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Poli 2300 Winter Term Essay Proposal

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February 4, 2013
POLI 2300 – Winter Term Essay Proposal – Topic no. 10
The Advancement of Green Politics Within Government: The Cases of Germany and Great Britain
Since their formative years, Green parties have seen increasing success in advancing environmental interests in European politics. They key factor in determining a Green party’s capacity to implement its policy aims is the context of the political system in which it operates. This is reflected in the relative electoral success of the German Greens, Alliance ’90/The Greens, as compared with the difficulties faced by the British Greens. Many analysts consider the German Greens “the strongest example of the impact of Green politics on Western European political systems” due to its impact within German government (Burchell, 2002, p. 52). The Green Party in the United Kingdom is considered a minor party—defined as “a party with no elected seats in Parliament” (Birch, 2009, p. 53). This represents the greatest challenge to the British Greens’ political efficacy.
The German and British Green parties were established in extremely different political climates, and they gained different levels of influence within government as a result. The emergence of the German Greens in the twentieth century coincided with the rise of new social movement protests during the 1960s 1970s. This movement brought about a heightened awareness of social and environmental problems among new-left student populations, as well as citizen action groups, that helped set the stage for a “Green challenge within the electoral process” (Burchell, 2002, p. 53). The German Greens achieved their first electoral breakthrough at the federal level in October 1983, with 5.6 percent of the vote and the election of 27 Green deputies (Burchell, 2002, p. 53). In the Germans’ case, the structure of proportional representation served as a gateway for the Greens to gain some real power in government.
On the contrary, despite the success of The Ecologists in Great Britain in 1976-77, British Greens have struggled within the majority electoral system in the United Kingdom (Muller-Rommel, 1985, p. 489). In the European Parliament elections of 1989, the Greens were able to gain an unprecedented 15 percent of the popular vote; however, this translated into zero seats due to its first-past-the-post electoral system (Birch, 2009, p. 54). According to political scientist Sarah Birch, the first-past-the-post system for elections to the House of Commons is the foremost obstacle to the Greens establishing themselves as a major party in the Great Britain (2009, p. 65). The different electoral systems in Germany and the United Kingdom contributed to divergent perspectives on party aims in the two countries. As a result of the majority electoral system in Great Britain, the British Greens presented virtually no threat to other political parties. Consequently, other major political parties began introducing environmental issues into their own political agendas, bypassing a direct relationship with the Greens (Burchell, 2002, p. 84). This marginalization forced the British Greens to pursue alternative methods of gaining influence in government, and the party’s main focus became maintaining a Green image (Burchell, 2002, p. 103). Lacking a true parliamentary voice, the Greens opted to pursue their aims through Green party-inspired private members bills at the local level (Burchell, 2002, p. 85). Nevertheless, this interaction with other parties was considered by many to compromise the party’s true tenets, and attempts at such alliances created significant internal party conflict. At the end of the twentieth century, the UK Green party suffered much internal conflict surrounding its ‘primary goal’, with many party members emphasizing policy goals over electoral motives (Burchell, 2002, p. 123). In their earlier years, the German Greens favoured a strategy of ‘fundamental opposition’, or in other words, they refused to “compromise the core principles of the party merely for a share in government office” (Frankland, 1995, p. 32). This eventually created a challenge for the Green party very unlike the difficulties faced in Great Britain: The German Greens were made to weigh the importance of this ‘fundamental opposition’ strategy in the face of numerous opportunities for coalition roles in both the Land and federal governments (Burchell, 2002, p. 79). More radical party members were not pleased with the amount of concessions necessary in the coalition strategy, and this increased tension and debate within the party at multiple levels (Burchell, 2002, p. 80). Green parties’ successful involvement in European politics is very dependent on their capacity to be active in government, without the excessive compromise of party values. In this way, the fate of European Greens is based in large part on the political system to which they are trying to gain access. Since their establishment, the British Greens have been at a comparable disadvantage due to the United Kingdom’s first-past-the-post electoral system. The German Greens have always benefited from a system of proportional representation, which allowed them to have federally elected deputies very early in the party’s history. The British Greens would benefit most from electoral reform in the United Kingdom.

Birch, S. (2009). Real Progress: Prospects for Green Party Support in Britain. Parliamentary Affairs, 62(1), 53-71.
Sarah Birch’s work on Green party support in Britain presented a broad and informative history of the development of Green politics, as well as insightful projections for the future of British Greens. She looks at the impacts of the majority electoral system in Great Britain, and the effects it has had on the success of British Greens.

Burchell, J. (2002). The evolution of green politics development and change within
European Green Parties. London: Earthscan Publications.
Jon Burchell’s book was an indispensable resource in the comparison of Green party development in Great Britain and Germany. Though slightly dated, it is a very useful tool in the examination of the emergence of Green politics in both countries.

Frankland, E. G. (1995). Germany: The Rise, Fall and Recovery of Die Grunen. The Green challenge: the development of Green parties in Europe (pp. 23-44). London: Routledge. E.G. Frankland’s chapter in on Germany in The Green Challenge examined and provided explanations for the electoral successes of the Greens in Germany during the 1980s. This assessment is a great contribution to the comparison of the Greens in Germany and the United Kingdom in the late twentieth century. Muller-Rommel, F. (1985). The Greens in Western Europe: Similar but different. International Political Science Review, 6(4), 483-499. Muller-Rommel’s work contributed to an analysis of the difficulties facing the Greens in
Great Britain due to the majority electoral system, while also drawing a comparison to other European Green parties,…...

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