Monday, June 07, 2004

The demise of the Greens

Lost in the general excitement – if that is the right word – about the meteoric rise of UKIP in the Euro-election campaign is another political shift of seismic importance, the demise of the Greens. Once the rising star of the political firmament, an EU-wide assessment of the Green Party’s performance carried out by Agence France Press predicted that its share of the vote would fall from the current 6.0 percent to a mere 5.5 percent.

Not least of the indicators of the decline of the party’s fortunes is the situation in enviro-fanatic Sweden. Its party was founded in 1981 during the anti-nuclear movement, when the Swedish Greens posted their highest election score ever during 1995 European Parliament elections. They won 17.2 percent of votes. In the 1999 Euro-elections, however, support plunged to just 9.48 percent of votes and it is destined for even further falls this time, estimated at a mere six or seven percent.

Part of the problem for the Greens is that they face both ways on European integration. In Sweden and the UK, for instance, both parties present an anti-EU face while, on the other hand, have worked with the other parties in the Community to form an alliance of 25 Green parties, a proto-European party with strong federal leanings.

Popularity in Germany has been affected by the Greens forming a coalition in government with Schröder – although poll results are mixed – but there is an increasing recognition that the political leanings of the Greens lie very much to the left of centre. Not for nothing have they acquired the soubriquet the “watermelons” – green on the outside and red inside.

In the UK, vicious in-fighting has reduced the effectiveness of the party, and muted its voice. But from the melee has emerged MEP Caroline Lucas, a skilled self-publicist whose antics on the European Parliament temporary committee of inquiry on the Foot and Mouth epidemic managed to draw protests from her normally somnambulant colleagues and stern censure from the committee chairman.

While the Greens were once the darlings of the BBC and the environmentally conscious left, their showing in the UK polls is lacklustre, scoring a mere six percent in the latest YouGov poll, against UKIP’s 26 percent.

Interestingly, in Eurostat opinion polls of approval ratings on EU policies, "environment" shows up consistently as the most popular. The demise of the Greens, therefore, may in part reflect the increasing disillusionment with the EU, which relies on its "successes" in pursuing environmental legislation as justifying, in part, its existence - relying on the tedious mantra "pollution knows no frontiers".

But, as people are learning, EU and Green environmentalism has its costs. The disaster over the "fridge mountain", the forthcoming nightmare over the end of life vehicle directive – which has multiplied the number of abandoned cars on our streets – and the slow-motion catastrophe of the WEEE directive, which is going to make disposing of electrical equipment difficult and hideously expensive, have all helped to create a perception that the environmental movement has come off the rails.

Perhaps, the most visible – and intrusive – illustration of this is the Greens' support for renewable energy, with the UK party calling for a 100 percent target. They have thus nailed their flag to the mast of wind energy, while in the real world, opposition to wind farms is fast growing into a national movement that dwarfs the Greens.

And, when the father of environmentalism, James Lovelock – author of the Gaia thesis - last week pitched in to support nuclear energy, it became clear that, for the Greens, the writing was on the wall.

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