Is a ‘Green Wave’ heading for Europe’s parliamentary elections?

François Lenoir, REUTERS | European Parliament on January 30, 2019

With the European parliamentary elections swiftly approaching on May 23-26, Green candidates have surged in the polls in countries like Belgium and Germany while mainstream parties in France have appropriated traditionally “green” issues.


As it stands now, the Greens/European Free Alliance coalition is the sixth-largest group in the European Parliament with 52 out of 751 seats. Although they are set to lose six British lawmakers when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the growing popularity of Green parties in other countries has led to speculation of a possible “Green Wave” in this month’s parliamentary elections.

In Belgium, support for the Ecolo and Groen (Green) parties has grown exponentially in the past five years, making them the country’s leading political force. Not only do they hope to double their number of seats in the European Parliament (from two to four) but they are poised to win a majority in Belgium’s own legislative elections, also at the end of May.

The Grüne (Green) party in Germany has seen a similar upsurge in recent years. Although the ruling centre-right coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) is still projected to win a majority in EU elections, the Grüne party is polling slightly ahead of the country’s other main political powerhouse, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDU). According to a poll published this week on the online version of Der Spiegel newspaper, the Grüne party is set to take 18.2 percent of likely voters compared to the SDU’s 16.9 percent.

Yet Green parties in other countries have not fared as well. In Austria, which elected a Green party-backed president in 2017, the movement is expected to garner less than 10 percent of the intended vote, according to polls.

“In some countries, ecologists will perform very well,” Sylvain Kahn, a geopolitics professor at France’s prestigious Sciences Po university and co-author of, “The Country of Europeans” (“Le Pays de Européens”), told FRANCE 24. “But most polls project that [they] will retain the same level of power as before.”

‘A cultural victory’

France's Europe Écologie party has also failed to perform well in polls, despite a study published by the European Parliament in October showing that the fight against climate change ranked among voters’ top three concerns. It is projected to take just 10 percent of the intended vote, 6 percentage points less than it won in 2014.

This is, in part, due to the fact that mainstream parties have appropriated many of the movement’s more popular policies.

The creation of a European climate bank, border carbon adjustments, an international climate change court: All of these issues have snaked their way into the campaigns of the French candidates backed by President Emmanuel Macron's centrist République en Marche (LREM) party, the Socialists or the far-left France Unbowed (France Insoumise).

When Europe Écologie pledged €500 billion over the next five years to finance ecological transition, LREM’s Renaissance party said it would put up €1 trillion. The ante was then raised again by the Socialist-led Citizen’s List for a European Spring to €2.5 trillion.

“It’s a cultural victory,” Arthur Nazaret, author of “A History of Political Ecology” ("Une histoire de l’écologie politique"), told FRANCE 24 in early February. “We can clearly see that the ideas championed by [the Green Party] have been disseminated everywhere and their issues have been broadly diffused.”

Kahn echoed Nazaret's comments, pointing out that while there may not be a "Green Wave", greater attention will likely be paid to environmental issues at the European Parliament.

"In any case, whether it's due to the influence of Green parties or just a shared awareness, concern over [green issues] will be accentuated," he said.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning