Lunacek: Greens’ dream turns social ahead of EU elections

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The financial and economic crisis gives the Greens an opportunity to show voters that they are not just campaigning “to save trees, but people too,” said Austrian Green MP Ulrike Lunacek in an interview with EURACTIV.

Ulrike Lunacek is an Austrian parliamentarian and co-chair of the European Green Party along with Philippe Lamberts (Belgium). 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

The Greens are preparing an EU-wide campaign for next June’s European Parliament elections. You are the only political party to launch a pan-European campaign. How different will this campaign be from the one you held for the last EU elections in 2004? 

First of all, we will have more parties participating in the elections, especially those from the new member states, from which we don’t have any MEPs at the moment. I am thinking of the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia. 

Another difference will surely be the different political situation: we have a huge financial crisis. We have an energy crisis. We have a food crisis. All these need to be tackled and the EU needs to take the lead. 

We are demanding from the EU to take the lead in regulating financial markets and deliver what we call a ‘Green New Deal’: investing in energy efficiency and renewables. This should not be seen just as investment in the energy sector, because investment in one sector will have ripple effects in others, which ultimately benefits society. We can create millions of new jobs. We aim for five million jobs in five years. 

Do you think this new agenda will attract more people to vote for the Greens as they will be seen less as a pure ecological movement? 

This is what we hope to achieve. We know also that we have to talk to young people, who are interested in what the world looks like and what the world will look like when they grow up. 

Another difference from the 2004 elections is that we expect right wing and right-wing extremist parties to unite into the international nationalist family. That will be a dangerous development, because many of them are racist and xenophobic and mostly undemocratic. They are usually male-dominated: women have hardly any say. 

Greens are the total opposite. We know we can be an alternative to that kind of extremist force. Young people are interested in where Europe and their own country are heading. 

Our main aim is really to get young people involved and interested in politics. I think we can all learn from the Obama campaign, this ‘yes we can’ attitude and get people to feel they can change the way we are and the way we are doing things, and not wait for the political establishment to change things. 

Was this the reason behind the election of Cem Ozdemir, the 41-year old German-Turkish co-leader of Germany’s Green party, who has already been dubbed ‘The Green Obama’? 

I believe Cem was seeking that role way before Obama was elected. His election is good news for the Greens, showing that Europe is a multi-ethnic society. It shows that people from whatever origin, whatever religion, can lead European politics. Greens take the lead on that and I hope it will be an element that will attract young people. No other political party can claim this kind of openness. Cem is a European and he is a German: as he says, “a German from Anatolia”. 

How is this pan-European election campaign going to attract new voters? Will well-known MEPs and candidates campaign across borders in order to attract new voters across Europe? 

Greens will be running in all countries and we hope to have more MEPs in the new member states. We are planning to have common messages, a common logo, common events simultaneously in different member states. The idea is to create an EU public sphere, where citizens and Greens from different countries can exchange their views. 

Of course, our well-known politicians like Daniel Cohn-Bendit will have a big role. He will go to other countries and help local parties to get greater visibility. 

What about Joschka Fischer? He recently criticised the Barroso Commission’s inability to deal with the financial crisis. Is he trying to come back to European politics? 

The German Greens and European Greens asked him [to do so] at our Council meeting in Berlin. But he told us quite clearly that he does not want to go back to party politics. I also think it is important now for the German Greens to have the time after Joscka Fischer. That time has started already with Cem Ozdemir and Claudia Roth. 

It is great to have such idols like Joschka, but it is also important to have other competent people and show that we have them. 

At European level, we do have them: we have Daniel Cohn Bendit, but also Monica Frassoni. We have other leaders in different fields: Claude Turmes, the energy and climate expert, Rebecca Harms, the anti-nuclear activist from 20 years ago, Raoul Romero, who has done a lot in relation to human rights and Latin America, and Jean Lambert, the UK MEP who is very prominent on migration issues and rights of refugees. 

Our aim is to keep fourth position in the European Parliament [Editor’s note: The Greens are currently the European Parliament’s fourth biggest party, with 43 MEPs from 12 countries]. 

Do you think the EU elections will help Greens in countries which did not manage to send Green candidates to Parliament in recent national elections, like Italy for example? 

In some countries, we have MEPs but not MPs. For example, in Italy as you rightly say, we hope that MEP Monica Frassoni will get the Greens moving again. But also Slovenia. Our member party in Slovenia is a parliamentary party with no MPs, which is a special case. But if they make it to the European Parliament, they will have MEPs. That will strengthen the green movement in Slovenia. 

We will do our outmost to strengthen national parties via the European Parliament elections. Let’s be clear, if you don’t have strong Green parties, then tackling climate change and energy security will just not happen. Just look at what is happening in Italy [Berlusconi’s government has tried to downsize the EU’s energy and climate package, claiming Italy’s industry will suffer from the measures planned to reduce CO2 emissions.] 

You are part of the board of the newly-founded European Green Foundation. What is the foundation’s role and how will it try to influence the outcome of the elections? 

They are like party academies. Their role is to educate people on what we stand for as Greens. They will work with civil society in order to develop green thinking and green acting. 

For example, in Poland, we have a strong Green Party but it is very small. For the European elections there, they would need to connect others. They need to cooperate with civil society and increase the knowledge of potential green activists. The foundation will help. 

Since the first EU elections in 1979, voter turnout has been steadily decreasing. What will the Greens do to encourage more people to cast their ballot and potentially increase the Greens’ chances of getting a higher turnout? 

Considering our electorate, I believe the bigger political families should do more to attract voters. Also, do something so that people get more interested in politics again. But what we can do is be a bit more provocative, demanding reactions and getting citizens interested in politics by raising the right issues. 

For example, saying five million jobs can be created in the EU over the next five years: that will get people interested. 

As dramatic as the financial crisis can be, it has the positive aspect of making people realise that we need the European Union. In particular, small countries are realising that they don’t want to become Iceland. 

In terms of positioning in the political spectrum, will the Greens be seen differently from just an ecological movement? From the first ideas circulating for your election manifesto, it would seem that the Greens are going social? Is that the case? 

We have always shown leadership in human rights issues. We have always paid much attention to representing all parts of society, including minorities, which have also been among our elected politicians. But on social issues, we still have some way to go. We know it and we are going to campaign for a social pact. The EU needs to be seen as doing something for citizens. 

If we tackle the connection between ecology and economy, it shows people that we are not just here to save trees, but people too. 

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