In Parliamentary elections in 2012, the Dutch Green Party GroenLinks lost six of their ten seats. Dick Pels and Pepijn Vloemans, who work for Bureau De Helling, the research foundation of GroenLinks, comment on the result.
It is clear where the blame for GroenLinks’ dramatic electoral loss lies: the party is adrift ideologically. It lacks a common world view and is bogged down in hazily defined ideals. There is no firm foundation of values that motivates its political standpoints.
But this explanation is facile and shortsighted. For over twenty years now, GroenLinks has represented a uniquely green, left-wing, progressive outlook. As such it forms part of the European Green movement, which is united as the European Green Party – this continent’s first transnational party.
The world view of GroenLinks rests on three deeply-held convictions. The first is that of greenness, the attribute that sets us apart from the “beefsteak socialism” of other Dutch left-wing parties such as SP and PvDA. These parties stand for a narrow, materialistic interpretation of progress. GroenLinks stands for a much broader, more inclusive definition of welfare, one in which health, education and the environment – all aspects that are hard to couch in monetary terms – carry more weight than economic growth. Welfare means much more than what is financially measurable; the ostensible security of pensions and mortgages will not help us if the biological diversity of our planet and the stability of its atmosphere are threatened. Other parts of the world and future generations will have to foot the bill for our cheap flights and low-priced meat. GroenLinks aims to alert voters to the true cost of factors like these. That is why the “polluter pays” principle had such a prominent part in the recent campaign, with policies ranging from abolishing multi-billion euro subsidies on fossil fuels to promoting tap water recycling in bars and restaurants. Never before has GroenLinks dedicated itself so unambiguously to the need for a sustainable, circular economy as in the recent campaign. That’s what makes us green.
GroenLinks has been arguing for years that hard working Dutch citizens with full-time jobs are no better than their compatriots who do voluntary or part-time work; that women cannot flourish professionally until out-of-school child care and community schools are improved and made less expensive; that bankers should serve society, not vice-versa; that fair opportunities for all implies investment in accessible schools with excellent teaching – regardless of whether you are born in affluent Wassenaar or disadvantaged Slotervaart; and that, in the present crisis, we must absolutely not cut back on, but must invest in, sustainable projects such as domestic insulation which will directly generate real jobs and will lead to a less polluted country. These convictions put us on the Left.
Consistently, too, GroenLinks has stood for the emancipation of the individual and has sought to protect people who are different and not part of the mainstream – even though it wins us few votes. GroenLinks has fought for years for the emancipation of the disadvantaged through personal budgets, against discrimination against gays and lesbians, and against the expulsion of child asylum seekers. It is these convictions that make us progressive.
GroenLinks is thus a green, left-wing, progressive party. This is a world view with solid foundations which is broadly shared by our members and politicians. But, in these times of crisis, GroenLinks may be insufficiently aware that each of these values necessitates a tougher critique of capitalism and of the neoliberal culture. This relates to the green critique of the addiction to growth and consumption. It is presently unclear whether GroenLinks favours green growth or wishes to set limits for growth. But the leftist critique of income disparities and of the bizarre adulation of greed could also have more prominence in our ideals. GroenLinks should state its case more emphatically on the social protection of economic losers. The transition to a green economy and the individualisation of the labour market must be adopted wholeheartedly and accompanied by a new package of social certainties with a clearer emphasis on fair sharing. GroenLinks must in other words make its green and leftist ideals more explicit, so that they recover their former resonance among the public.
The progressive-democratic values of GroenLinks similarly impose a duty to sharpen up our critique of the neoliberal “me culture” and the rightist meritocratic credo of “nobody to blame but yourself”. As with sustainability (green) and equal opportunities (left), it is a matter of setting bounds to overinflated liberties. GroenLinks wants people to take control of their own lives; but this is not at all the same as the absolute self-sovereignty touted by neoliberal road warriors and clamouring populists. The important thing is to take control over our collective lives and to foster solidarity. The implication is that GroenLinks must pair its belief in the emancipation of the individual with a morality of self-restraint and moderation.
To sum up, our values and our outlook are in broad respects already in place. But they have proved hard to sell in a period of economic duress when people vote mainly with their wallets. GroenLinks must blame itself for failing to win the public over to its “Green New Deal” concept, that of directly creating sustainable jobs by investing in renewable energy and home insulation, combined with reining in the banks at a Europe-wide level. The party was partly responsible for not getting its message across due to internal squabbling and complaining. But the ideals of GroenLinks are still vital and relevant today – elsewhere in Europe too – and they deserve to be reflected in a lasting double-figure representation in the Lower House.
This article was originally published by Bureau De Helling and is also is a redacted version of an opinion piece published in De Volkskrant on Wednesday 19 September 2012.