Politics

Greens in Government: an Alternative for Europe?

Never have the party had such representation in the Government and Parliament, yet the responsibilities of governing in a crisis are exposing divisions that have long existed in their movement. How can they rally as a party around a common vision for Europe, and what can they learn from their colleagues in Germany?

One swallow does not make a summer. Neither the European Summit held on 28 – 29 June, nor the declaration of Mario Draghi that the ECB “will do whatever it takes” to save the euro, would have eased the fears of the financial markets over Spain and Italy. In France, the newly elected parliament returns to work. In September the French MPs will finally vote on the solutions to the Eurozone crisis (“Fiscal Compact”, Financial Transaction Tax, “Compact for Growth and Jobs”), after a six-month electoral campaign that left blurred some of the positions of the new government. In particular, the Fiscal Compact is still a matter of contention within the new majority – including the Greens. It is a dilemma that other Greens in the EU are faced with; it might be an opportunity to voice alternatives for Europe.

Thanks to the very particularities of the French electoral system, the French Greens are facing a paradoxical situation. While they only scored 2.3% in the first round of the presidential election held in May, they can count on two ministers, a 17-MP group in the lower house of the Parliament and 12 members of the upper house. Thus it is the first time that the Greens have a group in both houses and ministers at the same time. If you include the 16 MEPs, and the Green councillors in numerous local authorities, the Greens have probably never had such an influential position before. But what for? And with which room for manoeuvre?

When debating the first address by the new Prime Minister to Parliament, the co-chair of the Green group François de Rugy remarked on “the independence of mind, and the freedom of conscience and of vote” of the Greens MPs. It sounded like a promise to his electorate, which will soon face a reality check. In September, the French Parliament will have to vote on solutions to the Eurozone crisis, laid out in a coherent “European package”: the banking union currently under negotiation and the Financial Transaction Tax to regulate the banking and financial sectors and ensure financial solidarity; the “Growth Pact” to re-launch the European economy and employment; and the Fiscal Compact to assure sound public finances. Adopting this “European package” will certainly be the first political challenge for the new Government. The Constitutional court just declared on the 9th of August that the adoption of the Fiscal Compact does not require a revision of the Constitution, which would have forced the President to convince two thirds of the Parliamentarians, much beyond his own majority. The French President has to convince a highly divided Parliament on the necessity of adopting the Fiscal Compact and the “golden rule” it includes. This vote will also be the first time that the independence of the Greens in the new government will be challenged.

The French Left Historically Divided on Europe

By creating Europe Ecologie – Les Verts (EELV) – a political movement formed after the 2009 European election and that connected the former Green party (Les Verts) to civil society personalities such as anti-corruption judge Eva Joly or the agricultural activist José Bové – the Greens are the only French political movement that has managed to reconcile the two sides of the debate on the 2005 Constitutional Treaty. The Socialist Party for instance still has to come to a compromise with both sides: the new President and Prime Minister are definitely pro-European, while the Foreign Affairs Minister and the European Affairs Minister both campaigned against the 2005 Constitutional Treaty. Of course this is highly symbolic, since EU politics lies in the hands of the French President. But it still aimed at winning support from half of the French citizens that remain frustrated after the Lisbon Treaty was eventually adopted by the French Parliament in 2008, with the consent of a majority of Socialist MPs.

The adoption of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in February 2012 is further proof of a divided Left. In December 2011, the heads of states and governments agreed in principle that only the Member States that had ratified the Fiscal Compact could benefit from the ESM. Therefore the Socialist MPs abstained from voting on the ESM, denouncing this conditionality between solidarity and austerity. This ‘lowest common denominator’ statement was actually the only one to please the different factions within the Socialist Party. As for the Greens (with the exception of the senators André Gattolin and Leila Aichi),  they voted against the ESM, together with the radical part of the Socialist Party and the Front de Gauche (which includes the Communist Party and those who left the Socialist Party after the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty) but also the defenders of a “Europe of Nations” (MPF and Debout la République). Green MEPs Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Jean-Paul Besset, as well as Green economists Alain Lipietz, Yann Moulier-Boutang and Shahin Vallée, deeply criticised the vote of the French Greens , which went against the resolutions of European Green Party and of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament. According to these commentators, by refusing to create an instrument for financial solidarity within the Eurozone, the French Left has ruined the efforts of the socialists and the Greens who have fought for such an instrument in the European Parliament for years.

Responsibility or Solidarity: Do We Really Have to Choose?

Unfortunately, this question has not been answered during both the Presidential and the parliamentary campaigns. Though three candidates came from the European Parliament (Eva Joly, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen), the EU was not debated during the campaign. François Hollande promised to renegotiate the Fiscal Compact and to add measures on growth and employment. At the European Council held in 28-29 June, he indeed succeeded having European leaders adopt a “Compact for Growth and Jobs” which consists of increasing the capital of the European Investment Bank, launching a pilot phase for “project bonds” to finance large-scale infrastructure projects in Europe, and reallocating EU funds to promote investment, create jobs and enable access to finance for SMEs. As for Nicolas Sarkozy, he ran on his management of the crisis and promoted a more protectionist Europe, both in economic terms (Buy European Act) and with regards to immigration (revision of the Schengen Treaty). Radical left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon opposed austerity measures in Greece, Portugal and Spain, and managed to breath new (populist) life to defenders of a social Europe inspired by the French model, against a so-called neoliberal Europe ruled by the financial markets. As for the Greens, their defeat has already been analysed in the Green European Journal by Erwan Lecoeur. The “magic bullet” of EELV (extending the Greens to civil society) embodied by Eva Joly herself, did not meet expectations. In a way, she has been criticised for being “too European”. Her opponents challenged her “Frenchness” by mocking her Norwegian accent, while some of the Greens themselves questioned her competencies. At the end of the day, Eva Joly did not succeed in getting her message across.

Some would say (and they would be wrong) that in times of economic crisis, environmental issues are not a priority. But in times of a historical European crisis, shouldn’t the most federalist party adopt a clear position? Instead of opposing the ESM, the French Greens shouldn’t have fought for this first step towards a more federalist Europe, while refusing at the same time the economically inefficient austerity measures? What about the alternative proposals put forward by the European Green Party and the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament ? Of course political messages are always oversimplified during electoral campaigns. But now the French Parliament will hold a full debate on solutions to the Eurozone crisis. The Greens should seize this opportunity to clearly oppose the Fiscal Compact, while reassuring financial solidarity with crisis-hit countries at the same time. The debate on the “golden rule” should be the opportunity for the Greens to claim the need to reconcile financial responsibility (future generations should not pay our debt) with the need for investments to enable the Green transition of our economy. When voting on the Financial Transaction Tax, the Greens must advocate for a re-regulation of the financial markets, based on solutions put forward by MEP Pascal Canfin before he became French Minister for Aid and Development. At the same time, they should ensure that a significant part of the revenues of this tax would be allocated to a reformed European budget, with its own resources and with a clear goal of making the European economy socially and environmentally sustainable and of creating Green jobs. All those debates were historically introduced and fought for by the Greens, in France and at European level. Now that they are in government, the so-called “cabinet solidarity” should not constrain the Greens on these issues. Quite the opposite, it is a unique opportunity to place them on the political agenda.

Governing with Responsibility or Debating with Independence: a Franco-German Debate for the Greens

“With great power comes great responsibilities”, said Voltaire. The German Greens have more experience in that matter than the French ones. Yet, it is more urgent than ever that a political alternative exists in Europe to oppose austerity measures that lead to major social and political crises in our societies. These alternatives are the ones put forwards by the Greens in the European Parliament. But they are not sufficiently voiced in national political debates. The internal debate within the German Greens held in 24 June 2012 on the Fiscal Compact is a good example to follow . Though the German Greens have finally adopted the Fiscal Compact, it was opposed by a large minority, revealing internal divisions among the German Greens on the way forward to launch the dynamic for a political alternative in Europe. The speech addressed by Co-chair of the EGP Monica Frassoni explains quite well the issues at stake . In France as well as in Germany, the Greens have to deal with a dilemma that we have known for years: to govern with responsibility in order to implement our ideas, or to keep our freedom to critic and develop new proposals for engaging Europe in the ecological transition and towards more federalism. The German Greens have finally decided (with a narrow majority) to adopt the Fiscal Compact, which is considered as necessary by a majority of German citizens. They have done so in the context of a permanent campaign ahead of federal election in 2013, and with having ensured the adoption of the financial transaction tax as a counterpart. In France, EELV officially gave its support to François Hollande in the second round of the election to put an end to “austerity at any price” and to relaunch growth and employment in Europe. Both German and French Greens thus seem to seize the opportunity to rule their respective countries to put forward their solutions to the crisis. But they could pay the price for that in the future.

Indeed they are still divided on core issues. By adopting the Fiscal Compact, the German Greens reassessed the necessity for Germany to pool economic and budgetary control if financial solidarity within the Eurozone is to be implemented. This strong conditionality is not well understood by the French Greens. The latter did not still succeed in convincing reluctant French citizens to go further into European political integration. French citizens did voice their fears in 1954, 1992 and 2005. And they could do so if a referendum would be held on the “European package”, which a majority of citizens are demanding according to recent opinion polls. From an economic point of view, several German Greens reject the proposals of François Hollande and of the French Greens to introduce Eurobonds to ease pressure on the debts of Member States. Instead the German Left have put forward the proposal for a redemption fund initially proposed by the German Council of Economic Experts to pool and progressively reduce excessive debts accumulated since the beginning of the crisis in 2008, which were mainly due to financial speculation.

It is too soon to evaluate the influence of the Greens in the new French government. It is not yet certain, though likely, that the Greens will come to power in Germany as part of a coalition with the SPD in 2013. But in any case this will have an influence on the measures needed for Europe to emerge from the current crisis. The Franco-German debate is crucial for Europe to go further into political integration. But it is also a condition of the success of the Greens in the 2014 European elections. Indeed the European Greens will have to agree on a common and ambitious manifesto, as they successfully did in 2009 with the Green New Deal. They can build on the successes they won in the European Parliament since 2009 (REACH, ACTA, etc.). But economic, democratic and sovereignty issues would certainly be major concerns of the European debate in the next two years. And on those issues, the Greens are not always on the same line.

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