The Green and the Populist

In principle, I can’t help being satisfied with the success of the GreenLeft Party in the Netherlands, led by Mr. Klaver whose physiognomy makes him a quasi-double of the attractive Canadian PM Trudeau. Klaver’s party won 14 seats (+10) making it the fifth party in the small (150 seats) and fragmented Dutch Parliament which will host 13 groups out of the 28 that took part in the election. One should consider also that the “Animal Rights” party gained three more seats, moving from to 2 to 5.

For about ten years now I’ve been maintaining that the only possible alternative to populism is a political platform based on environmental liberal values. All over the Western world there is a large generically environmentally engaged electorate that is not represented in the institutions. This could become the real alternative both to the old and dying Establishment and to a populism whose growth is almost untamable with the current tired ideological tools. Sooner or later populists will overrun the defensive policy adopted by the Establishment parties in all the European states – as has already happened with Trump and Brexit. This approach recalls the embarrassing ineffectiveness of the Maginot line against a profoundly changed ideology and military organization.

Nevertheless, my pleasure at the success of the Dutch GreenLeft Party is muted. Klaver’s claim to be “leftist” has helped draw votes from the Labour Party – the real loser in this election falling from 38 to 9 seats. But the Green Party’s leftist claims may well constitute a barrier to its possible further advancement. It implies that its environmentalism merely overlays old socialist values. It hinders the potential inclusion of a large part of the electorate attracted by their environmental platform but refusing their dogmatic leftist approach. This makes it unlikely that they can do better in the future. They are doomed to be an opposition force. If, by any chance, they ally with Mr. Rutte in coalition, the party will lose a large part of its electorate.

Of course, I’m also happy that Mr. Wilders’ extreme right wing gained less votes than expected. However, in the general picture, the real winners are the conservatives and Rutte should be able to assemble and lead a patchwork coalition. The governing PM has conducted a campaign which has included some of Wilders’ themes. The ban he imposed on Turkish ministers has gained votes from Wilders’ potential constituency and its allies, but has created an international crisis and helped Erdogan’s domestic politics. The Netherlands is a small country, but is highly developed, traditionally open and a supporter of EU. Because of its proportional representation system and the consequent high number of political parties, it also represents a wide range of different opinions and can be an interesting case study about people’s way of thinking. It can provide interesting clues for other EU countries.

Wilders’ success wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had happened only in Holland (or in Austria with Norbert Hofer), but it could provoke a major impact if populists win in France, Germany, the UK or Italy. The main concern is France whose President has more power than in any other large European country in a centralized administrative system. Driven by their past dictatorial experiences, the Italian and German Constitutions place strong limits on the power of the PM and the majority. Moreover, Italian populists are split into two competing parties, one of which – the Five Star Movement – is anything but subversive. No doubt they are radical in calling for a dramatic change in politics and representation. However, they are different from Wilders, Farrage, Le Pen and the likes, for at least the following reasons: (a) they are so progressive that you may easily blame them of being utopians (and even a little confused); (b) they are not inspired by fascist, nationalist or anti-Islamic feeling; (c) they are very critical about EU as it currently operates, but are not against it; (d) they do not question the established institutions but want to improve them (e) last but not least, their platform largely includes environmental values and they represent almost one third of the Italian electorate. The Five Star Movement might represent the future of a radically reformed EU. Hence, no surprise they applied to join ALDE group in the European Parliament. Pity they’ve been refused because of outdated biases against them. Certainly, their alliance with European liberals would have both quickened their (necessary) political evolution and helped in renovating Liberal Parties.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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