In my earlier article on this question (posted on this blog here) and also posted by Socialist Unity (here) I examined the public statements of the European Greens on EU postal privatisation. This was in order to prove that they did not support privatisation, contrary to the claims of the Socialist Party. The Greens did in fact vote against the EU’s privatising postal services directive in the European Parliamentary vote. However, the Green groups opposition to the directive was often framed in ambiguous language, and its tactics and opposition were not bold enough. Furthermore, while they voted against the directive, they failed to support important and principled amendments put forward by more left wing socialists. This allows some to continue to claim that the Greens supported privatisation.
This sometimes obscure subject matter takes on an even greater importance when we consider its role in the recent UK Euro-elections, where the BNP fascists narrowly beat the Greens by 0.3% to gain a North West MEP seat. This has ignited controversy on the left because the Socialist Party were taking part in the ‘No2EU – Yes to democracy’ electoral coalition, which had no chance of gaining a seat or stopping the BNP. However, because in the North West this No2EU coalition gained 1.4 % of the vote, many on the left believe it let the fascists in, by taking crucial votes from the Greens, who were the main left wing challengers with a real chance. Thus these allegations against the Greens in an editorial in the Socialist Party’s newspaper in the run up to the election take on a bigger significance. The Socialist Party claimed:
“The Greens are seen as standing on the left, but in reality in the European Parliament the European Greens have supported privatisation – including the Postal Services Directive, which is the law under which Royal Mail is being part-privatised. However, there is a pro-working class slate standing in the European elections. No2EU – Yes to Democracy….”
So lets get to the bottom of this! Which way did the Green / EFA European Parliamentary group (of which the Green Party of England and Wales is a part) vote on the privatising EU postal services directive?
They voted against the directive. That is, they voted against the directive in the main final vote. They did this because they claim that the proposed liberalisation and ‘opening to market’ competition scheme would be bad for public services, postal workers and the environment. All well and Good so far then.
But that is not the end of the matter. For there were also many other votes on different amendments. One of these, called ‘amendment 10’ was a “proposal to reject the common position” – i.e reject giving the directive a second hearing in the Parliament. This was proposed by the European United Left / Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL).
The GUE/NGL is the most left-wing grouping in the European Parliament. It consists of 33 MEP’s from the Communist Parties of Greece, France, Italy, Portugal including six from the former ruling Czech Communist party. It also contains the German Die Linke, the Greek Synaspismos , the Spanish United Left and Sinn Fein. While they are not revolutionary Marxists, (and despite their NGL name none are explicitly Green parties either) clearly they are the best and most principled block in the parliament.
The GUE / NGL amendment was based upon a principled socialist rejection of the neo-liberal privatisation of public services. As a socialist member of the Green Party of England and Wales I must state my belief that the GUE / NGL position was the correct one. And GUE / NGL MEP’s gave excellent reasons for their stand: Georgios Toussas of the Greek Communists spoke for amendment 10: “The postal services are being transformed from a public good into a commodity” he argued, declaring that “the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) is opposed to the liberalisation of the postal services and is fighting for services that are exclusively public, modern and effective, and for the protection of workers’ rights”. His Portuguese comrade Pedro Guerreiro also speaking for the GUE / NGL amendment said that the directive was “an attack by the big multinationals on the public postal service, the public ownership of this service and the public administration that has to provide it, as well as on its democratic nature, attempting to wrest from the power of each people”.
But unfortunately the GUE / NGL motion never stood a chance. The main groupings of the centre right EPP–ED (conservatives) and the centre left PES ( Party of European Socialists i.e New Labour) were committed to voting down the amendment in their hundreds. They were joined by the ranks of the Liberal Democrats (ALDE), and the right wing UEN. Sadly they were also joined by the majority of the Green / EFA group lead by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and including Jean Lambert. The Greens / EFA split on the issue, with 22 voting against the amendment, and nine voting for.
Those voting for the GUE / NGL amendment included a bloc of around 33 GUE / NGL MEP’s themselves, plus are range of characters from the Fascist right such as the French NF’s Le Penn and also right wing populists such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage. These right wing supporters of amendment 10 declared that while they did not oppose postal service privatisation, it should be up to nation states to decide, not the centralised EU. Other supporters of the amendment included the nine rebel MEP’s from the Green / EFA group and one or two others. But this small and eclectic mix were vastly outnumbered. Caroline Lucas abstained, along with two other Greens MEP’s and four others altogether, one being Robert Kilroy-Silk!
Both the Greens / EFA and the GUE / NGL then tabled a series of other amendments, seeking to resist the directive by placing protections around workers rights and public services. These amendments were again defeated by the massive neo-liberal majority of EPP-ED, PES, ALDE and UEN. Then when the directive was voted on, this neo-liberal majority again steamrollered the second reading of the directive through. Both the Greens / EFA and the GUE / NGL voted against the directive in this final vote.
Clearly the GUE / NGL stand was most principled. Why did the Greens not support the GUE / NGL amendment? I can only speculate at this stage. To be charitable, perhaps the leadership around Danny Daniel Cohn-Bendit imagined they were engaged in clever tactics? Perhaps they calculated that outright opposition would fail, but clever amendments would break the neo-liberal logic of the directive? But the GUE / NGL did both – principled rejection and attempts to amend the directive. Why couldn’t the Green / EFA group follow this lead? And anyway, the Greens must have known that the neo-con / neo-liberal majority coalition would vote down their amendments, making a Green vote against the directive inevitable.
The real answer is probably that the Green / EFA group is lead by contradictory and treacherous elements like Cohn-Bendit, whose German Green Party has been the junior partner in a rotten SPD government which implemented privatising neo-liberal attacks, acts of imperialist war and environmental destruction. Other members of the Greens / EPA include the Czech Greens, again, junior members in a right wing government. Establishing a common position with these people, but also keeping on board grassroots Green activists and more left wing Green MEP’s must require all sorts of tactical compromises and ambiguously worded fudges. Perhaps that’s why the wording is so ambiguous in the Green / EFA position paper document I analysed in the opening article above.
But let us also remember that the Green / EFA group did not vote for postal privatisation. Their tactics may have been tame, legalistic and piecemeal. But they still opposed the directive.
I think that the outright opposition of the GUE / NGL was better than the Green / EFA tactics, because even if you cant win
inside the parliamentary chamber, clear and principled opposition is needed to help build the social movement and trades union mobilisation for the mass popular direct action that can save public services like the post!
I think that Green Socialists in GPEW should campaign for a new stance for the party in the European Parliament. GPEW should first campaign to pull the European Greens to the left, arguing for consistent and principled opposition to war, privatisation and participation in governments. If this task is found impossible, then we should decamp to the GUE / NGL bloc, bringing as many of the best Green elements along.
Lucas and Lambert should be asked to explain to GPEW members why they did not vote for the principled GUE / NGL amendment no. 10. The strong words issued by GPEW stating its principled opposition to postal (and other) privatisation in the UK must be translated into a similar principled stance within the European Parliament.
The Green Party of England and Wales has in recent years attempted to position itself on the left of the UK’s political debate. It has opposed neo-liberalism, war, and racism. It has also sought to move away from its cranky ‘anti-growth’ feudal romanticism with a new platform of a ‘Green New Deal’ proposing a million new green jobs. It has formed alliances with trades unions and anti-capitalist social movements. These are all moves in the right direction.
But it also lacks a critique of political power. It has no coherent strategy for dealing with the problems of success. What happens when elections are won, and influence grows in council chambers? How will it avoid repeating the fate of the Labour Party, of achieving office, then being forced by capital to attack its own social and electoral base? Similarly, how will it avoid the fates of the German, Czech and Irish Green Parties? After a brief success, the Irish Greens have now gone into electoral meltdown following their disastrous participation in a right wing government. Socialists in GPEW can help the party avoid such a fate. Lets add that Respect and any moves towards a ‘new workers party’ also have yet to grasp that nettle, still being too embryonic to face these challenges. What kind of programme can enable the left to use electoral politics and positions to gain influence, without being made a prisoner of electoral reformist logic? The Green Party of England and Wales is not yet a neo-liberal, pro-privatisation lost cause. Instead it provides a valuable space to create new openings for the left.