New Europe is old enough to remember the mid-Noughties, the last European honeymoon years. Angela Merkel had just been elected Chancellor, the largest to-date wave of enlargement had been successfully completed and the Euro seemed to deliver for all. Peace and prosperity had finally been achieved for all. We had it so good that the bloc was looking for a new raison d’être.
The “Green Union” seemed to be a comfortable new endeavour, then history returned as a financial crisis and we had to back to the basics. The political machine of the European Union is slowly waking up to the reality that real solutions to real problems are what we will have to deliver.
However shocking it might seem to the policy-makers that came of political age in the boom years, there are Europeans that struggle to make ends meet. There is inequality, fear, uncertainty, resentment. There was in 2005, as well. The only difference is that the lustre of the last period of exorbitance blinded those at the top. Fast-forward 13-years and the Greens are back. In Germany, Alliance 90/The Greens have crossed the benchmark threshold of 20% in recent polls to play in the big leagues and the Socialists have been relegated to third or even fourth place. In the most recent elections in Bavaria, they won 30% of the vote in urban centres of 100,000 inhabitants or more.
Despite their unprecedented success in Germany, however, New Europe questions the ability of the movement to spread beyond a handful of Central European and Nordic countries. 29 out of the 50-strong European Parliament group come from four countries: Germany, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Current projections reflect a similar pattern. As the European Green family assembles in Berlin to elect their two co-leading candidates for the position of Commission President this weekend (Ska Keller from Germany, Petra de Sutter from Belgium, and Bas Eickhout from the Netherlands are running), the breakdown of delegates reflects the same reality – 60% of the representatives come from 11 member parties out of a total of 37. Only one of those 11 parties comes from Eastern Europe and none from the south.
New Europe believes that for the Greens to truly matter on a Europe-wide level, they will have to adapt their narrative to provide answers to divergent groups from within European society – the many, not the few – beyond their niche. Especially those that feel entrapped on the wrong side of any of today’s divides, the left-behind from Eastern and Southern Europe as well as many others. They otherwise run the risk of temporarily becoming the go-to party of affluent, well-educated, middle-class urbanites, who can afford to worry about the environment, and those ridden with middle-class guilt. They will have their chance this weekend. They have a choice between remaining small and being swallowed by a larger fish in the centre, or go big.