Bütikofer: Green primaries to prompt debate on European ‘change’

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The European Greens have kicked off their primaries for both their European Commission candidate for next year and to spark debate about how to change Europe, says Reinhard Bütikofer.

Reinhard Bütikofer is co-chair of the European Green Party, and MEP for the German Green party Bündnis90/Die Grünen. He spoke to euractiv.de’s editor-in-chief , Ewald König.

Things are getting serious for the Greens, with the launch of the primaries … Yes, the Council gave the green light to green parties last weekend. We had prepared everything, just as the member parties instructed us to do in May in Madrid, so that the light could change to green and so that – not for world history, but at least for us – grand experiments in European democracy can begin.

Yours are considered the father of the primaries. What do you expect? The suggestion came from me, but many supporters are needed to turn an idea into a project. We have a very broad backing from European green parties.

It was the fundamental idea that the primaries would actively reduce the growing gap – between the citizens here, and the institutions there – that created excitement, above all among young people. Not only party members will be invited to participate in the procedure, but all people over 16 who sympathise with green ideas and green goals.

They are invited to take part in choosing two people to be the face and voice of the Green Party’s campaign for the European elections. On the one hand, this move is a consistent progression of the position that the Green Party has had for a long time. Many years ago, we were the first ones who sincerely tried to conduct Europe-wide campaigns. Now we want to take a step forward by not only conducting a campaign for the voters, but with the voters.

In this way, we believe we can contribute to this – I say this in a somewhat emotional tone now – small democratic revolution which we intend for these European elections.

These elections will be about giving the voters influence over choosing the next head of the Commission. On this issue, the EPP, the Socialists, the Liberals and the Greens have come to a common decision at the European level: Each of us wants to put forward European top candidates to compete with each other over defining a course. In this way, we hope to personify the competition to determine the course of Europe. And from this group of top candidates, the person with the corresponding election victory will step forward as the candidate who should become the next president of the European Commission.

That would give the elections additional political suspense and additional weight. In contrast to the other parties, the Greens negotiate quite openly. Of course, for us all of this is terra incognita as well. Nobody has done anything like this at the European level yet. I have been receiving many interested inquiries from organisations who are considering how to promote more European democracy.

And from other parties? Well, interested glances…

Certain risks are involved, possible distortions, but you are taking these into consideration? We have also listened to several critical opinions from the inside. One difficulty is the degree of security for elections that has been standardised for instance by the German or the Austrian constitutional court. We cannot offer this because we do not have candidate lists. But we recruited the service of a company in Barcelona that is a market leader with significant experience worldwide. We even spent money to commission a white hat hacker, an ethical hacker who had two days to attempt to infiltrate the system or to paralyse it. In the end, he reported: it stands.

Can and should such a primary make the European elections more attractive as a whole and increase voter participation? I do not want to promise too much when we have only just started. For our green parties however, it means we will have many more joint discussions and much more interest as well, particularly for the weaker green parties in Eastern Europe and Southern Europe. There, not all of them are as strong as the Austrians, Finns, Swedes or the Germans.

We will go to Athens with our applicants for the top candidacy to conduct public debates viewable via webstream.

There, we will focus on the following question: Where do the Greens want to go with Europe? Not only in Athens, but also in Rome and Madrid, in Paris and London, in Gothenburg and Prague, in Berlin and Cologne. In this way, more vivacity and more perception can be contributed. We will begin now, in November, and it will last until the end of January. So, hopefully we will already create awareness in the preliminary phase of the actual European election. That cannot do any harm.

That way, there will be fewer postage stamp placards in the European elections, with unknown faces without messages? The placards will surely still exist; but probably with messages too.

Which ones? That Europe should change. That we – if we do not want Europe to fall victim to the populists on the far right and the far left – must do a whole lot of things better and differently for a Europe, that reflects the expectations of the citizens.

Many observers forecast a meaningful role for right-wing populists in the future European Parliament. I have no reason to talk them up, thereby giving them the political oxygen with which they hope to become powerful. Instead, entre nous, we should openly and honestly discuss what can be done better in Europe and how.

Amid all of the criticism regarding crisis management and all the new tensions in national expectations, the fundamental position of the population still remains positive. Europe is an achievement.

That is the way things are. However, if those who have been working toward this achievement for such a long time and want this perspective to endure, present themselves as defenders of the status quo and want to follow business-as-usual; if they make the impression that they do not understand why justified criticism is offered, then the criticism will move to those who are in opposition anyway. That is what we do not want to allow. 

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