The Greens have significantly increased in the European elections in May 2019: Their faction in the EU Parliament increased from 50 to 75 MPs, in eleven countries, the result was even double digits. "Sensational" called Reinhard Bütikofer these numbers and means not only the 20.5 percent in Germany, where he was once party leader.
Since 2012, the 66-year-old MEP, together with the Italian Monica Frassoni, is co-head of the European Greens, who are meeting in the Finnish town of Tampere this weekend for the congress. Both are no longer running for the presidency of the Green Party. In the SZ interview, Bütikofer talks about why the Greens in Germany were able to grow so strongly and why the environmental party in Eastern and Southern Europe continues to have so many problems. Of course, Bütikofer knows that the "green wave" has not reached all of Europe by a long way.
SZ: Mr Bütikofer, how long will it take for a Green or a Green to rule in an EU Member State?
Reinhard Bütikofer: Who knows, but I will experience it! We Greens are not only stronger in Germany. In Finland, Green Party Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has twice been a presidential candidate and has received up to 36 per cent. Maybe in a few years' time we will have a Green Party as Finnish President, there is already an Austrian. We Greens are no longer just supplementary party, but orientation party. We have this influence mainly in North and West Europe, so it will probably happen in our part of Europe.
Why are the Greens continuing to struggle so hard in southern and eastern Europe?
Wherever you see strong green parties today, they are clearly in the progressive spectrum or have started there. In Eastern Europe, the same positioning has less resonance because the emancipation from the Soviet model came not from the left, but from the right. If you just transfer the Western European structure of a green party to the Czech Republic or Poland, then you fail. There are other reasons in the south. 30 years ago, the Italians in the Green Group in the European Parliament were almost as strong as the Germans.
Today, out of 75 Green MEPs, 21 are Germans and not just Italians.
Let me name an often underestimated point: Over the years, German Greens have helped us with the political structure of the country. Fortunately, the terrible five-percent hurdle has repeatedly forced us to come together and grow. Also that we have the proportional representation and the federal diversity and strong communities, has helped. Elsewhere, the structures were less favorable, few percent were enough to get into parliament. As long as the duopoly of conservatives and socialists dominated everything in France, the development of green self-employment was difficult. After President Emmanuel Macron has shattered these pillars of the French party system, there is much room for an independent green force. There are no off-the-peg solutions for Europe's Greens. Over the next five years, we want to focus on a strategy for the East and the South.
In the South, awareness of these issues still seems to be missing. There is more eco-awareness there than successful greens. But you can also find positive examples. In Barcelona for example. In Sofia. Last even in Budapest. I fear that Greens in the South have too often ignored values-conservative motives instead of using them successfully for their own policies. The Baden-Württemberg Greens emerged in the fight against the nuclear power plant Wyhl, as an alliance between the rebellious students and the rebellious, by the culture conservative peasants. Above all, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria today stand for the fact that the Greens have managed not only to represent the cities, but also to represent social forces in rural areas representative office. We do not succeed everywhere, we have just seen that in Thuringia, where we received only 5.2 percent.
What's so bad about leaning on the cities?
Nothing, but we must not leave the rural areas to the populists, but must prevent them from becoming Aufmarschräumen for right-wing radicals and nationalists. The Institute for Economic Research Halle has recently published a proposal that it would no longer be worthwhile to provide the rural areas in East Germany with infrastructure. People should just gather in the cities. It is not much cynical and much more irreverent. I still remember the early phase of the green-red coalition in Baden-Württemberg in 2011/2012, when then the Deputy Prime Minister, Nils Schmid of the SPD, said: "Then grow in the Black Forest just once a valley." Since the SPD had already lost the next election. People like Winfried Kretschmann, Annalena Baerbock, Robert Habeck or Tarek Al-Wazir understand that. That makes us strong.
Is that then in your eyes the mission to the Greens: "Take care of the people in the countryside, take them with you."
The Greens in Thuringia had the beautiful demand "For two euros per day to travel throughout the country." But many people have said, "Where's the bus, how is that supposed to work?" The infrastructure is currently not there. The question for Thuringia is: Do parties of the democratic spectrum agree on solutions to such questions or not? This challenge from rural areas applies across the EU. I recall that in France, the origin of the "gilets jaunes" protests was in the province.
In Germany, the Greens, whose party leader you were long, in some surveys nationwide strongest force. In 9 of 16 federal states govern the Greens. Can one still make as much opposition in the European Parliament as one would like to, or is there almost no compulsion to support Ursula von der Leyen?
In the election of Ursula von der Leyen in July, we were opposition. Not everyone in Berlin liked that, but we're doing European politics here in Brussels. As a mere appendage to any capital, we would fail. There is far too much renationalisation. An EPP colleague recently told me in a minor matter: "I have to ask my prime minister first." Heaven help! On the other hand, we Greens have shown a more constructive attitude in the European Parliament since the European elections than socialists and liberals. Ask Manfred Weber from the CSU!
You have been in the European Parliament since 2009 and since 2012 head of the European Greens. How are the Germans perceived: as role models, nerds or brakemen?
I am now active for 20 years in the European Greens. At first I had to fight at almost every Green meeting to avoid accepting "boycott, divestment and sanctions" against Israel. We have been able to assert until today that this is the common position of the European Greens. We Germans often met with incomprehension. When we made the Jamaican coalition in Saarland, the French chairman asked me how they would come up with such a crazy idea. Today we are different. Overall, a greater homogeneity has arisen. Since a lot has grown together. We Germans have learned as well. That we have German Green Achievements with a policy that not only sees itself as a counterpart to the other parties, but also forms an alternative center, is now more respected. The formula "Radical is the new realistic", which Robert Habeck likes to use, would sign many Greens.
If the challenges are so big, why not run as a co-boss again this weekend in Tampere?
There are two reasons. One is political: I could go on for two and a half years, but then the successor would come into office just two years before the next European elections. That would be too short. The result of the European elections in 2019 was very good, now new people are supposed to take over. The other reason is private. My wife has retired and I want to spend more time with her.
In other words, if the Greens in Germany were to join the government in the near future and need experienced staff, then that would not be an option for you?
Do not tempt me! I am passionate about green foreign policy and my long-term focus China and transatlantic relations fill me up well because I think I can make a difference.
. (tagsToTranslate) Politics (t) Süddeutsche Zeitung