EuroElections 2009 : Greens-EFA

This round through the European political landscape now leaves the parties more used to power and starts dealing with those found more often in the opposition. The Greens – European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA) is the fifth largest political block at Parliament, with little over 5% of the seats. Greens-EFA is a coalition largely composed by state-level Green Parties plus a small number of Regionalist deputies. After an all-time high close to 10% in 1999 the party had what can be called a disappointing result in 2004. Embarking on a worldwide effort to promote its ideologies by the midst of the current term, it is quite possible that the Greens-EFA may reach a relevant stake at Parliament this time.

The Green ideology is possibly the most complex political philosophy in Europe today, a sort of definition can be attempted at, but with the due reserves. The roots of the Green movement can be traced back to the late XIX century when Naturist Anarchism emerged in France, Spain and Portugal. Among other things it advocated for an ecological relation of Man with Nature, reducing or even annulling the impact of the former on the latter. It was a rather individualist philosophy, underpinned on self-sufficiency. Throughout the XX century these ideas evolved into modern Green Anarchism, that embraced community with the development of the eco-village concept (units of no more than a few hundred folk living from subsistence agriculture). It brought about the idea that modern realizations of primitive social structures would allow a way of life in harmony with Nature, repudiating larger power hierarchies. With the debate about limits to growth and the oil crisis unfolding in the 1970s the Green ideology made it into larger sections of the political landscape, with movements emerging aiming to push those ideas through the established Democratic process.

By 1979 the German Green Party developed the Four Pillars of the Green Party: Ecological wisdom, Social justice, Grassroots democracy and Nonviolence. These are still today the main guidelines followed by most Green parties around the world. In Europe, Green Parties started reaching parliamentary representation during the 1980s and from that time, the most important legacy they left was the halting of further developments to the European Nuclear Programme (facilitated by the tragic events at Chernobyl in 1986). Early on, Green Parties were composed by activists that could be identified both with the traditional right and the left and for some time this created internal tensions and some splits. To their aid came the establishment of Liberalism and the revival of pure Monetarism in Europe, especially from the second half of the 1980s onwards. Appealing to individualism, Liberalism wasn't that far from the Greens' roots and the merging of these two philosophies happened rather naturally. With the approach of Socialists and Conservatives to Liberalism, a fertile political landscape was set for the Greens to flourish, not by alternative social policies, but by presenting the differentiating element of Environmentalism. This allowed the German Green Party to reach a government backing coalition in 2002. In other states, albeit their increasing popularity, Green parties have remained in the opposition invariably with single digit electoral results.

As happens with Liberal parties, the Greens haven't so far been able to fully capitalize on the electorate closer to the traditional parties. Nonetheless, their activism have been having a crucial role in shaping politics in Europe, especially in the field of Energy.

The party's website, although simple and low budget, is quite straightforward and presents the visitor with plenty of information on its activities and ideas. In the Who we are section comes a synthesised political presentation:

Our project is to :

  • build a society respectful of fundamental human rights and environmental justice: the rights to self‑determination, to shelter, to good health, to education, to culture, and to a high quality of life;
  • increase freedom within the world of work, not only by tackling unemployment but also by widening people's choices, releasing human creative potential ;
  • deepen democracy by decentralisation and direct participation of people in decision‑making that concerns them, and by enhancing openness of government in Council and Commission, and making the Commission fullv answerable to Parliament.
  • build a European Union of free peoples based on the principle of subsidiarity who believe in solidarity with each other and all the peoples of the world.
  • re‑orientate the European Union, which currently over‑emphasises its economic conception at the expense of social, cultural and ecological values

And then comes a section headed with “The Greens/European Free Alliance is working for:” that includes the incredible statement:

[...] economic and social reforms to make development sustainable for both human beings and the natural world;

Just to remind the inattentive reader that the Greens-EFA is a party like any other, with growth at the front of its concerns.

Like in the case of the liberals, Greens-EFA doesn't have any election specific content summarizing the party's policy proposals for the next term. Moving around the website a thorough Energy Policy stance is no where to be found. In the Documents subsection there is a long list of essays and news that can be organized thematically, being possible to access a list of those tagged with Energy; this is a long list of articles going back to 2001, that present a sort of recent history of the party's vision on this field. These articles are almost exclusively dedicated to dismiss Nuclear Energy, with the occasional promotion of Natural Gas.

But there's more to the website. Another section is called Campaigns where the party lists special policy programmes, each one with its own website. Two of these are worth a closer look: E-Polis and TEN-T. The first is dedicated to Urban Planing, the second to Transport.

E-Polis is not a real political programme or a formal policy, it is more of communication and experience-sharing platform:

E-Polis - European Sustainable Cities Network
E-Polis was founded by 4 Green Members of the European Parliament in 2006: Gisela Kallenbach, Monica Frassoni, David Hammerstein-Mintz and Michael Cramer - all driven by the need to involve citizens in local decision-making and to promote sustainability in urban development.

E-Polis supports and inspires local initiatives and NGOs whose purpose is to promote sustainable development and participation of civil society in urban development processes. E-Polis aims to create and establish a European-wide network of such local initiatives/NGOs in order to share experiences and find partners for joint activities.

E-Polis launched with selected local initiatives/NGOs from different European countries. The activities stimulated by E-Polis cover a broad range of issues, although there is particular focus on activities raising environmental awareness and empowering citizens in local decision-making processes.

The main networking tool is this e-polis website with a forum and a NGO data base, allowing to get in touch with persons and organisations that share the same idea: a better city is possible.

It is time to network!

It is always awkward to read the oxymoron “sustainable development” in a text supposedly inspired by Environmentalism. Nowhere in the website is it made clear what the Greens understand by “sustainability in urban development”, so the E-Polis campaign can be actually promoting practices that increase energy use. Notwithstanding, the Greens seem to be concerned with a matter that is unfortunately missing from the big parties' scope.

TEN-T is originally an European programme dedicated to develop an trans-European transport network, that the Greens-EFA regard as being a failure at the moment. The website the party dedicates to it is a reformulation of this plan, a serious attempt at a Transport Policy capable of changing Europe's direction on the matter. While energy is not at the root of this campaign, this is one of the areas were emissions reduction and Energy easily overlap:

Transport in Europe is unsustainable at the moment. Although there are huge investments in infrastructure like the TEN-T program, it is quite evident that especially for the environmental harmful modes of transport such as road and air borne transport are constantly increasing. We want to propose some solutions in order to make transport more sustainable and to allow for the climate effects of transport

This Policy is laid down in three stages: Ad-hoc measures, Medium-term measures and Long-term measures. Below is a synthetic list of the tactics proposed in each scope. For each one the website goes into great detail, with much information worthy of a closer look, especially for those working and/or researching in the field.

Ad-hoc measures

These measures comprise some ideas and practical advice that could be easily and immediately implemented without changing the legal basis at the European level. Due to reluctance from the member states these opportunities are not utilised on a broad scale.

  • Additional inspections - controlling of compliance with social and employment standards for truck drivers and the compliance with general rules;

  • Cross financing for rail - due to the new directive on the "Eurovignette" (Directive 2006/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council) each member state is allowed to levy tolls and user charges for vehicles over 3.5 t (from 2012 onwards) for the use of certain infrastructure.

Medium-term measures

These measures are intended to change transport policy in the medium term. In order to tackle the problems of climate change, as well as other environmental problems, changes in the legal and policy basis are nescesa

  • Internalisation of external costs - will help to abolish distortion of competition between rail and road;

  • Climate change - shift money from prestigious projects to upgrading on a large scale within the period 2007 - 2013 especially in the context of climate change;

  • Intelligence for rail - improving cross-border rail transport through Europe-wide technological and regulatory harmonisation under the flagship ERTMS/ETCS;

  • Funding preferences - shifting funds from huge infrastructure projects to efficient multimodal nodes - new funding programme (amendment to TEN-T);

  • Alpine crossing exchange - recognizing transport opportunities as a limited good especially in areas with geographical constraints like the Alps, the trading of transit rights could bring a solution: "The Alpine Crossing Exchange";

  • Transport Subsidies - cut transport subsidies for environmentally harmful modes in order to facilitate the shift towards rail;

  • Kerosene tax - introduction of a European tax on kerosene in order to support the realisation of the TEN-T rail links;

Long-term measures

These measures are intended to sustainably change the direction of European transport policy over the long-term. New strategic approaches, as well as reconsidering existing programmes, could help to make transport greener in the future.

  • Strategy for intermodal logistics - development and implementation of a European strategy for intermodal logistics, enlarging combined traffic etc;

  • Big projects - realisation of huge infrastructure projects that are proven to have a long-term economic viability and that are indispensable;

  • Inland Waterways - the use of inland waterways could help to make freight transport more sustainable but only if strong environmental concerns are respected and resolved: fit the ships to the rivers and not the other way round!

Much could be discussion on each of these tactics, but the most important thing to note is that the programme is congruent with itself and throughout compliant with the vision of an infrastructure shift away from fossil fuels towards electricity. Where a shift to electricity isn't immediately a goal there are proposals for taxing fossil fuels or to use more efficient modes of transport. All that is left to say is how that shift will be accomplished in the short/medium term with the decommissioning of the Nuclear Park taking place simultaneously.

One thing is certain, Greens-EFA is so far in this round up the party dedicating more resources to Energy related issues and the one willing to go more deeply in its proposed polices. Unfortunately, that is not happening by the acknowledgment of impeding Fossil Fuel shortages, which leads to an incoherent message. Although not openly proposing one, the Energy Policy emerging for the party's websites' is the most ambiguous of those reviewed so far. Greens-EFA should try to bring about a thorough and integrated realization of such policy and seriously reflect on the consequences of deactivating the European Nuclear Programme at this stage, or at least provide a realistic and comprehensive road map to achieve such goal.

Previous entries of this series:




The green's dismissal of nuclear rules them out as serious contenders. The sooner they do an about face on that, the sooner they can have a consistent and credible platform.

Pity, if they had someone with a clue in charge, rather than picking whatever hippy ideal floats by, they might be worth a punt.

From the New York Times - 29th May 2009, discussing the current Okiluoto plant construction:

The massive power plant under construction on muddy terrain on this Finnish island was supposed to be the showpiece of a nuclear renaissance. The most powerful reactor ever built, its modular design was supposed to make it faster and cheaper to build. And it was supposed to be safer, too.

But things have not gone as planned.

After four years of construction and thousands of defects and deficiencies, the reactor’s 3 billion euro price tag, about $4.2 billion, has climbed at least 50 percent. And while the reactor was originally meant to be completed this summer, Areva, the French company building it, and the utility that ordered it, are no longer willing to make certain predictions on when it will go online.

and further ...

Serious problems first arose over the vast concrete base slab for the foundation of the reactor building, which the country’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority found too porous and prone to corrosion. Since then, the authority has blamed Areva for allowing inexperienced subcontractors to drill holes in the wrong places on a vast steel container that seals the reactor.

In December, the authority warned Anne Lauvergeon, the chief executive of Areva, that “the attitude or lack of professional knowledge of some persons” at Areva was holding up work on safety systems.

Today, the site still teems with 4,000 workmen on round-the-clock shifts ... Some 10,000 people speaking at least eight different languages have worked at the site. About 30 percent of the workforce is Polish, and communication has posed significant challenges.

Areva has acknowledged that the cost of a new reactor today would be as much as 6 billion euros, or $8 billion, double the price offered to the Finns. But Areva said it was not cutting any corners in Finland. The two sides have agreed to arbitration, where they are both claiming more than 1 billion euros in compensation. (Areva blames the Finnish authorities for impeding construction and increasing costs for work it agreed to complete at a fixed price.).

Even if the proposed plants here in the UK were built in time they would be too late to make a difference to our emissions targets, they replace dependency on foreign oil with dependency on foreign uranium and we still have no idea what to do with the waste apart from pass it on to this generation's children to deal with. How we will deal with the last of those in a world of increasingly expensive electricity from reducing quantities of gas (or 'clean' coal??) in a creaking National Grid, to guarantee to keep those spent fuel cooling ponds cool is something I dread to think about. So hows about not creating any more of the stuff? And have a read of the chapter "Hot Legacy" in Alan Weisman's book "The World without Us" - our poisoned legacy of military and public nuclear waste will make your toes curl.

The Green Party wrote of nuclear power in a leaflet over 20 years ago: "A power generation method that is so expensive, so incomprehensibly technical, so centrally organised, so elusive of democratic control, so elitist, so male-dominated, so thoughtlessly, massively exploitative of resources - such a system mirrors precisely those areas in our society most in need of ecological change". No change there then.

For me, any political party that advocates nuclear as a solution to our society's energy situation is ruled out as a serious contender as it show that they are focussed on symptoms and not causes which seems to be an endemic malaise of current politics. And even more so when there is hardly the slightest attempt to reduce our consumption which of course is the simplest, cheapest and best long-term thing we can do.

The legacy of the green's malign influence on public policy and their unthinking demonising of nuclear power for over 25 years will be millions of deaths.

You can't put a stop to the one viable future energy source without consequences and without a plan. Nuclear power is no more inherently dangerous than a coal power station - keep politicians and accountants away and they can be safe. What's not safe is to claim to be looking at the big picture and avoid questioning what can really replace fossil fuels. Handwaving statements as to what renewables can deliver in fairyland don't cut it in the real world.

We needed an ongoing, continuous, programme of nuclear development and build out. Instead we have squandered the one real world successor to fossil fuels, and with it best chance of avoiding the abyss.

You can't put a stop to the one viable future energy source without consequences and without a plan. Nuclear power is no more inherently dangerous than a coal power station - keep politicians and accountants away and they can be safe

Thanks for the laugh. Evidence, please, of the former, and proof that the latter is possible, if you will.

(The points I'm talking about are in bold.)


any political party that advocates nuclear as a solution to our society's energy situation is ruled out as a serious contender

Hear hear!

The nuclear industry inability to build things on budget and on schedule makes them ripe for criticism. The greens get all the attention but it's the utility executives desire not to bet the company that has the nuclear industry moribund.

They get attention because in Germany they're responsible for a rise in CO2 emissions due to early retirement of operating nuclear power plants and their subsequent replacements, coal and natural gas.

Thanks Luis for this whole series.
Although I think of myself as politically aware, my being British has narrowed my perceptions. Your analysis was educational for me regarding particularly the whole 'Liberal' position on the continent as well as the accommodation made by all parties to the 'market' and 'monetarism'.

'Greens' do seem to have started with 'The Limits to Growth' but have attracted attention mostly by arguing on a succession of 'iconic' single issues? Nuclear accidents/security, in particular, (and historically, debates on nuclear war-fighting); pollution (toxics) and 'Big Business'/health (particularly Pharma and 'polluting industries'); and stemming from the latter, GM crops. The mixture of 'conservative' (traditional) and 'progressive' is not easy to maintain as a coherent set of policies. Climate change as a political issue has been relatively easy to combine with previous positions. Peak Oil has proved more difficult, because, though it appeals to the 'local life boats' wing, it raises matters like nuclear energy and biofuels. Biofuels and some biomass initiative s do get debated and biofuels get the thumbs-down from Green political alliance, it appears. The case for some nuclear (perhaps 10 to 20% of an increased centralized electric power generation - see Jerome a Paris recent thoughts on ToD?) can not apparently be considered by the Green Parties?

Having just read the policies of the UK 'Greenparty', I found it full of contradictions and wooly logic:

"We will work to achieve greater equity between the UK and non-Western countries. In step with this, we will progressively reduce UK immigration controls."

We already have an extra million every 3 years arriving in the UK.

I wouldn't worry too much - mostly new EU legal work migrants I am led to believe, and many of them head home as the jobs market slides. Sad about the non-westerners but that is one of the side effects of seriously disturbed places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and previously Somalia, a lot of people flee into exile. Come to think of it our deportation policy, while not exactly Guantanamo, has not been pretty - knocking down doors at dawn and so on, so maybe the Greens have a moral point.
Nice counterpoint to the Polish migration is British EU conservative MEPs being told to desert the Euro centre-right bloc and move in with the right-wing Eastern Europeans like the Polish. All a bit contradictory I have to admit.

There has been another governing coalition with green parties, from 1999 to 2003-4 in Belgium. Due to a scandal about toxins in the food chain in the last weeks of the election they achieved a good result and formed a coalition with socialists and liberals, ending the decades-long hegemony of the Flemish christian democrats. It ended in tears due to their inexperience in media management as part of the government. For the coming elections (regional as well as European), the Flemish green party Groen! is polling around 10-15% and the Walloon green party Ecolo around 20-25% in their respective regions, due to a series of scandals in the Walloon socialist party PS, which has been ruling for decades as well.

Their campaign policies are similar to what has been said above: promoting wind, solar, efficiency savings; denouncing coal and nuclear; a cradle-to-cradle economy; a focus on sustainable transport.

I find it disheartening when people whose opinions I respect and value, come up with glib and shallow put-downs of the only political force who's on our side.

that includes the incredible statement:

[...] economic and social reforms to make development sustainable for both human beings and the natural world;

Just to remind the inattentive reader that the Greens-EFA is a party like any other, with growth at the front of its concerns.

Yes Luis, I'm talking to you.

Fewer jobs and lower taxes don't frankly play too well as political slogans. Green parties are, inherently, broad coalitions in themselves, full of people who have good understanding of resource issues and the limits to growth. This leads to bitter infighting and splits (there is a political grouping in my region, south-east France, that runs candidates on a program of economic contraction. They don't get many votes.)

So, the Green parties that actually get votes turn out to be relatively pragmatic and willing to engage to form coalitions etc. Not pure enough for you, Luis? Who are you voting for?

I'm just off to the polling booth. I will be voting for the "Europe Ecologie" list headed by Michèle Rivasi, a historic figure of the anti-nuclear movement. This, despite the fact that I am now pro-nuclear (because of the need to be pragmatic about energy issues, faced with peak oil and global warming). It is unrealistic and unfair to expect Greens to switch to being pro-nuclear; it's too much of a visceral issue for the activists. That does not take away the credit due to the Greens for being on the forefront of renewable energy issues, since forever.

The (Green-based) Europe Ecologie coalition looks likely to run third in France (behind the mainstream left and right) -- this would be a historic result, in a political landscape which is traditionally fragmented for Euro elections (proportional representation, several competing left, right and centrist lists).

Historic triumph for the Green (Europe Ecologie) lists in France : 16%, just about dead equal with the socialists, behind Sarkozy's party with 28.

The Green group in the incoming European parliament will have approximately 60 members.

Greens are in power in coalition in power in Ireland also with Fianna Fail (although both got slaughtered in the most recent elections). in Ireland we had simultaineous European election and local council elections + a couple bye elections and both FF and the Greens lost heavily.