Should the French Greens turn to Germany for advice on electoral success?
Green candidates for the French presidency often strive to prove that they are radical enough for the party base. But the German “Grünen” have long opted for the opposite path: persuading the electorate at large that they can compromise and that they are trusted as the governing party.
The French Greens begin Sunday to choose their next presidential candidate in a second primary round opposing a faithful of the moderate party to a self-proclaimed radical “eco-feminist”. By the end of the primaries on September 28, German voters will have voted in a general election that could propel the local Green Party into government.
On paper, the timing is ideal for MEP Yannick Jadot, moderate candidate for the French green primary, who did not hide his closeness to the German Grünen. His problem is convincing the grassroots supporters of his own party, who have often gone for the more radical option when offered the choice.
“Our responsibility is to come to power and to govern,” Jadot said Wednesday during a televised debate with his opponent Sandrine Rousseau, who responded by calling his brand of ecology lacking in daring.
It’s a familiar dilemma for supporters of the Greens of France, traditionally torn between a very virulent radical wing and a moderate camp keen to tout its pragmatism and eligibility. Should they be uncompromising on their principles? Or should they adopt a more flexible position like the Grünen, who agree to govern with the conservatives?
The German model
In terms of electoral success, the record of the French Greens is clearly pale compared to that of their German counterparts.
At the national level, the Grünen were key players in Gerhard Schröder’s coalition government between 1998 and 2005, when their leader Joshka Fischer was vice-chancellor and foreign minister. Although they have since been in opposition, they are part of ruling coalitions in 11 of Germany’s 16 Länder (regions) – teaming up with a range of parties ranging from the far left Die Linke to the conservative CDU – and have been the only control of a 12th Land, Baden-Württemberg, over the past decade.
In the last European elections of 2019, the Grünen came second with 20.5% of the vote. Until a few weeks ago, their candidate for chancellor, the “realist” Annalena Baerbock, was considered a serious contender for the succession of outgoing Angela Merkel.
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“The Grünen have succeeded in normalizing their image in the German political landscape,” notes Annette Lensing, lecturer in Germanic studies at the University of Caen-Normandy. “They are now an established and credible party, having proven their ability to govern.”
The French Greens, however, argue that the comparison of election results in France and Germany is inherently unfair, due to the two countries’ very different political systems.
“In the German proportional system, each vote is represented and the coalition system forces the parties to work together,” explains Sandra Regol, vice-president of Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV), the main French environmental party. She adds: “If the German Greens had to come to terms with the French system, it is quite possible that they will score lower than us. “
Such arguments are irrelevant, retorts François de Rugy, former Minister of the Environment under President Emmanuel Macron, who left the Greens in 2015 because of what he called their “leftist drift”.
“The main difference is Grünen’s party platform, which is much less radical than that of the French Greens,” he says. “The German Greens understand the need to be in power. In their minds, being kicked out of government signals failure. “
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According to Lensing of the University of Caen-Normandy, the German Greens have succeeded in overcoming a long-standing internal division between “realos“(Realistic) and”fundis(Radicals).
“The party has rallied to a clearly stated pragmatic line,” she explains. “They are clearly in favor of a socially responsible market economy.
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In contrast, the so-called “realists” are traditionally in the minority among the French Greens. Many of those who pushed the most for power, such as de Rugy and the current Minister of the Environment, Barbara Pompili, ended up quitting the Greens to join Macron’s LREM party.
“I could see that the desire to be a governing party was not shared by [other Greens], specifies de Rugy, for whom “radicalism is a rite of passage” among French environmentalists. It highlights Jadot’s attempts to influence the most radical voters before the second round of the primary.
“Jadot had previously presented himself as a moderate, but since the first round of voting, he has done everything to appear more radical, constantly referring to his past as an activist and a GMO mower,” explains the former minister. “Unfortunately, that kind of attitude means they remain a marginal party.”
Politics in small steps
The “realists” may have a better record at the ballot box, but were they able to deliver once in power?
If the French Greens are careful not to criticize their German counterparts, they also stress that participation in government does not necessarily translate into concrete actions against climate change.
In an interview with the environmental news site Reporterre, the president of EELV, Julien Bayou, said that the Macron government had not understood that the transition to a green economy is impossible “without rethinking our productivist model”.
“There can be no ecological transition without political change. It is not a question of influencing Macron, but of replacing him, ”wrote Bayou, citing another former Minister of the Environment, the eminent environmental activist Nicolas Hulot, who resigned from the Macron government in protest against his failure. of ambition for the environment.
During Wednesday’s primary debate, Rousseau, the radical candidate, also attacked “government ecology”, stressing that she had accomplished very little despite “having been in power since 20 years “. She then lambasted the “policy of taking only small steps”.
In Germany, the Grünen have helped raise awareness of environmental issues and put the fight against climate change high on the political agenda, says Lensing. Despite their best efforts, the German Constitutional Court ruled in April that the government’s actions were insufficient to meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Baerbock, Grünen’s candidate for chancellor, pledged to speed up Germany’s exit from coal, boost renewable energy sources and increase the country’s carbon tax, while maintaining a moderate stance on social policy.
True to their habits, the French Greens have promised to go much further in both areas. Let them choose a “real” or one “fundi”In their primary, they hope that a strong performance by Grünen on Sunday can increase their own chances in next year’s all-important presidential election.
This article has been adapted from the original in French.