Bütikofer: Green parties ‘are not so limited in our reach as we once were!’

"The European Greens are not going to be an auxiliary troops for a Jupiter who is turning into an Icarus right now.» [European Parliament]

Pan-European polls do not paint a pleasant picture for the continent’s green parties: if elections were to be held today, they would only win a quarter of the 50 seats they currently hold in the European Parliament. EURACTIV Germany spoke with European Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer about the issue.

Reinhard Bütikofer is an MEP with the Greens/EFA Alliance and represents Bündnis 90/Die Grünen at a national level.

He spoke to euractiv.de’s Manuel Müller.

Last June, you wrote on your website about “worrying signs of green weakness in the EU”. What is the reason for this weakness?

If you look at the situation, it’s a real mixed bag. In Finland, the Greens are doing better than in a long while, but in France, there are real problems. Overall, the big challenge is to find an answer to the difficult economic crisis and the disintegration of social cohesion that is going on in different countries.

Our aim is to be among the pro-European parties that are not afraid to voice their criticisms for the good of the European project. In politics, when the easy, incorrect answers come to the fore, it is sometimes a difficult message to convey.

The Greens are the only outright pro-European party that is not represented in the European Commission or the European Council. Should you take on more of an opposition role in that case?

I don’t know whether it would be wise to insert ourselves as a “party of contrast”. Most citizens do not need someone to hold their hand when it comes to criticising their representatives. A party like that would be surplus to requirements.

And where green representatives do have executive power, there have been good results. The example of Baden-Württemberg in Germany comes to mind, as does Grenoble in France, where the mayor has been a green since the last elections. There are examples like this in many countries, but there aren’t enough like it. In the end, it depends on actions, not just words.

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You have already spoken about the differences between the member states: in the west and north of the EU, the Greens are quite strong, but in the south and east you are hardly represented. How are the European Greens going to deal with this?

We are organising an intensive knowledge-sharing exercise between different green stakeholders, especially at a local level. I am firmly convinced that we can build a lot of confidence in our policies, especially at that level.

And we are not so limited in our reach as we once were! For example, there is a green group in the Hungarian parliament, which after riding out a rough patch, managed to secure re-election at the last election. And in the Czech Republic, we saw success in the regional elections, while Croatia now provides for the first time a green MEP.

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Of the successful newcomer parties to emerge on the European political landscape lately, we are talking about Podemos, Ciudadanos, Syriza and the Five Star Movement, none have taken the green route. Instead, they have plumped for the left or liberal option. Do the Greens have a problem with attracting new movements?

There are a number of parties in several European countries that want to be included in the European Greens family. So there is a certain attraction there.

Nevertheless, we do have to work more closely with civil society groups. When it comes to carbon divestment, which seeks to reduce and eliminate the amount of investment put into fossil fuels, we are heavily engaged in different countries. In terms of LGBTIQ rights, we are a reliable partner throughout Europe.

At the same time, we can’t bury our heads in the sand to what is happening with the economy: Numerous companies today want to undertake an ecological transformation in the way they do business, something we have long advocated. We need to be open partners for all these different movements.

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