Please comment on the results of the elections to the European Parliament.
The 2019 European election results were positively surprising, for a multitude of reasons. For one, the tendency of declining voter turnout at the European elections, a trend that we have observed since 1999, was reversed, as 50.62% of the EU electorate cast their ballots over the course of four days of elections. Voter turnout especially spiked in member states that joined during and following the 2004 large expansion, with Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland and Romania all registering the highest European election turnouts in their histories. It is therefore safe to say that the current European Parliament has great legitimacy and is the most representative Parliament of the EU’s population in the last 20 years based on sheer numbers in proportion to the population.
Secondly, Green parties performed better than expected. The Greens gained unexpected seats in Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal and the UK, while in France and Germany, the Greens achieved a higher percentage than previously projected, confirming that for a significant proportion of the electorate, these elections were climate elections. The Greens performed exceptionally well with the younger electorate, coming first among voters aged under 34 in France, and in Germany, the Greens had more votes among the electorate under the age of 30 than the Social Democrats, Liberals and Christian Conservatives combined. As a result, the Greens/EFA group, which is now officially the fourth largest group in the parliament, is the largest ever in terms of the number of MEPs within (75), and the outcome of these elections were the best results of the member parties of FYEG’s mother organisation, the European Green Party.
We are especially happy and proud that four former FYEG spokespersons are now MEPs, one of them being the co-president of the Greens/EFA group, and that we have helped elect 7 MEPs under 35 to the European Parliament through our Young Candidates’ Platform.
This success, of course, wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless work of climate activists and movements. Fridays For Future, Extinction Rebellion, the young people taking their states to court for not realising sufficiently ambitious climate targets and spokespersons of the climate movement in all European countries have contributed significantly to the fact that most voters prioritised concrete and immediate action against climate change and sustainability during the vote.
It must also be noted, however, that the Green Wave did not cover Europe equally – while Western and Northern European Greens all have reason to celebrate, the breakthrough of the Greens in Central, Eastern and Southern European countries is yet to come, even though the climate movement has managed to thematise the elections in these regions as well.
Looking at the bigger picture. it is also noteworthy that progressive and pro-European forces outperformed the often prophesied far right surge, while the status quo parties of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats both lost more than 30 seats in the European Parliament.
What opportunities and challenges do you see?
As Charles Dickens famously wrote in the Tale of Two Cities – it is the best of times and it is the worst of times.
With the Greens surging towards the top in the West and the North, close attention, a significant amount of work and a new strategy will be required to revitalise the Green movement in the South and East of Europe. This work must begin now, as five years might sound like a long time, but in organisation–building and outreach, it might just be enough.
The reinforced Greens/EFA group gives the Green family a remarkable responsibility. Europe is facing several crisis situations, from the immediate climate emergency, through the lack of access to social rights and a dignified way of life for an increasing number of people in Europe, particularly younger people, to the threats to democratic principles and the rule of law in multiple member states of the EU and beyond. With the spectre of Brexit looming over our heads, with Italy and the Commission at loggerheads over the country’s budget, with thousands drowning every week in the Mediterrainan, with trade deals being made with climate change deniers, with women’s rights being called into question yet again, with the democratisation of the selection process of the Commission suddenly disappearing without a trace, with anti-LGBTQI+ violence on the rise, and with certain member states actively working to weaken the political union, but happy to reap the benefits, while their citizens do not profit from them, the European project is facing perhaps its most turbulent time yet.
However, any crisis also carries in itself the possibility to change and the opportunity to shape the outcome for the better. These situations require fundamental changes, thorough review and immediate attention and the Greens will be there at the forefront making sure that the outcomes are the best for both the people and the environment of Europe.
What expectations do you have of the Green Group?
Greens cannot and will not sit still and this is not the Europe that we envisioned and most certainly not the Europe our voters gave us a mandate to build. And with the most members the Group has ever had, it is a historic opportunity for Green legislators to work together with movements, civil society organisations, Green minded activists and youth organisations to bring about substantial change in how the EU functions and what its priorities are. That is why the Greens/EFA group entered into the majority negotiations with proposals on content, and to make sure our priorities are part of the political agenda for the next five years.
With such a great legitimacy it is high time that Europe becomes the leading voice in the fight against climate change. We will work closely with the Group and especially our elected young MEPs to keep European political actors under tight scrutiny, and to deliver the socially just, sustainable, democratic, welcoming and inclusive Europe that we have promised to our supporters.