The European Greens look back on two exceptional years of electoral history. In 2019, members of the European Green Party (EGP) won record numbers of seats in the European election. This two-article series shows how EGP members profited from this electoral wave in 2020 and sheds light on what to expect from elections in Europe in 2021. This first article shows that the Greens in Europe generally were able to establish themselves further at the local and regional level in Western Europe and get a foot in the door in some Eastern European countries.
Read the second part of Tobias Gerhard Schminke's analysis: "The present and future of the Green wave – Part 2: The Future".
2020 in review: The Green Wave remains stable
In 2019, members of the European Green Party (EGP) won record numbers of seats in the European election. However, the picture is less clear for the current year. With no opinion polling on voting intention at EU level and no European elections held in 2020, it is difficult to estimate the current level of voter support across the EU for the European Greens. However, an exclusive Europe Elects estimate for the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung – based on polls for the national parliamentary and the French Presidential elections – shows that the European Green Party continues to have strong support in the EU.
Europe Elects projects that in November, EGP members had on average a 6.6% share in the EU vote weighted by the voter turnout in the 2019 parliamentary elections. That is only slightly below the November 2019 level of 7.3% and at the same level as in November 2018 (disregarding the UK). Based on that, one could conclude that support for the Greens in Europe over the past two years has been reasonably stable and that the Green wave has not yet faded. Election results at the national, regional, and local levels support this finding.
New government participation: Montenegro and Ireland
Many elections in Europe at all administrative levels saw, to at least some extent, "Green waves," i.e. high and increased vote shares in elections for the Greens. At the national level, two political parties saw record highs of support in elections and subsequent government participation. The Green Party in Ireland, for example, achieved a record result of 7.1% or 12 out of 160 seats in the national election of 8 February 2020, propelling the party into a government coalition with the two centre-right parties Fianna Fáil (Renew Europe) and Fine Gael (EPP). Since the Greens agreed to the coalition, the party's support has declined in polls to around four percent.
URA (Građanski Pokret Ujedinjena reformska akcija, United Reform Action) followed a similar trajectory in Montenegro. The EGP member won 5.5% of the vote, or four out of 81 seats in the unicameral parliament. It was the first time URA had run with a separate list since its creation in 2015. Subsequently, URA entered a government with national-conservative and centre-right political parties. The success is remarkable as it is one of the most substantial results for a European Green Party member outside the EU in Eastern Europe in recent years.
Piggy-backing into parliament on shared lists in Eastern Europe
In various Eastern European countries, the Greens managed to achieve favourable results as part of alliances and shared electoral lists. The Croatian "Zeleno–lijeva koalicija" ("Green-Left Coalition") alliance, of which EGP member ORaH is a constituent member, achieved 7.0% in the national elections of 5 July 2020. While ORaH did not win a seat in the unicameral chamber, it is a remarkable victory for a left-green alliance in the Balkans. Croatia is a post-Communist country, where Green and socially progressive left-wing parties usually struggle to get a foot into the door. "Možemo" ("We can") leads the alliance. The party established itself as recently as February 2019 and, according to the general secretary of the European Greens, Mar Garcia, has friendly relations with her organisation. If Možemo joined the EGP, it would undoubtedly continue to strengthen EGP's position in the Balkans.
As in many other Eastern European countries, support for newcomers in the political party landscape in Croatia is frequently short-lived. The left-wing and anti-EU party Živi Zid ("Human Wall"), for example, lost parliamentary representation after only five years. These years were marked by the departure of party founder Ivan Perner in 2019 and a subsequent decline in voter support. The Left-Green Coalition still has to prove that it will not follow the same path. In December 2020, the left-wing Radnička fronta ("Workers Front") left the Left-Green Coalition, which weakens the alliance's position for 2021.
EGP member "Demokratska obnova na Makedonija" ("Democratic Renewal of Macedonia," DOM) joined the Koalicija Možeme list led by the Social Democrats of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in this year's national elections in North Macedonia. That won them minor representation, with 2 out of 120 seats in the unicameral parliament. Zaev, together with his Greek former counterpart Alexis Tsipras (SYRIZA, GUE/NGL), gained international recognition for brokering the Prespa Agreement resolving the Macedonian naming dispute between the Former Yugoslav Republic and Greece in 2018. Democratic Renewal of Macedonia was founded in 2006. It has been represented in the national parliament with either one (2006-2016) or two (2016-2020) MPs through electoral lists led either by the main centre-right or the centre-left party in the country.
In the first round of the national elections in Georgia on 31 October 2020, EGP member "Sakartvelo's Mtsvsneta Partia" ("Green Party of Georgia") won a disappointing 0.1% of the vote and no seats. The party had previously piggy-backed into parliament in 2012 with 6 out of 150 MPs on a shared list dominated by the centre-left Georgian Dream party. The Georgian Greens decided to abandon that strategy for the 2020 election.
In Romania, Partidul Verde ("Green Party") won 0.4% of the vote for the upper and lower houses of parliament. Partidul Verde had entered parliament on shared lists in the past, but decided to run independently in this year's election on 6 December. The Greens in Romania face competition for a small environmentalist electorate from the Romanian Ecologist Party (PER), a socially more conservative and economically centrist party which also focuses on environmentalist issues, at least in name. PER earned 0.9% of the vote and has no affiliation with the European Greens.
According to its website, the European Green Party has no constituent party members in Lithuania, Serbia or Slovakia, where parliament elections also took place in 2020. The Azərbaycan Yaşıllar Partiyası did not stand in the national election of 9 February in Azerbaijan, which was described as neither free nor fair by observers. The absence of the EGP in all these elections and its weakness in Romania and Georgia show that it will still be a long journey until the Greens are established as a political force to be reckoned with in Eastern Europe.
Taking the mayoralties of Western European cities
At regional level, EGP member parties achieved notable historic highs in Hamburg (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, known as GRÜNE or Alliance 90/The Greens: 24%), Basel-Stadt (Grüne Partei der Schweiz, abbreviated as GPS, or Green Party of Switzerland: 17%), Vienna (Die Grünen – Die Grüne Alternative, The Greens – The Green Alternative, abbreviated to Grüne: 15%), Jura (GPS: 11%), Thurgau (GPS: 11%) and Aargau (GPS: 10%).
At local level, the Green wave swept through German and French cities in 2020, with mayoralties turning Green in Aachen (independent backed by GRÜNE), Annecy (independent backed by French EGP member EELV), Besançon (EELV), Bonn (GRÜNE), Bordeaux (EELV), Lyon (EELV), Marseille (EELV party membership and backed by EELV in the second of two rounds), Strasbourg (EELV), Tours (EELV) and Wuppertal. In the Austrian region of Vorarlberg and the German region of Bavaria, the Greens became the second-largest party in this year's local elections, for the first time ever.
In many regional elections in Southern and Eastern Europe, for instance the Basque region, Emilia-Romagna, Galicia and various Czech regions, Green lists often remained below two percent of the vote, despite marginal gains. The salient point is that the strong performance by the Greens continues to be driven by high election results in some key states, mostly located in Northern, Western and Western Central Europe.
While a devil’s advocate might point out that the elections in 2020 took place in minor countries or at subnational level, they undeniably produced remarkable results for the European Green Party, for three reasons. Firstly, while other minor political movements lost support during the coronavirus pandemic because voters flocked to support government parties, the Greens were, with few exceptions, mostly able to maintain their high level of voter support. They accomplished historic electoral highs across the continent in the face of a major pandemic. Even though "Green" topics, such as environmentalism and social liberalism, were overshadowed by the pandemic discussions, European voters did not abandon the Greens en masse. Secondly, election successes occurred more than usually also at the local level, where Greens have historically struggled to establish themselves as an independent force. That became especially evident in several French, Austrian and German local elections this year. Thirdly, the success stories of URA in Montenegro, DOM in North Macedonia and the Green-Left Coalition alliance in Croatia give hope to other South-Eastern European Green parties. The message is that, whether on shared or single electoral lists, Green parties can have electoral success in Eastern Europe. The election campaigns of the three organisations deserve the attention of other European Green parties in the region.