Imagine the president of a country, who by name singles out a member of your organisation, asking for why that person is attending a conference on climate change. Then imagine that your mother party is in a coalition government, led by the party of that president. Imagine further a prime minister who attacks a minister of his own government, accusing her of financial incompetence and holding her responsible for that her department may fail in their EU applications. Imagine her party does not come to her assistance, but rather accepts her being forced out even though one out of two applications submitted by her department is accepted, while many other departments fail totally. Imagine the party that accepted her being forced out of government is your mother party. Imagine being in bed with the conservatives!
Three Green parties in Europe are in national government, and all of them together with conservative parties: the Czech, the Finnish and the Irish Greens.
Ireland: Shell pipelines and roads through ancient hills
In Ireland, a coalition government of Fianna Fáil centreright, Progressive Democrat liberals and the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, is in power since June 2007.The Greens have two ministries, with responsibilities such as energy, communications, heritage, local government and the environment in their hands. Although the government is still relatively new, the green positions have already received some harsh criticisms.
One Irish young green we talked to started sputtering of anger when the Hill of Tara and the M3 motorway development was mentioned. The hill, traditionally held to be the seat of the pre-Christian High King of Ireland, is a highly symbolic place with both the pagan and archaeological importance. Placing Green ministers in charge of projects that are controversial and unpopular among environmental groups is usually a good way for conservatives to cause conflict within the Green movement, and campaigners that are protesting against the road have taken heckling the responsible Green ministers at public events.
Further, having a Green minister responsible for communications, energy and natural resources leads to tricky situations when it is at his office that activists target with accusations of not doing enough on climate change or for allowing Shell to dig up the countryside. This was done right before Christmas 2007 with Greenpeace-assisted activists putting up banners and taking pictures of the office interior in protest against a pipeline through the Rossport-community on the Irish west coast.
Of course, a Tara or a Rossport may weigh lightly, or heavily, on a young Green’s consciousness, compared to other issues, such as more and better social housing, extending public transport or fixing a lowest social welfare payment at 50 % of the average income, as the Irish Green election manifesto of 2007 promises.
Finland: cheaper cars and strike-breaking laws
The Finnish Green Party has maybe had a somewhat easier time. Since the elections early in 2007, the government coalition government that was formed and is led by an agrarian-conservative Centre party. Other partners in the government are the conservative National Coalition, the languageliberal Swedish Peoples’ Party and, of course, the Greens. With the ministries of Justice and Labour in their hands, the Greens in this government have so far not had any major run-ins with their traditional supporters. For young Greens the biggest problems of government cooperation have been the signing of strike breaking legislation and a poorly carried out renewal of car taxation.
The first, while neither a precedent nor a permanent law, was a hard shock for those who hoped that the Greens would be able to give support to the nurses who were threatening with a mass quitting action. The latter, while marketed as an ecological reform, amounts to a mass price cut for car-based transport. Finnish young Greens, however, tout achievements such as an improved migration policy as well as blocking of conservative attempts to introduce mandatory costs for childcare, which at the moment is free for low-income families.
Czech republic: a U.S. base, climate change deniers, flat tax and internal conflict
And then there is the Czech Republic. The Czech Green party entered parliament and after that, government. Despite having only six parliamentarians, they received four places in the government that was formed after an extended period of negotiations in early 2007. The position of second Deputy Minister and the ministry of environment went to the party chairman, and other positions include that of education, youth and physical training, a minister without a ministry but responsibility for human rights and minorities. Also the foreign ministry went to the Greens, but under the conditions that it did not actually go to the Greens, but rather to an independent minister with the somewhat amazing name of Karl Johannes Nepomuk Josef Norbert Friedrich Antonius Wratislaw Mena von Schwarzenberg. No joke. His full title is His Serene Highness The Prince of Schwarzenberg, Count of Sulz, Princely Landgrave in Klettgau and Duke of Krummau. He was elected senator for a small liberal party in 2004.
Now, a name does not hurt a person, but the processes around joining the government together with the conservative Civic Democrats and the equally conservative Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party does seem to have hurt the Greens. Conflicts on lots of issues, including quite big ones, such as the government’s decision to accept a U.S. missile base on Czech ground, a project to introduce non-progressive taxation and even the sacking of a Green minister partway through her term have kept Czech young Greens amazed throughout the year. This on top of being in a government presided by one of the most famous polemicists claiming that climate change does not exist, Vaclav Klaus.
In the Czech case, the Young Greens have also clearly taken sides on some of the issues. By arguing about a correct party line in various bodies of the Greens, they have also received a lot of attention, not all of it welcome. One young Green working on climate change was personally singled out by the President, who asked how it was possible that this individual had participated in a conference on climate change.
The main achievement of the Czech Greens in the government, through the eyes of the Green youth, would be the fact that the Czech republic still has not decided to build more nuclear power plants, and even that does not seem too far off. Prime minister Topolanek claims that the country will need more nuclear power plants in order to meet common EU emissions targets. This despite the country already being a net exporter of energy.
Young Greens in each country of course have their own relationships to their various Green parties. In some countries the Green youth organisations are the official youth organisation of the Party, in some few they have no connection. While showing a respect for this, it certainly is interesting for young Greens to share information and knowledge on how the various Green parties are doing.
If you and your organisation find the topic interesting, why not share what you know?