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Issue 41, September 1999

Greens in Power

THE VARIOUS GREEN Parties in Europe are exercising power like never before. In a number of countries they have been drawn into government, putting their principles and programmes to the test for the first time.

Their greatest influence is exerted in Germany, where they are a well-established political force with 47 seats in the 669-seat Bundestag (lower house of parliament). They have made the transition from a party of protest to a party which maintains the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) in power in a Red/Green coalition. They hold three ministerial positions, including that of foreign minister - in the hands of their leader, Joschka Fischer - and have 140 Länder (federal state) seats. This year's special congress held in Bielefeld in May was a further milestone in the evolution of Germany's Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens - so-called after the link-up between the East and West German Green movements after German reunification) into becoming part of the political establishment.

Despite spirited protests, including paint bombs (one a direct hit on Fischer), male streakers and even fist fights, the congress voted by 444 to 318 to support Fischer and the Nato bombing of Serbia. Hundreds of riot police were drafted in to protect the pro-war delegates - the irony was not lost on many activists often on the receiving end of police brutality in anti-nuclear protests and other campaigns.

This metamorphosis has not been without its electoral consequences. In February's state election in Hesse (one of Germany's 16 Länder) the Greens saw their vote slump from 11% to 7% - their fifth consecutive election drop. And in March, the Green environment minister, Jürgen Trittin, even floated the possibility of a 'Green/Black' pact with the CDU (Christlich-Demokratische Union - conservatives) because of strains in the Red/Green coalition.

The Greens in France, with seven seats in the 557-seat Assemblée nationale, and one ministerial position, also prop up a social-democratic government. Similarly, in Finland and Italy - where they each have one minister - and in Sweden, although they have no cabinet positions, they support social democratic administrations.

  The feature in all cases of the Greens in office is just how quickly practical considerations and the desire to hold onto usually very limited power have brushed aside issues of principle. Pekka Haavisto, the Finnish environment minister and Green leader, epitomises their approach: Greens, he said, have to learn to be happy taking small steps at a time.

The problem arises when fundamental changes are called for. How is it possible to stop the wastage and destruction of natural resources and the pollution of our environment? How can we provide integrated transport systems and other services to all people, based on their needs?

That cannot be achieved on the basis of private companies run for the enrichment of a handful of shareholders. And, ultimately, that means that it cannot be done on the basis of private profit - the very foundations of capitalism. That, therefore, leads to the need to struggle against the multi-national companies - the biggest polluters and exploiters of natural and human resources on the planet - and the governments which provide their political representation.

An entirely different way of running the economy needs to be put in place of the capitalist greed-before-need system. Working-class people must take control of society, and organise the economy through a democratic plan of production and use of resources. The plan worked out by working-class people, in the interests and needs of the majority in society, would take account of the finite resources of this planet. That new way of organising society is known as socialism.

In the following articles, KIM OPGENOORTH of Sozialistische Alternative Voran (SAV), the German section of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), looks at the Green experience, one year after the Red-Green election victory; MANNY THAIN examines the record of the French Greens; and BILL HOPWOOD reports on the Greens in Britain, one of Europe's smaller Green Parties.

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