Summer 07 World

Next Global Greens Congress Moved To Brazil
Dates Remain The Same, May 1-4, 2008
Brussels, May 25th, 2007

Dear Green Friends,

After much reflection, we would like to inform you that insurmountable logistical problems have made it necessary to change the venue of our Second Green Global Congress from Nairobi, Kenya, to Sao Paolo, Brazil. This difficult decision was arrived at after much consideration and consultation with our African Green Friends, including Professor Wangari Maathai, who was a full participant.

Although it is not possible for the Congress to be held in Africa in 2008, we believe that with support from Greens Foundations such as the Heinrich Boll (Germany) and the Green Forum (Sweden), as well as from other organizations and with the strong engagement of the African Greens, there will certainly be an African-hosted Global Green Congress in the coming years.

Happily the enthusiastic proposal of our Brazilian Green Friends to hold our Second Global Green Congress in Sao Paulo — supported unanimously by the Federation of Green Parties of the Americas — makes us fully confident that the 2008 Congress will provide an extraordinary platform to underscore Green solutions to global challenges.

The last report of the World Watch Institute makes clear that the explosive growth of mega cities, such as Sao Paolo, is exacerbating the global energy/climate crisis. Thus Sao Paulo is a significant setting in which to discuss both the politics of climate change and energy policies and the concrete challenge of improving the quality of life for the majority of the world’s citizens. We expect that reflecting upon the daily local problems of one of the world’s largest mega cities will bring us to a deeper understanding of the means to effect needed global change.

The meeting will be an occasion to confirm our position not just on major ecological questions relative to Brazil, such as the Amazonian forests and the agro-fuels, but also to reaffirm that in a time when everybody speaks about the environment and climate change, Greens are more needed than ever.

Once more we will reaffirm our deep conviction that there can be no real ecological shift without the ecologists. Brazil is a good example of this. More information on Sao Paulo 2008 will be found on in the coming weeks and months.

We look forward to seeing you in Brazil in 2008.

The Global Greens Coordination


Back In Government
Finland’s Greens Enter National Coalition Once Again
by Panu Laturi, Party Secretary, Vihreät-De Gröna (Finnish Green Party)

For the first time since 2002, when it left coalition government over the Finnish parliament’s decision to approve construction of a new nuclear power plant, Vihreät-De Gröna (the Greens) is back in coalition government.

After receiving 8.5 percent of the vote in the March 18 General Elections and increasing the number of seats from 14 to 15 in the 200-member Finnish parliament, Vihreät entered into negotiations to form a new government together with the Centre Party, (51 seats), the right-wing National Coalition Party (50 seats), and the Swedish People’s Party (9 seats).

Such a potential coalition, based primarily upon the Centre and National Coalition parties, became the natural base for forming the government after the Social Democratic Party lost heavily in the March elections, falling from 53 to 45 seats. But this placed the Greens in a new situation, because from 1995 to 2002 – when Vihreät was part of the government in a five-party coalition – the government contained both right-wing and left-wing parties. Now there were only right-wing.

But that didn’t stop Vihreät from pursuing negotiations to form a government, because during the election they said that the parties in the government are not the main issue, but rather what issues are contained in the government’s program.

During its General Election campaign, Vihreät’s manifesto defined ‘Green’ as standing for “courage, responsibility and justice. The party’s main issues were ‘supporting the poorest in society and families’, including through advocating a guaranteed basic income, as well as addressing climate change through promoting sustainable energy use through conservation and renewable sources.

Entering negotiations Vihreät had five main goals: Vihreät would be allowed to oppose nuclear power in the government and in parliament; there would be a move towards establishing a basic income, implemented through the Social Security program; ecological taxes would begin; that no environmental legislation would be weakened; and the two highly controversial and environmentally destructive Kollaja and Vuotos dams would not be built, dams the nation’s environmental movement has been fighting for years.

Negotiations on behalf of Vihreät were led by party chair Tarja Cronberg, parliamentary group leader Heidi Hautala and party secretary Ari Heikkinen. After five days of difficult negotiations, Vihreät got agreement on its key points. Then the agreement was put to a vote of the party’s National Council as well as its parliamentary group and both groups approved it by consensus.

As part of the agreement, Vihreät also received two ministers in the coalition deal – both women – as Cronberg, 61, became Labor Minister and Green MP Tuija Brax, 44, Justice Minister. In addition to these ministerial posts, Green MP Oras Tynkkynen, 29, was appointed Special adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change.

Among the Green MPs are also Hautala and former European Green spokesperson Pekka Haavisto, who in recent years spent time with the United Nations in Afghanistan, as European Union Special Representative in Sudan, and from 1995-1999 was Finnish Minister of Environment and Development Aid.

Overall the parliamentary group contains ten women and five mean, with five members of the group under 32. Overall, Vihreät ran 202 candidates in the parliamentary elections, of which 107 (53 percent) were women. The average age of was 40.4 years, with the youngest 19 and the oldest 68. On the city council level, the last local elections were held in 2004 and the Greens gained 7.4 percent of the votes and 314 councillor seats. On the European level, the Greens have one member of the European Parliament, Satu Hassi.

Finnish Greens Enter Coalition With Pro-Nuclear Parties
by Oras Tynkkynen, Green member of Finnish Parliament

The Finnish Greens have not and will not support or sanction any nuclear projects whatsoever.
– Oras Tynkkynen

In 2002 the Finnish parliament voted 107 to 92 to approve a fifth nuclear reactor. Immediately afterward, in protest, the Finnish Green Party Vihreät left the five-party coalition government of which it had been a member of since 1995.

Today, despite being the only party represented in the Finnish parliament that is unanimously opposed to nuclear power (apart from a marginal far-right group), Vihreät recently entered into coalition government with two large pro-nuclear parties – the Centre Party and the National Coalition Party. How can Vihreät reconcile this with its anti-nuclear stance?

The Finnish Greens have always opposed, currently oppose and will continue to oppose building new nuclear power capacity. Its position is crystal-clear although it has not always been successful in communicating that position in the media.

The biggest debate in Finland’s Green Party has revolved around whether it can enter a government that may, or is likely to, give permission to a new nuclear project. While there are slightly differing voices within the party, the mainstream view has been that it should be ready to enter even a pro-nuclear government.

Why on Earth? Firstly, not a single nuclear reactor will be stopped by the Greens voluntarily staying out of, or leaving, the government. The government would still retain its majority even if it lost the support of the 15 Green MPs. The parliament will have the final say in approving new nuclear projects and the pro-nuclear majority would not change regardless of whether Vihreät is in the government or in the opposition.

Secondly, the only way to stop nuclear projects in the long run is to achieve a paradigm shift in energy policy. The party needs to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency ambitiously. Inside the government it will have a better chance to shift energy policy to a greener direction.

Thirdly, being Green is a lot more than opposing nuclear power – providing social security to all, protecting minority rights, promoting energy efficiency and renewables, fighting for gender equality and reducing poverty. As much as nuclear power is opposed, the party has the moral obligation to work for progress in other political fields as well.

Regarding nuclear power, the government program states (rough translation):

“No zero- or low-emission or emission-neutral, sustainable and economically productive energy form, including nuclear power, shall be excluded, but all energy forms will be investigated based on the general interests of the society.”

This tongue-twisting exercise is in verbatim the same formulation that was unanimously accepted by the parliament in 2006. It is also in essence the same that was accepted during Vihreät’s previous government tenure under the previous Social Democratic Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen’s governments I and II. In other words, the new government’s program is not any more pro-nuclear than those of its predecessors.

When interpreting the paragraph, the Greens underline the last part. The government does not ban any energy forms a priori, but rather is willing to investigate all possibilities and draw conclusions after a careful analysis of pro’s and con’s. According to this view, nuclear power is clearly not in the general interests of the society, so more should not be built. The pro-nuclear parties in the government have a different view, but the program does not, per se, mandate or call for building nuclear power.

The Greens have always openly stated that they will vote against any new nuclear projects both in the government and in the parliament. Should the government get an application from the industry for a sixth nuclear reactor, they will keep their promise and vote against it.

Thus the Finnish Greens have not and will not support or sanction any nuclear projects whatsoever.

Oras Tynkkynen first ran for Finnish parliament in 1999 at 21. While not elected, he became a deputy member of parliament in 2003 and when Green MP Satu Hassi was elected to the European Parliament in summer 2004, he assumed her seat, becoming the youngest and first openly gay member of the Finnish parliament.

For more information:

Irish Greens Enter Coalition Government For The First Time
Historic Accord Provides Chance To Show They Can Govern
by Mike Feinstein, Advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

What do you do if you’ve been around for 25 years and you’ve been ahead of the political curve on issues like the environment, but your country’s political system has been behind the times in recognizing it? Then all of a sudden you get a chance for real power, but it’s not at all like you thought it would be?

Instead of being swept into office riding a large Green wave of ecological consciousness, you get roughly the same number of seats as you did the last time. But unlike last time, you have a chance to go into coalition government and possibly exercise real power – except that it would be a coalition with a party that many see as your ideological opposite, including many of your own party members.

That’s exactly the choice the Green Party/ Comhaontas Glas has just faced in Ireland. Here is the story of how they answered it.

The History

The Irish Green Party began in 1981 as the Ecology Party of Ireland (EPI). In November 1982, the EPI participated in its first General Election and then changed its name to the Green Alliance/Comhaontas Glas in 1983. By 1985 they won their first race, when Marcus Counihan was elected to the Killarney Urban District Council.

1987 brought about another name change, this time to the Green Party/Comhaontas Glas signaling a growing electoral focus of the Irish grassroots Green movement. Then came the breakthrough of 1989, when Dublin’s Roger Garland became the Party’s first member of Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) or TD (Teachta Dála, Gaelic for “assembly delegate). Building upon this success, 13 Greens were elected to city and town councils in 1991. In 1994, the party won its first seats in the European Parliament, electing Patricia McKenna (Dublin) and Nuala Ahern (Leinster). But they didn’t stop there, as months later the Dublin City Council elected John Gormley to be the city’s first Green mayor, giving the party an increasingly high profile in the nation’s capital.

May 1997 saw the party double its number of TDs, as Gormley and Trevor Sargent were elected to the Dáil, and two years later, McKenna and Ahern successfully defended their European Parliament seats. After 10 years, the party had seemingly secured a solid place in Irish politics and looked forward to stepping up to the next level.

At its 2001 Annual Convention, the Green Party/Comhaontas Glas took steps to make it a more successful electoral force, including establishing the position of Party Leader and electing Sargent to fill that role. These steps paid off, as in the 2002 General Election the Party added four seats, bringing to the Dáil Eamon Ryan in Dublin South, Paul Gogarty in Dublin West, Ciarán Cuffe in Dún Laoghaire and Dan Boyle in Cork South Central.

In 2004, while McKenna lost a close re-election bid and the party’s second seat fell victim to the reduction in the number of Ireland’s seats in the European Parliament following enlargement of the EU, the Greens performed very well in local elections, expanding their number of town and county Green councilors to 26. Among this group was Niall Ó Brolcháin, elected in Galway, Ireland’s third largest city, who then was named Mayor. Branching out to win in many parts of the country, this also represented a breakout from the party’s perceived traditional Dublin base.

All of this pointed to a potential breakthrough in the Dáil for the Greens in 2007, especially with the increasing focus on Green issues like global warming.

The 2007 Campaign

Coming into the May 24th General Elections, the party targeted 15 TD constituencies with the aim of winning at least seven, and hopefully having enough seats to enter government for the first time.

Signaling the party’s hope for such an outcome, its election manifesto was titled: “The Green Party in Government … it’s time,” focused on climate change, public transit, clean politics, a green economy and tax policy, and community-based planning/sustainable development.

The Greens also criticized the sitting government led by Fianna Fáil (FF) -Ireland’s center-right party of the pro-business establishment – on a variety of fronts: automobile-dependent, haphazard development sprawl, a deterioration in the quality of public infrastructure and services, and the undue influence of corporate donations on public policy.

However, despite the fact that the Green candidates intimated that their preferred government partners would be the other parties in opposition – Labor and the centrist party Fine Gael (FG) – the Green Party did not rule out a coalition with FF. In fact, as early as 2005, delegates at the Green Party’s national convention actually voted overwhelmingly not to enter a pre-election pact with FG and Labor. Their reasoning for this was that participation in such an alliance could drown out the Green voice as well as deprive them of vital vote transfers from other left-wing parties, most notably Sinn Féin (SF).

In 2006, the party voted on a position that precluded the leadership from making pre-election pacts with any party. For better or worse, the party stuck to this line through the campaign. This meant that a coalition with FF was never excluded. Nor was one with SF. It also meant that the Greens were officially outside the FG/ Labor “rainbow alliance.”

Throughout the 2007 election campaign, the party maintained a strict discipline in refusing to outline and set ‘preconditions’ for participation in government. Doing so, it argued, would restrict negotiating options and tie the party’s hands. However, in the absence of declared ‘red lines’, green interest groups, media commentators and opposition politicians took it upon themselves to set preconditions on behalf of the Green Party.

Those preconditions included the use of Shannon Airport in the south west of Ireland by American troops, something the Greens have long opposed. So, too, is the construction of a new motorway near the “Hill of Tara” – Ireland’s ancient seat of pagan ritual and tribal kings and an area central to the cultural heritage of the country. Other issues the Party had previously taken positions against – the construction of the ‘Corrib’ gas pipeline in the North West of the country, and the encouragement through tax breaks and other financial incentives of private healthcare services (called “co-location” as the new facilities would be built on existing public hospital sites) – were less central to the party’s core policy agenda, but nonetheless were closely identified with it, especially in the campaigns in late June.

As the election campaign concluded, and before talks had started, the Party did outline three “dealmakers” – areas in which progress would have to be made before the Greens would be interested in participating. These were climate change, education and political reform.

Election Results

Despite a vigorous campaign that saw the party’s share of national first preference votes increase by 22 percent from 3.84 percent in 2002 to 4.69 percent in 2007, the Greens were “squeezed” by the polarization of the vote between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. While Mary White won a seat for the first time in Carlow-Kilkenny, becoming the party’s first TD in a rural area, Boyle lost his seat, leaving the party with six TDs, the same number as before.

What changed however, was electoral support for the parties of the government. FF went from 81 to 78 seats, while its junior coalition partner, the Progressive Democrats (PD), fell from eight seats to two. Instead of having a solid majority in the 166-member Dáil, FF two-term Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern now needed new coalition partners.

In contrast, FG was the major winner, gaining 20 seats to bring its total to 51, while Labor lost one seat, going into the 30th Dáil with 20. This left FG and Labor – which dubbed themselves the”‘Alliance for Change” with a joint policy platform during the election campaign – with 71 seats, too few to form a government.

At the same time, SF also lost one of its five seats – and, in any event, both FF and FG had ruled out going into government with SF before the election. As a result, barring an extremely unlikely “grand coalition” between FF and FG, the prospects led to either a coalition government including the Greens, the PD and FF, or perhaps an unstable minority government between FF and PD.

The Negotiations

As part of its pre-election preparations, the Greens established a committee in 2006 that would already be in place, and had worked at formulating positions and strategies for talks to enter government, should the opportunity arise. Called the Hamilton Committee in honor of the party’s late general secretary Dermot Hamilton, this allowed the party to quickly enter meaningful negotiations with FF soon after the general election concluded.

The committee consisted of Gormley, Boyle and party’s current general secretary Dónall Geoghegan, and was designed to represent a crosscurrent of internal party tendencies, so that if it reached an agreement, it would likely be representative of the party as a whole.

Six days of intensive talks led to much progress. However during this time, it became clear that FF would budge neither on the controversial motorway near the Hill of Tara nor on the issue of US troops through Shannon. They were also firmly wedded to co-location. Repeated attempts for substantive additional prioritization of public transport were stonewalled.

Greens Walk Away From Potential Deal

On June 9, Sargent released the following statement:

“I wish to announce that negotiations on the formation of a government with Fianna Fáil have now concluded without agreement. At the beginning of this process we set the objective of forming a stable government and securing a sustainable future for this country. While many areas of common ground were identified, it was not possible at this time to construct a program for government that met with the minimum policy objectives of both parties.

“The decision to end the talks was taken after a series of cordial and constructive meetings between both teams of negotiators. These detailed discussions were entered into with good faith and every avenue was explored in order to come up with a workable document. However, despite clear areas of agreement, it was not possible to identify common ground on a number of core policy issues of importance to the Party. These areas include:
• Measures to tackle climate change, including forward-thinking transport and congestion solutions
• Funding to bring the education system into the 21st century
• The transformation of local government, including action to modernize the decision-making and planning processes
• Reform of the health care system
“In each of these areas substantial blockages still remain. Because of this, the Party does not believe it could enter government and stand over the policy proposals.

“I would like to thank our team of negotiators and backroom staff for their professionalism and dedication. I would also like to praise our membership and our elected representatives for the continued discipline shown during the past week. We remain committed to forming a government and will continue to explore all avenues with this in mind. However the current deal on offer is not sufficient and will not best serve the interests of our country.”

As a result of Sargent’s announcement, the Green Party cancelled a special convention scheduled to consider approving the deal, which was required under party bylaws. But with a deadline of June 15 to form a government, this only accelerated the negotiation process.

On June 11, Ahern contacted Sargent directly to see whether the two leaders could bring the process to a successful conclusion. Ahern also created a positive spin in the Sunday morning papers, talking favorably about the negotiations thus far. At the same time, he stated that he would seek to form a government by June 15 with or without the Greens. However, while Ahern could have formed a government with the PD and four independents, it would not have been as stable as one with the Greens. With three parties coming together, supported by the independents, they would have a combined strength of 86 seats, providing a comfortable 12-seat majority.

The Talks Reconvene

Apparently the message that the Greens were not prepared to do a deal at any cost hit home. Ahern and Sargent met privately on the night of Sunday, June 11 and, after an intensive exchange, the two party leaders announced that talks would reopen the next day.

At the end of 10 arduous days of talks, the Green Party’s refusal to specify “deal breakers” or draw “red lines” allowed the negotiating team and the Party Leader to return with a government program and a package of government positions that they believed represented the best deal available. This included a commitment by Ahern to appoint two Green Cabinet Ministers, a commitment brokered by Sargent as part of the agreement to come back to the table.

A “reference group” made up of the parliamentary party and representatives from the different decision-making groups in the Party were also in daily contact with the negotiators. They charted progress and offered tactical and strategic input. Ultimately they signed off on the deal, late on June 13.

The Convention

As required by Green Party’s bylaws, a special convention was convened the following day, with a 2/3 vote required to approve the deal. Without it, the Greens could not join the government.

The convention was held in Dublin at the historic Mansion House on Dawson Street, official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin since 1715. Despite the short notice, more than 500 of the approximately 1,000 party members eligible to vote were in attendance.

The draft program for government was made available to party members at 1 p.m., and the official convention convened at 3 p.m., starting with a presentation and a questions-and-answers session. Debate began at 6 p.m., lasting until approximately 8:30 p.m., after which the vote was taken.

Sargent spoke for 15 minutes, passionately favoring the party’s entry to government, and he received a standing ovation. However the joy was tinged with sadness as he immediately resigned his post as party leader, which he had held since 2001, saying that “integrity was a principle that should not be compromised because during the campaign he had given a pledge to the Irish people that if the Greens were going into government with FF, he would resign as leader.”

Ultimately, the party’s rank and file gave the landmark deal the go-ahead by 441 votes to 67 votes (86.8 percent), easily passing the needed 2/3 threshold for approval.

Despite the disappointment expressed by a number of speakers over many details of the program the party had negotiated, the two full ministerial positions Sargent secured in tough last-minute talks with Ahern helped sway the vote.

Even Cuffe, who had earlier written on his blog that “a deal with FF would be a deal with the devil”, voted Yes. “Having two Green ministers at the Cabinet table is an unprecedented opportunity to have huge influence over the direction of Ireland over the next five years. It is a major step forward. It will be a roller coaster but a good roller coaster.”

Other long-time members like McKenna however did not support the deal. “There is nothing in there on the continuing use of Shannon by the US military. I’m very disappointed on that. I have to vote with my conscience and my conscience says no to this.” Garland agreed, saying he felt “betrayed” by the party leadership and that many party members were disgusted by the prospect of sustaining, rather than overthrowing Ahern.

Why Take the Deal?

There is no question that both the process of negotiating for government and the resulting policy program necessitated major compromises. The experience was a very new one for the party, which had only known 25 years of opposition politics and, as a result, a strength of conviction and moral purity relatively unique in Irish politics. Most public representatives and party members come from backgrounds with NGOs and community groups The negotiation process they experienced radically shifted them from their comfort zones.

On policy, the party’s willingness to walk away from the negotiating table, however, did achieve several important initiatives. On climate change and energy, they negotiated for a carbon tax, an annual greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 3 percent and the establishment of national green building standards. On education, they achieved significant class size reduction through the hiring of more teachers. On agriculture, they set the nation’s first target to convert a minimum 5 percent of acreage to organic farmland by 2012 and took steps towards declaring all of Ireland a genetically-modified organism Free Zone. On political reform, they established an independent Electoral Commission to take responsibility for electoral administration and oversight. And on transportation and land use planning, they got a major commitment to public transport and transparent local government.

(A document summarizing key Green achievements in the deal as well as the full program for government is available at:

But perhaps the most important part of the deal were the ministerial and other appointed positions the Greens achieved – Gormley as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and Ryan as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. In addition, Sargent was named the Junior Minister for Agriculture and Food and there is a commitment for the Greens to gain a second junior ministry half-way through the parliamentary term.

There will also be two Green Party Senators either appointed or elected through voting agreements in July. Appointments to the Senate are also key to the medium term future of the party because they offer a much improved platform from which top candidates could launch campaigns for the next general election, due before 2012. One of these two positions is expected to go to Boyle, who was the party’s former finance spokesperson and only lost his seat by a handful of votes. As author of the party’s economics and tax policies he is considered a hugely important asset, and his holding of a Senate seat would be an important way he could remain visibly involved in the party.

Finally, the Party stands to gain somewhere between six and eight new staff posts as a result of its role in government.

According to the Party’s press officer, Damian Connon, who offered the pros and cons of the government victory: “The factors that – in my opinion – convinced the party’s leadership and in the end, a very large majority of party members, that the deal was worth supporting were, a) an acceptance that agreed programs for coalition governments have historically been closer to mission statements than blueprints, and, b) a belief that, with the right ministries, the Greens could achieve significant policy progress that would not happen without their involvement in government, and that this would justify the significant risks involved in making some of the compromises.”

“By contrast,” Connon added “the option of rejecting the possibility to enter government, while desirable in terms of policy purity and the occupation of the higher moral ground, would have involved its own strategic risks.”

After several years of the Irish public’s widespread exposure to key green issues including climate change and environmental protection, and having enjoyed its highest media profile ever in the six months ahead of the elections, the Green Party failed to increase vote share significantly in targeted constituencies this year. The 10 percent polls that they enjoyed as recently as March became 4.7 percent on Election Day. At least three of their TDs endured uncomfortably close counts before they were elected and the four main hopefuls for electoral breakthrough polled at levels much lower than anticipated. Boyle’s loss in Cork, Ireland’s second largest city, may also reinforce the perception of the Greens as a Dublin-based party, despite the success around the country of elected Greens on local councils.

The reasons behind these disappointing results will surely be debated. But it is clear that insufficient resources (both financial and human) compared to FF and FG, and a perceived lack of credibility as a party of government certainly played a part. It is also possible that by failing to align themselves with the opposition FG/Labor alliance, those Irish voters who wanted FF out of government could not be guaranteed to achieve this by voting for the Greens.

Therefore, in an environment where polarization of Irish politics took precedence over voting Green, and skepticism over whether Greens can govern helped limit the Green vote, the Irish Greens had to make a choice. Do they remain in opposition for another five years and hope the breakthrough they expected this time happens then, while perhaps even risking backsliding during that time? Or do they decide to become part of the government now, risking sharing power with a party they’ve considered antithetical to Green policies in the past, in exchange for the opportunity to make significant policy gains, and to demonstrate that Greens can exercise power effectively? Based upon the Mansion House convention’s overwhelming 441-67 vote, it appears the party’s grassroots was willing to take the chance.

As Sargent said of the party’s decision to enter government, “This is a great day, a historic occasion and a wonderful achievement for the Green Party. After 25 years of struggle, the possibility is there to see our policies implemented in government. It’s the day when courage won out, and when a hunger for change prevailed over the status quo.”

Scottish Greens Support Minority Government In Holyrood
Accord With Scottish National Party Gains Cooperation On Global Warming
by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

Despite falling from seven to two members in the Scottish parliament, the Scottish Green Party has helped to determine who will govern the country over the next four years.

On May 3rd, Scotland held elections for the 129 seats in its parliament, informally called Holyrood. In 1999, Scottish Green Robin Harper became the first Green elected, after the British government had approved the use of proportional representation for parliamentary election there. In 2003, six more Greens were elected, giving the party seven MSPs (Members of Scottish Parliament) in the 129 member body.

This time the party hoped to continue increase its share, but instead was met with a rising wave support for Scottish nationalism, reflected as an increase of 20 seats for moderately left-of-center Scottish National Party (SNP), making SNP the largest Holyrood party with 47 seats. As a result, only Harper (Lothians) and fellow Green Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) held their seats, but Harper moved quickly to negotiate with the SNP.

On May 11th, the two parties published a Cooperation Agreement, which committed the Greens to vote for SNP leader Alex Salmond as Scottish First Minister, in exchange for an SNP commitment to nominate a Green MSP to chair a Holyrood committee. The Co-operation Agreement also committed both parties to working constructively together on policy areas where there was common ground.

On May 16, Salmond was elected First Minster with Green Support. Harper said “we voted for Alex Salmond today because we believe the people have voted for a change of government and it signals our intent to engage constructively in the interests of the electorate. We look forward to working with the SNP administration on areas of common agreement whilst at the same time working with all parties to deliver positive Green action over the next four years.

“There are of course significant policy differences between the SNP and the Greens, on transport policy in particular, and on those issues we will continue to promote our distinctive policies.”

Harvie added: “The situation is not ideal for any party, but the central concern of everyone today should be to meet the expectations of the electorate who want politicians to work together and get things done. It is unchartered territory for Scotland, but there are many urgent issues that require politicians to work together in the public interest, not for their own party political interests. We promise to hold the minority administration to account, and to press for change as best we can.”

Salmond added, “The Scottish Greens represent a substantial body of opinion in Scotland, regardless of MSP numbers. Their formula for co-operation across parties short of formal coalition is an excellent example of the consensus we are seeking to build in the Parliament, and sets a positive tone for the incoming Government.”

As part of its Cooperation Agreement, the SNP and Greens committed to working together to enact early legislation to enact binding annual cuts in carbon emissions and to oppose the building of new nuclear power plants. On June 7th, Harvie was appointed Convener of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee of the Parliament. As a fierce critic of new road-building projects and a strong advocate of public transport, Harvie was a controversial choice to some, but one that pleased the Greens. “Members of the committees must strive to work constructively,” said Harvie, “putting the interests of the country and, in this case, the planet, before short-term political objectives. The decisions we take will have far-reaching impacts long beyond the term of this Parliament, and I welcome the opportunity personally to play a crucial role in this process.”

Despite these positive developments, the original intention of both the Greens and SNP was to establish a stable majority in Parliament for a shared program of government, either under formal coalition or under what is called a “confidence and supply” arrangement, which in a parliamentary system means a minor party or independent MP will support the government in motions of confidence and budget votes.

However, without a legislative majority between the Greens, SNP and enough other parties, this could not be accomplished, leaving the two to work together as other opportunities arise. One such example has already come about, as the SNP also moved forward on proposed action by the Greens to stop a controversial ship-to-ship oil transfer project in the Firth of Forth, which is the estuary of Scotland’s River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea past several key Scottish cities and towns, and serves as host to over 90,000 breeding seabirds every year.

The Forth plan, by Melbourne Marine Services Ltd, aims to transfer Russian oil into ‘Ultra Large Crude Carriers’ en route to the United States and the Far East. Greens argue it could cause massive oil spills by attempting transfer of millions of barrels of oil every year between ships at swinging anchor.

In local elections, also held on May 3, the Greens won seats for the first time, electing three City Councilors in Edinburgh and five in Glasgow, as Scotland changed to Single Transferable Vote (STV) for municipal elections. The three Edinburgh Greens were initially involved in coalition talks with other parties but which eventually fell through.

According to Steve Burgess, who was elected in Edinburgh’s Ward 15, “We stood in all 17 wards in Edinburgh for the first time, some of which were 3-member, some 4-member. All were elected by STV. The three seats were won using a ‘target to win’ strategy used with success by the Green Party of England and Wales, whereby volunteer time and funds are focused on winning in the most promising electoral area rather than being spread across all areas. Once one area is secured, the neighboring areas are targeted next. This time we targeted four priority wards relatively intensively over the course of a year, while a further four wards (“second tier) received a partial leaflet drop in the final month. Relatively little activity was focused on the remaining nine wards.”

Alison Johnstone, elected to represent Edinburgh’s Ward 10, said the change in voting system allowed the true Green vote to show through. “This is an historic day for this city. All over the world the Green movement is growing and, in Edinburgh, thousands of people have been Green supporters for years but their views have been ignored because of an unfair voting system. At last we can start making Edinburgh a leader in the fight against climate change – by tackling waste, reshaping the way we use energy and delivering real quality of life into the bargain.

It is worth noting that the only two places where Green MSP were re-elected – Glasgow and Edinburgh – were also the only places where the party ran full slates of City Council candidates and elected new members, suggesting synergy between municipal and parliamentary campaigns.

In keeping with this synergy, soon after the election Edinburgh Councilors joined MSP Harper to support a tram system for the city. “Modern hi-tech trams are a 21st-century solution providing high quality, comfortable and rapid public transport across the city,” said Harper. “This is part of the necessary move to a low carbon economy and delivering viable alternatives to the private car. That is what the frustrated motorist sitting in a traffic jam wants, and that’s what we want.

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UK Greens And The ‘Balance Of Power’
Accord With Conservatives On Energy And Conservation Program
by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

“This is a major success for the Green Party with national significance. In addition to huge carbon savings it will achieve, it is the first scheme in the country that gives free insulation to residents whatever their circumstances.”
– Andrew Cooper

Although the UK Greens don’t yet have a City Council majority, in the city of Kirklees (Yorkshire County), about 180 miles north of London, local Greens won their fourth seat on the 69-member Metropolitan Borough Council. This gave them ‘balance of power’ for the second term in a row, enabling them to leverage policy concessions in exchange for supporting the minority Tory administration (20 seats), together with the Lib Dems (18 seats).

In the just-concluded term, this cooperation led to a subsidy of £21 million (approximately $42 million) to insulate 40,000 homes. According to Green Councillor Andrew Cooper, “households will see their annual fuel bills reduce by an average £150 and at least £5 million will re-circulate back into the local economy each year rather than into the coffers of energy companies.” The scheme will see £10 million of Kirklees Council funding matched by £11 from the Scottish Power private utility, under their nationally-mandated Energy Efficiency Commitment requirement.”

“This is a major success for the Green Party with national significance,” said Cooper. “In addition to huge carbon savings it will achieve, it is the first scheme in the country that gives free insulation to residents whatever their circumstances. Furthermore, it is making the mandates under the Energy Efficiency Commitment workable and practical, because the geographically-focused scheme enables the utilities to deliver on their commitment in a timely, organized and large-scale fashion, compared to trying to find willing participants on a one-by-one basis.”

While cooperation with the Conservatives remains controversial within the Green Party, this success has led to its continuation for a second term, again based upon delivery of Green Party policy objectives.

This time according to Cooper, the party has gotten agreement on establishing an initial revolving loan fund of £3 million that will subsidize solar panels, biomass boilers and other home-based renewable energy sources, with payback based upon a charge against the sale of the house when sold, with the borough acting as guarantor until that point. Just as with the home insulation scheme, Cooper sees this program as groundbreaking for the UK, with the likelihood that as it proves to be workable, it would also attract private utility funds under the Energy Efficiency Commitment requirement.

By contrast, the Green Party has formally withdrawn from the coalition administration with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that had run nearby Leeds for three years. Councillor David Blackburn, Green Group Leader said: “At the start of this new municipal year it is obvious that decisions have to come to a head on incineration and we cannot support a policy that takes us down the route of building an incinerator.”

Should the Greens continue these forms of cooperation? According to party Male Spokesperson Dr. Derek Wall, it’s important to remember that “these are not formal coalitions. Rather, each local Green Party decides who to work with, and the ‘confidence and supply’ model allows them to support specific policies, rather supporting formal coalitions with the ‘grey parties.’ Especially in Green strongholds like Oxford, Norwich and Lewisham, by providing a clear opposition to the grey parties, Greens are growing in seats with each passing year.”

UK Greens Run And Win Most Local Government Seats Ever
1,419 Candidates Compete Across English Cities And Towns

by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

Under the slogan “One World. One Chance. Vote Green Party,” the party’s election platform focused on five key areas: climate change, health, education, housing and democracy.

In the May 3 elections, the Green Party of England and Wales ran 1,419 candidates – the most ever in their party’s history going back to 1973 – for what are called Principal Local Authority seats.

In what was called a “breakthough election” by Green Party Principal Speaker Dr. Derek Wall, the party won 63 seats, including holding 39 existing seats and gaining 24 new ones, while losing only seven that they had previously held. This gave the English Greens a net gain of 17 seats, leading to a total of 110 sitting officeholders in local government, also an all-time high.

Scheduled elections took place in 312 District, Borough, Metropolitan Borough and Unitary Councils outside of London.

Districts and Boroughs are responsible for planning, housing, leisure, environmental health, solid waste collection, and local roads. Unitary authorities and Metropolitan Boroughs are all-purpose Councils providing the full range of local services in their area so that, besides the above, they are also responsible for education, social services, libraries, waste disposal, principal roads and other transport matters. They also play a part in running the police and fire services. Councils also have a broad authority to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area.

Under the slogan “One World. One Chance. Vote Green Party,” the party’s election platform focused on five key areas: climate change, health, education, housing and democracy.

The biggest gains came in the seaside destination of Brighton and Hove City on England’s south coast, where local Greens held on to six council seats and gained six more; and in Lancaster City in north west England, where they defended seven seats and gained five more.

In Brighton and Hove, the Greens pulled within one seat of becoming the primary opposition party on the 54-member local Council, behind the Tories (26) and Labor (13), which lost ten seats. Among elected Greens was 22 year-old Vicky Wakefield Jarrett, a vegan peace and environment activist who was one of three elected Greens nationally 25 years old or younger, giving them a total of seven now holding office aged 27 or younger nationwide.

According to National Election Agent Chris Rose, “the party’s success in winning more seats was, as usual, largely due to careful targeting of resources so as to hold and to build the majorities required to win ‘first-past-the-post’ elections’ in chosen Wards. A key part of this work is the delivery of newsletters to voters throughout the year. These cover local issues, convey a local angle on global ones and report on action by (aspiring) Green councillors. Critical to success is canvassing (knocking on doors and talking to voters on their doorsteps), both well before and during the election period.”

With nine of the 12 Green council seats concentrated in the Brighton Pavilion House of Commons constituency (district), compared to six (Tories) and 5 (Labor), the Greens’ success also gives the party increasing hope of picking up its first-ever parliamentary seat in the next elections to the House of Commons, which has to be held by July 2010.

Just two years ago, Brighton Pavilion City Councilor Keith Taylor received 22 percent in a four-way race for Westminster, only 1.9 percent behind the Tories for second place. These results come in a district where Greens also received 27 percent in the 2004 European Parliament elections. This time Taylor is contesting the Greens’ selection election (party members’ primary) against fellow Green and European parliament member Caroline Lucas, with the results to be known on July 18.

In historic, medieval Norwich in eastern England – often dubbed the “greenest” in the UK before the election because it had the most Green councillors on a single authority – the party won the highest percentage of the overall popular vote, re-electing all three Green incumbents and gaining a fourth seat. Unfortunately they fell a single vote short (after four recounts) of winning a fifth seat against a Liberal Democrat incumbent, meaning they would have become the primary opposition party on the Council.

Green group coordinator Adrian Ramsay, who himself was re-elected with 62 percent in Nelson Ward after winning there three years ago at the ripe young age of 21, said watching the election returns in this close district coming in during the night had been like a “roller coaster ride” for the party.

Labor now holds 15 seats on the local council, the Liberal Democrats 11, the Greens ten and the Tories three. And while that means Labor is likely to continue as a “minority administration”, the Lib Dems have slipped from the party of power just a few years ago, to a desperate fight to remain the largest opposition group ahead of the Greens. Recognizing this, Labor Council leader Steve Morphew said after the election that “we have a good relationship with the Green Party and we will work together on major issues in Norwich.”

Perhaps so, but according to Wall, the Greens’ strong result “places us in pole position to fight for the Westminster seat,” as they hope to replace the Lib Dems as the main challengers to the sitting Norwich South Labor MP in the upcoming 2008 House of Commons elections.

In addition to the raw number of candidates and wins, there were several other measures of success. Political parties in the UK with at least two or more members on a Principal Local Authority are said to have “group status”, giving them the ability to sit on more committees, as well as to second their own motions and ensure debate. Before the May 3rd election the Greens had group status on 17 bodies. Now they have it on 22.

According to Rose, for the 1,412 candidates for which gender was known, 831 (58.9 percent) were male and 581 (41.1 percent) female. As for youth, at least 102 (7.19 percent) were aged 18-30 (age was not known for all candidates), and with the change of national election rules to lower the age limit to run from 21 to 18, at least 22 fell into this age group (1.55 percent.)

Also held on May 3 were Parish and Town Council elections. These are the most local form of government in the UK. They are essentially the same, but with the latter type having a Mayor. There are more than 10,000 such Councils in England, with most holding their elections this year.

They have a selection of statutory local powers such as maintenance of cemeteries, renting land to citizens for growing vegetables, fruit and flowers, bus shelters, community halls and so on. Of particular interest to Greens is that they also have what is called a “power of general competence,” which means they can spend tax revenue up to a certain amount on anything they see fit, so that quite innovative ideas can be pursued. They have recently been granted powers to both promote and spend money on reducing energy consumption in their areas, and on micro-renewables (solar, wind turbines, woodchip [furnaces], etc.).

Many of these Councils are in rural areas where the Greens are weaker. It is often the custom that candidates don’t use Party labels. There are frequently less candidates than seats for election, so it’s easy to get elected “unopposed.”

233 Green Party members were candidates for these elections, of whom 143 were elected (70 unopposed, and 73 in contested votes). Stroud Greens in the west of England retained control of the Town Council there, with John Marjoram being re-elected as Mayor by fellow Councillors. Kirklees Greens won control of Kirkburton Parish Council, where energy expert Andrew Cooper will be trying to stretch the new powers in this area to the limit.

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