SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 128 - May 2009

Who are the Euro-Greens?

NINE OUT of ten people in Britain oppose the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, being implemented by New Labour before the deadline set by the postal services directive passed by the European Union (EU). In the European elections on 4 June some opposed to this policy may consider voting Green against the main parties and the far-right. Such voters might be surprised to know that the Green Party in the European parliament supports this directive!

They say: "The objective of the postal directive is to guarantee a high-quality universal service. The opening of the market is not an objective in itself, but… to facilitate the achievement of a high-quality universal service". (The Postal Directive: A Greens/EFA Approach, Position Paper, 24 April 2007) In other words, they agree with New Labour that it doesn’t matter how a service is delivered, so long as it is delivered. But privatisation cannot and will not deliver high-quality public services.

Some Green members and representatives oppose privatisation. Some see themselves as socialist or Marxist. When elected to positions of influence, though, Green parties have dumped radical or environmental policies. Right-wing policies have been implemented in collusion with the main big-business parties. Green party memberships have proved unable to halt this.

The Euro-Greens’ attitude to the Lisbon treaty, formerly known as the EU constitution, is indicative. Lisbon aims to entrench neo-liberalism into EU law. It was rejected by Irish voters last summer. The Irish Greens failed to take a position, but their continental counterparts had no difficulties: "The Greens in the European parliament support the treaty of Lisbon as a further step in the European constitutional process". "It is a compromise, and in many ways an unsatisfactory one, however it is indispensable and represents a step forward". (The Lisbon Treaty – A New Beginning for Europe, 10 December 2007)

The treaty must be ratified by every EU state. The EU presidency is currently held by the Czech Republic, whose squabbling establishment makes it harder to enforce the Lisbon treaty. That will not be for want of help from the Greens, however, who hold the environmental ministry in the Czech government. Their minister recently urged the Irish Greens to wholeheartedly "support the process which is now formulated by the Lisbon treaty". (Irish Times, 10 January)

Green MEPs last autumn noted the ‘mistrust’ of people towards the EU before blithely stating that the Lisbon treaty is the answer, if only the Irish, Swedes and Czechs would get on with ratifying it! (European Council of 15-16 October 2008 – Greens/EFA motion for a resolution on the economic and financial situation)

The position in Ireland is revealing. The government of the Irish Republic is a coalition of the traditional capitalist party Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. When formed in 2007, this coalition included the Progressive Democrats, a small neo-liberal party which dissolved last year.

Before the election, the Greens stressed their environmental policies, including on Shell Oil’s very unpopular decision to develop the Corrib gas field off Ireland’s west coast. Green TD, Eamon Ryan, now energy minister, promised that the Greens entering into coalition would mean a review of the Corrib project. Once in coalition, deals done by previous governments are apparently unbreakable. Shell got the go-ahead on 9 April. Under the same government, anti-Shell protesters are in jail. The Green executive last June called for a different policy but, as the party chairman said, that is "something we would like to see happen, but which we also realise is unlikely to happen…" (Irish Times, 11 July 2008)

The Irish economy plummeted faster into recession than most west European economies. The government responded with a series of attacks on working-class people. The October budget last year attempted to scrap free healthcare for people aged over 70, although huge protests forced a partial retreat. (See Socialism Today No.126, March 2009)

Billions of euros have been used to bail-out banks. A series of scandals erupted. The April 2009 budget means income cuts of up to 8% for workers, a 2% cut in welfare payments, and reduced housing benefits for newly unemployed workers aged under 20. After the two budgets this year, an ‘average’ Irish family has lost €7,000. This has gone straight to the bosses. But none of this has broken the Greens from their coalition.

The Greens’ actions in Ireland were predictable after the experience in Germany. Together with the Social-Democratic Party (SPD, Germany’s equivalent of New Labour), the Greens ruled for seven years from 1998. This Red-Green coalition government was neither red-socialist nor green-environmental, but staunchly pro-capitalist. "Although big business complained about [the] reforms" implemented by the Red-Green government, said former German Green leader Joschka Fischer, "they worked in their favour". And they did. These ‘reforms’ included a 20-30 year guaranteed lifespan for nuclear power (the Greens’ election pledge was to end it in one or two years); an annual €100,000 bonus to the millionaires by cutting the top tax rate from 53% to 42%; increased deportations, restricted citizenship rights and immigration controls; attacks on unemployment benefit and widespread growth of jobs paying €1 per hour; sending weaponry to the Iraqi government appointed by Bush after the 2003 invasion, and deploying German troops abroad; privatisation of public services; and enabling tuition fees for university students.

In local coalitions with the CDU (German Tories), the Greens hammered through cuts, in Cologne implementing the biggest cuts since 1945. Green leaders looked to coalitions with the CDU across Germany. The Greens were clear about why. The head of a think-tank close to them said: "Red-Green was important to show we are capable of participating in government". The Greens were proving their loyalty to the bosses.

A similar process took place in France. Les Verts went from opposing the Maastricht treaty, crucial to the EU, in 1992 to enthusiastically supporting it in 1999. From 1997 to 2002, they formed a plural left coalition with the Parti Socialiste (PS – the French equivalent of New Labour) and others.

Securing the environment ministry, in return, the Greens abandoned serious opposition to nuclear power, helped implement the 35-hour week in a way which private-sector employers used to cut pay and casualise working hours, and ditched their defence of the ‘sans papiers’ immigrants. In the pre-election pact between the PS and Greens, the only reference to the environment was for equality between people who hunt animals and people who don’t!

Over five years, the plural left privatised more than previous conservative governments from 1993-97. Air France and Air Inter were privatised, and the national rail company, SNCF, was partly dismantled. Big corporate groups in 2002 controlled over 27% of the local bus companies, and a private subsidiary of SNCF controlled another 40%. Factories closed, retirement benefits were attacked, and the state-owned telecommunications company was privatised.

Huge disappointment with the plural left enabled the right-wing UMP (president Sarkozy’s party) to win the 2002 general election and cling to power since. The Greens got 6% in the 2002 general election and 5.25% in the presidentials. Their presidential candidate lost nearly a million votes in 2007.

A similar process has taken place with other Green parties. This is fundamentally because they do not have a political programme based on representing the interests of the working class, and the need to mobilise workers as the only force capable of seriously challenging the bosses. Especially in a vicious downturn, the Greens as a political trend are rudderless, and go with the pro-capitalist flow of official politics.

This is clear in their October 2008 European Council motion on the economic and financial situation. Ten aspects of the crisis are noted and 24 points proposed. Public ownership is not mentioned once! State aid is mentioned in passing: it is "essential to implement suitable rules [to] prevent any abuse", although "an appropriate contribution by the private sector is needed, as a counterpart". No explanation that the EU rules limiting state aid, intended to further open up national economies for multi-national companies, have been cast aside as national politicians bail out their puppet-masters. Or that handing money over to the financial sharks is a recipe for abuse, highly unlikely to be matched with private-sector funds.

Their proposals are for a scheme of regulation to include the neo-liberal International Monetary Fund. But suggesting minor additional investments here and there is less than a drop in the ocean. Nowhere is there any recognition that capitalism itself is to blame, or that a crisis was inevitable in one form or another.

The Greens are incapable of implementing their environmental policies, let alone other progressive policies. In power they do the bosses’ bidding. A real alternative at the European elections and beyond will be found elsewhere. Those socialist and working-class elements within Britain’s Green parties should take a long hard look over the Irish Sea and join with the Socialist Party and others in campaigning to forge a mass party of the working-class.

Hugh Caffrey


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