Why you should care

As centrist parties cast about for allies, Europe’s green parties have a lot more power than they did last week.

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WHAT TO KNOW

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A voter casts her ballot in early voting at a local voting office in European parliamentary elections

Source Getty Images

What happened? Last week’s European elections saw a lot of upheaval, with voters shifting toward the far right and far left as traditionally powerful centrists lost ground. Meanwhile, the Green coalition gained 17 seats in the European Parliament, bringing its total to 69 of 751 seats. This makes it the fourth-biggest group, empowering it to drive policy and forcing other progressive parties to seek the Greens’ approval for their own agendas.

Why does it matter? As Europe prepares to name a European Commission president, the center-right European People’s Party is expected to start elevating climate change on its list of priorities. That’s not just because it lost a lot of votes, partly by making green issues a low priority, but also because its chosen candidate for commission president will likely need the approval of the Green parties in order to come out on top. And there are suggestions that the youth vote drives support for the Greens, meaning it could increase in coming years, though with the rise of climate change denial on the far right, this could become yet another divisive issue for Europeans.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

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In a shift since the last European Parliament elections, mainstream parties have adopted climate change as a rallying cry — spurred in part by a wave of student strikes.

Source Getty Images

What will they do? Among the policies Green parties are expected to push for with the more mainstream centrist parties are tougher curbs on greenhouse gas emissions: The Green manifesto calls for 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050, while the EU target is currently to reduce emissions by at least 80 percent. Other climate priorities include swiftly phasing out coal in favor of renewables — coal still generates 20 percent of Europe’s energy — and promoting climate-friendly economic initiatives. The Greens could even push to control the agenda on a major issue like energy. 

Led by Germany. Green parties made big strides across Northern Europe in last week’s contest.The Greens have never had much of a foothold in France, but are now the third-largest party in France’s EU representation. Other sudden green strongholds include Belgium, Finland and Ireland. Meanwhile, in Germany, an estimated 30 percent of young voters supported the Greens, making it the country’s second-biggest party in the European election. But the Greens’ newfound power means they could influence policy and regulation across the EU — even in the Eastern bloc of countries where they haven’t made much of an electoral dent. 

Rallying cry. Before the European elections, former far-left Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said in an interview that as much as far-right parties have found solidarity by embracing anti-immigration policies, progressive parties can coalesce around green policies. Varoufakis isn’t the only progressive taking up the green cause: Some factions of the U.K. Labour Party, which lost nearly half its seats, are pushing for a program similar to the Green New Deal set forth in the U.S. 

Side by side. Far-right parties also saw gains in this election. But while many of their radical anti-immigrant positions are unpalatable to more centrist parties and voters, Greens are unlikely to turn off centrists in the same way. Still, some far-right positions have migrated to the mainstream as centrist parties struggle to retain voters — Brexit, for example, began as the pet issue of the far-right U.K. Independence Party.

WHAT TO READ 

We Shouldn’t Be Surprised Renewables Make Energy Expensive Since That’s Always Been the Greens’ Goal, by Michael Shellenberger in Forbes

“For as long as Greens have been advocating renewables they have viewed their high cost as a feature, not a bug.”

Climate Change Threatens the West’s Far-Right, by Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post

“In recent months, massive demonstrations over climate change have rocked European capitals, dwarfing the mobilizations of the continent’s far right.”

WHAT TO WATCH 

Youth Vote Credited for Rise of Green Parties

“We have to fight for what we want, for our future and for our present.”

Watch on France24 on YouTube:

Leo Varadkar on the Green Party Surge

“The result of the Green Party is a very strong message to all of us in politics that the public wants us to accelerate the actions we’re taking on climate.” 

Watch on Newstalk on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER 

Meanwhile, in America. TThe U.S. Green Party has never won a congressional or Senate seat or a single electoral vote in a presidential race, despite Ralph Nader making headlines in the 2000 election. But sweeping environmental policy proposals have been taken mainstream in the U.S., with multiple Democratic presidential candidates now asking for a climate-focused debate on the campaign trail.

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