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Europe

Europe's Green Dream Wilts But Won't Die

Greens in Europe lost power when the German party returned to the opposition, but parties elsewhere offer hope.

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The sun has set on the European Green movement's days in power

Germany's Green party held a one day conference in the city of Oldenburg on Saturday. The conference presented the former junior coalition partner with the opportunity to look back over the last seven years of power-sharing in the government while planning ahead for a future back in opposition.

However, a more productive use of the meeting would have been for the party to take a long, hard look at where the Green dream went wrong, not only at the last election but in German, and European, politics in general over the past half a decade.

At the turn of the century, the Greens were not only part of a serving government in Germany but in four other European countries. France, Italy, Finland and Belgium all had parties pushing environmental issues closer to the forefront of policy-making through their Green representatives.

The news this week that Germany would be governed by a grand coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) saw that era finally come to a close as Germany's Greens succumbed to the fate that others had suffered as the sunflower started to wilt across Europe.

The retreat of Germany's Greens ends an era

Bündnis 90 Die Grünen Wahl des Fraktionsvorsitzenden Bundestagswahl 2005

The Greens are left looking for someone to replace Fischer

The return of the Greens to opposition in Germany, and the self-imposed exile to the back benches of the party's most high profile minister Joschka Fischer, left western European governments without a Green representative.

Having been ejected from government in Finland, France, Italy, Belgium and now Germany, the Green movement could not be blamed for being disheartened at the apparent failure of an environmental revolution in the corridors of European power.

"These are setbacks, clearly, in every case. Greens are not now shaping policy," said Hubert Kleinert, once a German Green MP now a political scientist, in an interview with the BBC. "During the last five years there have been more defeats than victories. And I think this (German result) is the biggest one." The Greens were overtaken by the liberal Free Democrats and the new Left, even though their share of the vote fell only about 0.5 percent.

Former Euro Green chief says no need to panic

Juan Behrend

European Parliamentarian Juan Behrend Co-Secretary General of The Greens

Juan Behrend, the former secretary general of the Green federation in the European parliament who once saw the rise of the Greens as "a luminous sunflower was hanging in the grey sky," refused to be downcast by the German result.

He admitted that the election result had been a "blow" but was adamant that the policies behind the Greens would survive. Coming back to opposition would be "an opportunity" adding that the Greens were specialists at making opposition politics and would be able to "articulate a very coherent Green policy."

All is far from lost. There may be shoots of re-growth for the Green movement in other areas of Europe. The Greens play a role in Romano Prodi's left-wing alliance in Italy, a partnership which looks set to challenge hard in the elections next year, while in France the Greens are expected to be part of the left-wing bloc competing in the 2007 campaign.

Solid policies, awareness the Green lagacy

Offshore Windenergie Meer Blåvandshuk in Dänemark

Even without the Greens in power, renewable energy research will continue

However, the fact remains that there is no current Green representation in the big western Europe governments and as a result there will be no Green ministers at cabinet tables or EU ministerial meetings. Who will be the force of environmental change without the Greens in power? Will all that the movement, specifically in Germany, achieved be undone?

Political analysts believe that it is unlikely that the shutting down of nuclear energy plants and the huge increase in the use of renewable energy in Germany will be reversed without the Green party, who instigated these policies, in power.

On the one hand, these ideas are now entrenched in the political mainstream and on the other, the European electorate realizes the importance of environmental protection, and they will not allow any political party to neglect that in its policy making.

The Green party's sunflower may have wilted but there seems to be enough of a reservoir of belief and support around to keep it alive. And who knows, the shoots of recovery may start to appear again in time.

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