare i 209 miliardi che arriveranno grazie al Next Generation EU, Draghi avrà bisogno del sostegno della classe politica nazionale e locale, e delle capacità del corpo tecnico e amministrativo dello stato.

È proprio la natura di queste categorie, che in Italia sembrano da decenni impermeabili alle innovazioni che agitano il mondo, che rende preoccupati gli osservatori esterni al governo. La classe politica che sostiene Draghi è la stessa che ha prodotto anni di governi litigiosi e improduttivi, e le cui scelte si basano soprattutto su ragionamenti di consenso a breve termine. I funzionari statali sono fra i più anziani e rigidi in Europa, e da tempo la Commissione Europea se ne lamenta nei canali informali: a tal punto che guarderebbe di buon occhio, conferma una fonte interna alla Commissione, un programma di ricambio e assunzioni mirate finanziato proprio con i fondi del Next Generation EU.

Nessuno di questi passaggi però potrà avvenire nel breve orizzonte temporale che avrà a disposizione Draghi, e anzi ci sono ragioni per credere che i prossimi mesi saranno molto turbolenti per il nuovo presidente del Consiglio.

Alla fine di marzo scadrà il blocco dei licenziamenti deciso dal governo precedente che aveva tenuto a bada la tensione sociale. A giugno o a settembre, ancora non è certo, si voterà nelle principali città italiane fra cui Roma, Milano e Napoli per rinnovare le cariche dei sindaci: le forze che governano insieme a livello nazionale saranno costrette ad attaccarsi nelle campagne elettorali in tutto il paese. Fra un anno, poi, i partiti dovranno eleggere il nuovo presidente della Repubblica che succederà a Sergio Mattarella. La legislatura scadrà nella primavera del 2023, fra poco più di due anni.

Per usare una metafora calcistica che in Italia viene citata spesso, una squadra di dilettanti non potrebbe vincere il campionato di Serie A nemmeno se avesse Lionel Messi in squadra; tanto più se i giocatori litigassero fra di loro. Dalla capacità di Messi-Draghi di alzare la qualità complessiva e migliorare il resto della squadra, aiutandola a tirare fuori le energie migliori, si capiranno realmente le possibilità di vittoria.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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’s radicalism. 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.

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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.

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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.

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