The Greens are today an established force in European politics, having been represented in the European Parliament since 1984. This article traces the development of the group and its political agenda in the European Parliament.
1984-1989: A new political force on the political stage
The Greens, a new political force that emerged in the 70s in several European countries, entered the European political stage for the first time in 1984, when the first Green Members of the European Parliament were elected at the second direct elections to the EP. Germany, the stronghold of the Green movement, elected seven MEPs; two more came from Belgium and two from the Netherlands. As those MEPs did not entitle the Greens to form a parliamentary group on their own, they concluded an alliance with MEPs from Italy, Denmark, and regionalists from Flanders and Ireland to form the GRAEL (Green Alternative European Link) group, also known as the Rainbow group. Politically they engaged in the fight against environmental pollution, nuclear energy (1986 saw the Chernobyl disaster), the promotion of animal protection and the campaign against the demolition of Brussels by speculation fuelled by the presence of the European institutions. With a view to promoting core Green democratic values, most of the members served only a two and a half year term before being succeeded by an alternative Green politician.
1989-1994: The first Green group
A breakthrough in the European elections enabled the Greens to form the first Green group, numbering 30 Members. Greens from France, Italy and Portugal joined the German, Belgian and Dutch MEPs; the group also included some members of the Italian Radical Party. UK Greens achieved the highest overall vote, with 14.9 %, however failed to gain a seat due to the electoral system - to recognise this, the group gave the UK Greens an observer position on the group. In a move to promote gender equality, the Greens introduce an innovative system for the group's presidency with two Co-Presidents of which at least one must be a woman.
Maria Santos (Portugal) and Alexander Langer (Italy) were elected as the first Co-Presidents. Half way through the parliamentary term, they were replaced by Adelaide Aglietta (Italy) and Paul Lannoye (Belgium).
Climate change moved to the forefront of Green policy priorities, with the Greens participating in the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, which laid the foundation for the later Kyoto Protocol. Peace policy also moved to the centre of the Green agenda, with the first Gulf war in 1991. The Green group actively promoted the swift deepening of relations with Central and Eastern European countries after the fall of the iron curtain. Growing concerns about the environmental and health consequences of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) led the Greens to take up this cause. The recognition that this and other key social and environmental issues (that were Green priorities) could be best addressed at European level was a major contributing factor in the movement of the Green group towards a more pro-European outlook at this time, supporting greater European integration.
1994-1999: Tumultuous times
The 1994 European elections brought mixed results for the Greens. Whereas the German Greens achieved a record vote, French and Portuguese Greens lost all their seats. For the first time Greens from Luxembourg and from Ireland were elected, but the group as a whole shrinked to 23 members. When Austria, Finland and Sweden join the European Union in 1995 the group gained four more members, raising the total to 27 members. Alexander Langer was re-elected Co-President together with the German Green Claudia Roth.
The Greens staged a spectacular anti-nuclear action in June 1995, protesting against the nuclear tests on the Mururoa Atoll, during a speech by the newly-elected French President Jacques Chirac at a European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg. With other public actions the Greens succeeded in drawing media attention to their fight against bio-piracy (the patenting of natural genecodes) and cloning.
With the atrocious war and genocide in the former Yugoslavia continuing, anti-militarism and pacifism remained central to the Greens' agenda. The Greens founded the Verona Forum with the aim of promoting peaceful solutions for the Balkans.
In 1995, Co-President Alexander Langer tragically committed suicide. Belgian MEP Magda Aelvoet is elected to serve as Co-President alongside Claudia Roth, who was confirmed as Co-President, in 1997.
In the same year, the Greens established the P7, conceived as a counter event to the meeting of the then G7, the seven most important industrial countries in the world. P7 stands for Poor Seven, and focused on the problems of the poorest countries in the world. The P7 held six conferences in total, drawing the participation of high profile activists such as Vandana Shiva from India. The last P7 was held in 2003 in Kenya with Green Kenyan environment minister Wangari Mathai,
The Greens also played an important role in the uncovering of fraud and nepotism in the European Commission. In December 1998, the European Commission official Paul van Buitenen handed over documentation on mismanagement and nepotism in the European Commission, especially targeting French Commissioner Edith Cresson, to Greens. The Commission led by Jacques Santer was finally forced to step down in March 1999.
1999-2004: The heydays of the European Greens
In 1999, the Greens achieved their best representation since 1984 in the European Parliament, with 38 Green MEPs. Together with 10 MEPs from the European Free Alliance (regionalists and democratic nationalists) they formed the Greens/EFA group, becoming the fourth largest group in the European Parliament. Heidi Hautala (Finland) and Paul Lannoye (Belgium) were elected Co-Presidents of the group. In the same year, German Michaele Schreyer became the first Green EU Commissioner, with responsibility for budget and anti-fraud. Another tragic loss for the Greens occurred in May 2000 when former Co-President Adelaide Aglietta died of cancer.
Around this time, Green parties were also in government in five EU Member States: Italy, Finland, France, Germany, where the charismatic Joschka Fischer took over as foreign affairs minister, and Belgium. This had considerable political consequences, with the five Green environment ministers having a decisive impact on the then ongoing negotiations on the Kyoto protocol. Climate change stayed at the heart of the Green policies with a campaign against the new Bush-administration in the US and a call to boycott US oil companies that blocked any measures against climate change. The campaign culminated in an event with Bianca Jagger at the Gothenburg EU summit in June 2001.
A long-standing priority for the Greens has been increasing protection of human health through better protection of the environment. This was clear from the early stages of the group, with the fight against GMOs and the promotion of GMO-free zones, together with the promotion of organic farming and food security in general. To this end, the group launched a food campaign in 2003.
The Green movement became very prominent in the debate on European integration, despite differences between different national parties. Green members were very active in the Convention, at which the Charter of Fundamental Rights was drafted and then, later, in the European Convention, which led to the draft constitution for Europe. The accession of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Monica Frassoni to the Co-Presidency of the group in 2002 reinforced the pro-European stance of the group. The two MEPs embodied the trans-national idea with their political careers. Cohn-Bendit, the German born former leader of the student movement in 1968 in France had been elected as a German citizen on the list of the French Greens, having previously been elected in Germany. Monica Frassoni, as Italian citizen, was elected on the list of the Belgian Green party Ecolo.
A logical next step for this pan-European movement was to form the first European political family with a view to contesting the 2004 European elections with a common campaign. Previously, European elections had not had any real pan-European dimension. The European Green Party was founded on 21 February 2004 in Rome. In the same room where the Treaty for European Community was signed in 1957, the Green party leaders signed the foundation document.
2004-2009: Adapting to new realities
In the June elections 2004 the Greens won 34 seats but, to their great disappointment, failed to win any seats in the 10 new member states. The Greens renewed their alliance with EFA and, together with some independent MEPs, remaining the fourth largest group in the European Parliament with 42 MEPs.
The Greens took the lead in a number of high-profile battles over EU legislation, bringing the group into conflict with the intensive lobbies from different industry sectors.
The group fought a vanguard action in the European Parliament against the proposed 'software patent': an attempt to introduce US-style software patents to the EU, which would have devastating consequences for smaller, open source software developers. Together with a small NGO coalition, the Greens succeeded in having the law rejected by the European Parliament in June 2005, bringing an end to a 3-year legislative process.
The Greens also played a prominent role in fighting for tougher control of chemicals in the EU. An EU legislative proposal, which became known under the acronym REACH (for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals), had also been proposed in the previous legislature with the aim of regulating chemicals in Europe. In the face of an intensive lobby by the chemical industry to water down the proposed law, the Greens launched a campaign in 2005. The compromise finally adopted by the Parliament, while falling short of the level of protection sought by the Greens, certainly represented a big step forward in terms of the protection of consumers and the environment from toxic substances.
An ongoing conflict between market liberals and those in favour of a more social Europe was encapsulated in and symbolised by one particular proposal: the Services Directive. The Greens led attempts to oppose an element of this proposal that they feared would open the door for social dumping across the EU. The so-called 'country of origin' principle would have allowed service-providing companies to operate in Member States with higher standards of social and consumer protection, without respecting these laws The Greens were successful and the 'country of origin' principle was removed from the final legislation adopted in November 2006.
The Greens launched a pan-European climate change campaign in February 2006. The campaign called for tougher measures against climate change, looking at emissions reductions and energy, with a specific focus on transport and 'soft mobility', while at the same time proposing steps that citizens can take themselves to reduce their impact on the climate Since then, with the consensus of UN scientists on climate change and the work of Al Gore, the issue has shot to the top of the global political agenda.
The fight against the efforts of the nuclear industry to relaunch nuclear power has also been an important issue for the Greens over this legislative period. The group organised a conference in Kiev on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in April 2006 and has published a number of studies on the dangers and unfeasibility of nuclear energy.
Following a mid-term reshuffle in the parliamentary groups in 2005, the right wing UEN group overtook the Greens as the fourth largest group. A major silver lining for the Greens, however, came in the European Parliament presidential elections. The Green candidate, Co-President Monica Frassoni, succeeded in gaining 145 votes, attracting support from deputies across the political divide. This success, together with the high vote for the Green Vice-President Gérard Onesta, was both an acknowledgement of the high calibre of these candidates and an indication of the growing appeal of the Green agenda.
At national level, the Green star began to rise again: the Greens were in government in five EU Member States, including in the Czech Republic, raising hopes for the future of the Green movement in the new Member States.
On 27/28th March, at their Congress in Brussels, the European Green parties launched their second common European election campaign, presented the election manifesto «A Green New Deal for Europe» and adopted a resolution «Stop Barroso».
Through their campaign entitled "Europe deserves better", Greens launched an institutional and political fight against the reconduction of José Manuel Barroso as head of the European Commission.
In the June elections, Greens are very successful and win 46 seats but again fail to win any seat in the 12 newest member states. By renewing their alliance with EFA and taking a few independent MEPs on board, the group remains the fourth largest group in the EU parliament.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Rebecca Harms are the Co-Presidents of the group.
2009-2014: Facing the financial, ecological and social crisis
The Greens/EFA group has actively worked to promote progressive and sustainable solutions to the issues facing the European Union.
In response to the economic and financial crisis, the group has been to the fore in pushing for effective regulation of global financial sector, for improved transparency of markets and for a more ethical economy, whilst ensuring social justice and equality remain central.
Greens/EFA has been a leading player at EU-level in pushing for the transformation our resource-inefficient, fossil fuel-dependent economies to a more sustainable model, based on resource and energy efficiency, renewable energies, sustainable transport and agriculture, and green technologies.
The group has worked to ensure the EU is a leader in the international response to climate change in the UN climate negotiations. Greens/EFA has led calls to phase-out nuclear power across Europe, notably in response to the Fukushima disaster. The group has also campaigned against the inherently risky and environmentally-damaging technology of shale gas extraction.
With threats to basic rights and freedoms prominent on the EU agenda, the group has also been to the fore in combating this, whether through defending basic democratic values in EU member states where they are under threat (e.g. Hungary and Romania), preventing the rolling back of core EU policies (e.g. the Schengen border-free system) or sticking up for individual freedoms by opposing plans to store passenger data (PNR) and ensuring the rejection of the controversial ACTA anti-counterfeiting trade agreement.
The Greens/EFA group will continue pushing for these priorities in the future.
2014-2019: We are changemakers
In June 2014, the Greens/EFA got 50 MEPs elected. Rebecca Harms (Germany) and Philippe Lamberts (Belgium) became the co-Presidents of the Group while Ulrike Lunacek (Austria) - who ran as the Greens/EFA candidate for presidency of the European Parliament - was elected vice-President of the chamber for the first half of the legislative period.
In September 2014, the group lead a critical campaign and voted against the team of commissioners proposed by Jean-Claude Juncker as future head of the European Commission. Our Group considered that this College has got the priorities wrong; that the overall composition, the allocation of key-portfolios and above all the policy direction were not what Europeans needed to face Europe’s deep social and environmental crisis and meet the challenges of this century.
At mid-term, Ska Keller (Germany) succeeded Rebecca Harms as co-President.
During the whole legislative period, the Greens/EFA ran various public campaigns on key issues, mainly climate, food, trade, tax justice and transparency and democracy and have been the driving force in:
- the adoption of “clean energy for all” legislation defining how the EU and Member States will put the Paris Climate Agreement into practice.
- calling for a ban on glyphosate, in achieving an almost complete ban on bee-killing pesticides (neonicotinoids) and fighting against the authorisation of new GMOs
- the fight against fraud and the creation of the special committees on Lux Leaks and the Panama Papers
- building a coalition against the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in free trade agreements
- the fight for the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and democratic values in the EU (Hungary, Malta, Slovakia)
- the adoption of an EU-wide Whistleblower protection directive
- protecting individuals’ right to privacy through the adoption of the EU’s strengthened General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
- calling for the establishment of safe and legal pathways for migration for those seeking international or humanitarian protection.
- combatting sexual harassment in the European institutions and pressing for zero tolerance plans to fight and protect against sexual
In the European elections in May 2019, with 74 Members, our group achieved its highest representation ever and became the fourth biggest group in the European Parliament. The Green Wave had swept across Europe and newly elected progressive MEPs joined our Group.
WE CHANGE EUROPE.