Can Europe Make It?

The European Green primary experiment

Primary elections to elect the new leaders of the European Greens will take place tomorrow. What makes this hustings particularly special?

Natalie Bennett
17 January 2014
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Candidates for the European Greens leadership. From l-r: Rebecca Harms, José Bové, Monica Frassoni, Ska Keller. Photo used with permission of author. All rights reserved.

The Scottish referendum this year, whatever the result, will mark one significant change in British politics, with 16 and 17-year-olds being able to vote “yes” or “no” on the nation’s constitutional future. (Find out more here if that applies to you and you haven’t already registered.)

But this won’t be a first, for 16 and 17-years-olds, all around the United Kingdom, will have an earlier opportunity to cast their vote – in the European Greens primary election, now open and continuing until January 28. Anyone aged 16 or over, who can indicate with a simple tick that they support the Greens principles, is entitled to cast their ballot – an opening up of democracy that is another European first.

The Green Party of England and Wales has long been a leader in promoting votes for 16-year-olds, believing that young people should have a say in their own future, and that encouraging involvement in the political system is critically important for our democratic future.

It’s the first time any of the major European groups (the Greens/EFA group is the fourth-largest in the parliament – you might like to note that the Tories belong to the fifth-largest) has selected lead candidate(s) by such an open, democratic procedure. (The other groups have simply anointed from within.)

The selected two candidates – for the Green Party has maintained its long tradition of ensuring female representation by having two lead candidates, at least one of whom will be female – will be the “face” of the European campaign.

This isn’t, of course, a presidential election, although as in British politics, the tug of presidential-style politics has been strong for the European election, on which voting in Britain will be on May 22. But it will be selecting the individuals who’ll front the major debates, present the Green case for a Europe in which everyone has enough for a decent life, while living within the limits of our one planet,

It’s a democratic experiment, albeit one using technology and experiences from online voting that’s been used in more than a dozen European national elections. It might well be a forerunner for opening up electronic voting in British polls.

That means we’ll have to see how it goes, what we need is the involvement of as many people as possible to at least check out the site, check out the process, and let us know what they think.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the field has three female candidates and one male. They are co-president the European Green party Rebecca Harms, its migration policy spokesperson Ska Keller, co-chair Monica Frassoni, and José Bové, a French MEP who needs little introduction – just think about that demolished McDonald’s.

If you’d like to see the candidates first hand (there’s also lots of chance to interact online), they’ll all be in London on January 18, available to answer your questions.

As London’s Green MEP Jean Lambert, who’ll be chairing the debate, said: “Survey after survey tells us most people are pretty uninspired by most politicians - and disconnected from the EU. They want more of a say in how the political parties that dominate our democracy - especially at EU level - choose their candidates. The Green primary gives people just that.”

I’ll be at the hustings, and I look forward to hearing the candidates again, having already heard them debate in politics. On that experience I can be sure that Saturday’s debate will be well worth hearing, and will offer a face of green politics, a different kind of politics, a different perspective and way forward.

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