Pyrrhic victories? The Green electoral year 2022

Analysis

In 2022, European green parties increased their number of seats in most elections while witnessing some of their fiercest opponents win power. As such, the year was somewhat of a Pyrrhic battle for the Greens at the ballot box: though battles were technically won, the overall outcome can hardly be considered a complete victory.

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The European Green Party’s (EGP) members won many small victories in national parliament elections, increasing their seat share in Denmark, France, Italy, Latvia, and Sweden. However, at the same time, the EGP member parties struggled to translate this trend into government power. In fact, in many countries, the fiercest opponents of the Greens gained government control, for example, the Sweden Democrats or the Brothers of Italy. From a grand European perspective, the Greens celebrated Pyrrhic victories: while elections were technically satisfying from a narrow numerical perspective, they did not deliver a win over cabinet positions due to the weakness of the Green’s allies.

Parliamentary setbacks in the South and East

The electoral year on the national level started with a disappointing result for the Portuguese Greens. The Partido Ecologista Os Verdes, which had won representation in every national parliament election since 1983, failed to secure any seats. Since the mid-1980s, the party has been the minor partner of the Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU) alliance, alongside the more dominant but increasingly antediluvian-appearing Portuguese Communist Party, itself part of The Left Group in the European Parliament. The CDU alliance dropped to only 4.3%, its worst-ever result, losing half of its parliamentarians. Moreover, the election also turned the minority government of centre-left Prime Minister and European Council member António Costa into a majority government, further cementing the CDU’s lack of influence over the government’s policy-making.

Malta elected a new national parliament on 26 March 2022, renewing the mandate of centre-left Prime Minister and European Council member Robert Abela. The Maltese Greens, which ran for the first time as “AD+PD” – after the “Democratic Party” merged with the EGP member “Democratic Alternative” (AD) in 2020 – failed to enter the parliament. The result for the party, 1.6% (0.7 compared with the combined result of AD and PD in 2017), was in line with the previous unsatisfying results of the party.

Hungary re-elected far-right Prime Minister and European Council member Viktor Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz/KDNP alliance in the national parliament election on 3 April 2022. EGP member LMP – Magyarország Zöld Pártja ran as part of the United for Hungary opposition alliance. In an election campaign that systemically disadvantaged the opposition parties, LMP’s number of seats dropped to only 5, the lowest seat share since the party first ran in a national parliamentary election in 2010.

No EGP member party ran in the national parliamentary election in Serbia on 3 April 2022, in which President Aleksandar Vučić’s conservative SNS-led alliance won their fifth consecutive election. However, the EGP had endorsed Ne Davimo Belgrade and Zajedno za Srbiju, which both ran as part of the “We Must” alliance. The two parties entered the national parliament for the first time in history, winning 4.8% and 13 out of 250 seats.

European Green Party member SMS - Zeleni Evrope did not participate in Slovenia's 2022 national parliamentary election.

Bittersweet parliamentary gains: Bulgaria, Italy, Sweden

Results for EGP member parties improved with the parliamentary election in France. 15 Europe Écologie Les Verts members were elected into the 577-seat lower house of the national parliament, up from just one in 2017. The party benefited from being part of the left-of-centre NUPES alliance, which left-wing Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon had initiated in 2021. The majoritarian two-round electoral system in France disproportionately disadvantages small parties, as usually the two strongest constituency candidates of the first round advance into a run-off. In the past, a fragmented left-of-centre bloc mostly failed to compete with a united centrist or right-of-centre bloc. Due to the newly created NUPES (which groups greens, socialists and leftist parties), this dynamic changed, triggering windfall benefits for the French Greens. In the national parliament by-election of Yvelines' Second constituency in fall 2022, the EELV candidate won 18.6% (4.1 compared with the June election) in the first round and 28.3% (7.4) in the second round. By-elections are triggered in single-member constituency majoritarian electoral systems (such as France or the UK) if a seat designated to a constituency becomes vacant, for example, through the resignation or death of the incumbent.

Polls indicated for two years that the Swedish Green Party, Miljöpartiet de gröna, would fail to overcome the 4% threshold if an election was to be held. However, the party, which had supported the centre-left minority government of Prime Minister and European Council member Magdalena Andersson, increased its vote share from 4.4% to 5.1% in the election on 11 September 2022. While this pleased party supporters, many were disgruntled by the fact that Andersson lost power to centre-right Ulf Kristersson, who accepted a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Sweden Democrats, a national-conservative party with roots in ethno-nationalism.

During Czechia's September and October 2022 partial Senate elections, EGP member Zelení lost its only seat held that was up to be contested, the Novy Jicin constituency, to the centre-right KDU-ČSL party candidate.

Voters in Italy elected a new national parliament on 25 September 2022, which led to a victory of the right-of-centre alliance headed by Giorgia Meloni, who became the new European Council member for Italy and Prime Minister of the country. The EGP member party Europa Verde – Verdi (EV) had chosen to support the “Greens and Left Alliance,” which in turn was part of the Centre-Left Coalition alliance. The arrangement led Europa Verde – Verdi to win seven out of 400 seats in the lower house and one out of 200 seats in the lower house. It was the first time since 2006 that the Greens won representation in the national parliament, which last had been achieved by EV’s formal predecessor, Federazione dei Verdi.

The perhaps most significant victory the European Greens celebrated this year was one by its smallest member candidates: Progresīvie in Latvia won, for the first time since its inception in 2017, national parliamentary representation on 1 October. In a highly volatile election, which saw long-established parties dropping out of parliament, the party managed to increase its vote share from 2.6% to 6.2%.

Bulgarian EGP member Zeleno dvizhenie participated as part of the centrist “Democratic Bulgaria” alliance in the 2 October 2022 snap election, in which the party won 3 out of 240 seats, one more than in the previous election. Democratic Bulgaria was part of the short-lived Petkov government, which disintegrated in June 2022 after only seven months in power. It is unclear whether the alliance can join a new government. Zeleno dvizhenie entered the Bulgarian parliament for the first time in the April 2021 national election, winning four seats, its best result so far.

The EGP’s Danish member Socialistisk Folkeparti, won 8.3% (+0.6 points compared to 2022) in Denmark proper, at the national parliamentary election on 1 November 2022, possibly opening the door to continued parliamentary support to the government of Socialist Mette Frederiksen. The European Greens have no members in the Faroe Islands or Greenland, each having two designated seats in the Danish national parliament.

In the United Kingdom, a range of constituency by-elections were held for vacant seats in the House of Commons, which ended with unremarkable results for the Green Party of England and Wales: The party won 1.4% (0.4 compared with the 2019 election) in Birmingham Erdington constituency, 2.1% (did not compete in 2019) in Wakefield constituency, and 2.5% (1.3) in Tiverton and Honiton constituency. The party did not run a candidate in the Southend West by-election out of respect for murdered incumbent David Amess.

There were no EGP member parties running for parliamentary elections in Jersey (22 June), Bosnia (2 October) and Faroe (8 December) because no section exists in these countries.

Presidents elections

Two independents were re-elected at the beginning of 2022, Sergio Mattarella as President of the Italian Republic (24-29 January 2022)and Frank-Walter Steinmeier as Federal President of Germany (13 February 2022). While both votes were secret, the non-partisan winners (whom both had political careers in centre-left parties) enjoyed the tacit support of green parliamentarians.

In Hungary’s indirect Presidential election on 10 March, independent Presidential candidate Péter Róna was supported by the LMP but defeated by right-wing Fidesz party member Katalin Novák, who after became the country’s first female President.

The candidate of the “We Must” alliance, Biljana Stojković, lost to Aleksandar Vučić in Serbia’s direct Presidential election on 3 April 2022, winning only 3.3% of the votes. Yannick Jadot, who led the green ticket in the Presidential election in France in May 2022, was eliminated in the first round, winning 4.6% of the vote.

More successful were the non-partisan candidates supported by the Greens in Austria and Slovenia. Alexander van der Bellen was re-elected as Federal President of Austria for a second term in the first round with 56.7% of the vote on 9 October 2022. In October and November, Nataša Pirc Musar in Slovenia was elected President with 26.9% (first round) and 53.9% (second round), beating Anže Logar, a member of the centre-right to right-wing SDS party.

The Greens did not contest Presidential elections in Albania (4 June), Armenia (3 March), Bosnia (2 October), and Switzerland (7 December).

Notable subnational elections

The mixed performance of the Greens also reflects on their performance in regional elections. European Green Party affiliates won:

  • 11.2% (2.2) in Nidwalden (Switzerland) on 13 March,
  • 15.8% (+1.6) in Vaud (Switzerland) on 20 March,
  • 5.0% (+1.0) in Saarland (Germany) on 27 March,
  • 12.7% (+2.8) in Berne (Switzerland) on 27 March,
  • 1.9% (0.4) in Northern Ireland (UK) on 5 May,
  • 18.3% (+5.4) in Schleswig-Holstein (Germany) on 8 May,
  • 18.2% (+11.8) in North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) on 15 May,
  • 13.1% (+1.6) in Glarus (Switzerland) on 15 May,
  • 9.2% (1.5) in Tyrol (Austria) on 25 September,
  • 15.3% (+1.6) in Zug (Switzerland) on 9 October,
  • and 14.5% (+5.8) in Lower Saxony (Germany) on 9 October.

In Germany, this resulted in the German Greens joining the State governments of North Rhine-Westphalia (with the Christian-Democrat CDU) and of Lower Saxony (with the Social-Democrat SPD), as well as renewing the government coalition in Schleswig-Holstein (with the Christian-Democrat CDU).

In the regional parliament of the Grisons (Switzerland), the Greens increased their seat-shared from zero to two in an alliance with the Social Democrats. Greens ran unsuccessfully on shared lists in Andalusia (Spain) on 19 June 2022, and in Sicily (Italy) on 25 September 2022, winning no parliamentary representation. Other regional parliament elections, for example, in Slovakia, Spain (Castile and Leon), and Switzerland (Obwalden), were not contested by EGP member parties.

In Amsterdam, EGP member GroenLinks lost its role as the strongest party, dropping to the second position by achieving 14.8% (5.6 compared to the 2018 election) of the vote. Local elections were also held in London (5 May), Reykjavík (14 May), Stockholm (11 September), Prague (23-24 September), Bratislava (29 October), and Ljubljana (November), with unremarkable results for the European Greens.