European Greens debate socialist alliance

Parties from 28 countries meet in run-up to European Parliament elections in June

Europe's Green parties looking to boost their representation in the European Parliament in this June's elections met in Paris this weekend to discuss strategy. Recent electoral successes at national level have led to mixed experiences of power for Greens' it emerged.

Green's are now in government in four EU countries, including three of the most populous: France, Germany and Italy. In these countries plus Finland, Greens hold the national environment ministry; in Germany the foreign ministry, too, is in Green hands. In all four countries, Green parties are governing in coalition with socialist parties.

According to speakers at the congress, more or less formal coalitions with the European socialists is also the Greens' strategy at EU level. "There is a European Green power and a European Socialist Power," said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, head of the French Green's list for the European elections.

"These two forces have a common goal, which is to create the conditions for a 'plural majority' in the next European Parliament," he added. If the socialists take up Cohn-Bendit's offer then the Greens could find themselves allied to the largest single political group in European Parliament. At present there are 213 socialist MEPs and 27 members of the Green group out of 626 MEPs in total.

However, it remains to be seen whether such an approach would push environmental policy higher up the Union's political agenda or lead to the adoption of tougher environmental protection standards.

As many speakers at the Paris conference admitted this weekend, the experience of Greens in government over the past six months has been mixed. The six Green ministers who attended the meeting all spoke of concessions made to coalition partners.

"The passage from a party of protest to a party of government was anything but easy," confessed German foreign minister Joschka Fischer. This sentiment was echoed by Finnish environment minister Pekka Haavisto, who said Greens in government needed to be "good at negotiating and know how to compromise." Meanwhile, French environment minister Dominique Voynet restated her personal opposition to nuclear power while defending herself as a member of a government that has made it clear that France will remain firmly attached to the atom for the foreseeable future.

In EU negotiations, Green ministers have tended to act first-and-foremost as members as national governments rather than pan-European ecological activists. This has meant that the movement's strength in EU environment ministerial meetings - Green environment ministers currently hold 33 out of 87 votes - has often not resulted in radical policy shifts.

Follow Up:
European Federation of Green Parties, tel: +32 2 284 5135.

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