European elections 2009 – Green success in Europe-wide campaign

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Green candidates at launch of the EGP election campaign, March 2009

The European Parliament elections were one of the most successful ones in the history of the European Green movement, with the Greens winning 13 more seats to become the 4th largest group with 55 seats. While there were factors that played a role in individual Member States, what undoubtedly helped was the fact that the Greens were one of the few parties to run a truly European-wide campaign, with a strong focus on the Green New Deal.

In this article, we look at how different national Green Parties coordinated their campaigns with the common European campaign. This was not always an easy task, for a variety of reasons, but for many Green Parties it added an exciting dimension to their campaign and gave them an important boost. As we cross the halfway mark of the current Parliament, and as many Parties begin to look to the next elections in 2014, what lessons can they learn for their campaigns?

 Part of a European Wide Campaign – Wear it Loud and Proud

For many of the smaller Green Parties, they struggle to come across as politically relevant in their country. As a result, many people see them as a wasted vote. Of course, that is far from the case. The Greens are a large, innovative group in the European Parliament who work as a team to have maximum impact on the EU’s policies and agenda. The European Green Party has also played an effective role in creating a truly pan-European movement, working with many Green parties that are not yet represented in the Parliament. Many candidates found it very useful to talk about this on the campaign, and it resonated with a lot of voters.

For example, Steven Agnew of the Northern Ireland Greens found a lot of voters telling him “Well, you’re not very big here in Northern Ireland, but I believe you’re quite successful in Europe”. This gave voting Green an added value. Likewise, the Maltese Greens argued that electing a Green MEP would give Malta influence in a political grouping other than the Conservatives and the Socialists.

The Greens benefit from having strong “brand recognition”, meaning that voters across Europe have a high awareness of the movement and an understanding of what it stands for.

Stand out – Europeanise the debate

For a lot of Green candidates, what made them stand out was that they discussed European issues. This was a welcome change from the other Parties, who used these elections as another opportunity to discuss national issues. Though it varies in size, in every country there is a bloc of voters who care about European issues and are looking for Parties that focus on them for the European elections. The Greek Greens, who elected their first MEP in 2009, used a focus on European issues to distinguish them from other parties.

A practical tool provided by the European Greens that helped parties “Europeanise” the election was the “vote tracker” on energy and climate issues, which allowed candidates to look at the voting record of their national MEPs and see if there were grounds to criticise them. Oftentimes MEPs said one thing at a national level, but voted differently in the Parliament.

Bringing attention to these discrepancies gave Green Parties stories that were easy for the media to report, which is crucial for getting coverage at election time when you may be competing with other Parties for media attention. It also focused the election on future decision that were to be made in the European Parliament.

A look at the website of the Green MEPs and the European Green Party will show loads of European issues that parties can highlight at election time, along with research and policies to support the Party’s stance.

 European Campaign – all roads don’t lead through Brussels

When thinking about a common European campaign many may be mistaken to think that it is solely about running a centralised campaign from Brussels. A common campaign required a certain level of centralisation from the European Green Party, to bring together ideas and to highlight common European solutions. However, the idea of a “common campaign” is not just about centralisation, but also about helping Parties to work across borders and share “best practice” and resources.

In this sense, there are a lot of good examples from 2009 that Parties can follow as they being to prepare for 2014.

The Luxembourg Greens and the Maltese Greens formed a partnership for the 2009 elections. Both are from small Member States, but the Luxembourg Greens are much stronger as they have had an MEP for many years. As a result they were able to give support to the Maltese Greens in their effort to gain their first MEP. This included a visit by the Luxembourgish MEP Claude Turmes, and a visit by Maltese Greens to the Maltese Community in Luxembourg. Turmes is one of the Parliament’s leading experts on energy, and he was able to promote the importance of switching to sustainable energy to Malta’s economy. This cooperation was an essential part of the Maltese Greens promoting themselves as a European Party.

 The European Manifesto – using a common platform to suit your campaign

In 2009, like elections before it, the European Green Party produced a common manifesto which was approved by the Party’s decision-making Congress. This manifesto outlined a detailed policy agenda that Green MEPs would advance in the 2009-2014 Parliament.

How individual parties used this manifesto differed greatly from country to country. The Slovakian Greens, for example, adopted the European Manifesto of the EGP whole scale, and did not produce their own; as did the Finnish Greens. Others opted to use the EGP manifesto in parallel, as they are used to producing their own manifesto or because of cultural differences (the EGP manifesto being either too long or too short, depending on the country).

All parties however made use of the policy proposals in the EGP manifesto. Many Parties adopted the headline slogans from the manifesto, such as “5 Million Green jobs across Europe”, and themes such as energy. Others used the manifesto when researching their own. What was important was not so much the method of delivery, but that the Greens across Europe will able to speak with a common vision and plan for Europe.

 A common campaign – the practical steps

As well as projecting a common platform to the voters of Europe, the 2009 European Green Party campaign also had a technical and support role to assist national Green Parties, especially those with less experience. There were many ways that parties were able benefit from these activities. Campaign organisers and candidates were brought to Brussels in the period leading up to the election, where they were able to network with other parties and share ideas about their different campaigns. Meanwhile some of the parties used the imagery and slogans that the EGP produced during their campaigns.

The EGP also provided online content for the campaign, which many national Parties found to be an easy way of implementing the common campaign at their level. For example, the EGP produced a short video which the Northern Ireland Greens edited and used as their own.  The EGP produced other easy-to-use campaign tools, such as an online campaign widget and campaign slogans.

A tip for national Parties is to have translators on hand to quickly turn EGP news into the native tongue of their campaign, or to produce press releases for the European campaign highlighting an interesting topic in their country. This is a useful way for members to get involved in the campaign, especially those who cannot get involved because they are not in the country.

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