Green parties grew out of the concern for the ecological stability of the planet and the quality of life in industrial societies which sharpened perceptibly in the 1970s. The German greens, Die Grünen, were the most successful and influential; their movement grew out of a wide range of ‘grass roots’ and ‘outsider’ organizations which developed ‘lists’ of approved candidates at local elections and constituted themselves as a party in 1980. It was a remarkably successful party for a time. In 1983 it crossed the 5 per cent threshold in Bundestag elections and took 27 seats; at its peak in 1987 it had 8.2 per cent of the vote and 46 seats. Its best known figure was Petra Kelly (1947–92).
Many countries, including most in Western Europe, developed green parties during this period. Several existing parties renamed themselves as greens, including the Ecology Party in Britain and the Values Party in New Zealand. This partly was out of respectful imitation of Die Grünen, but also because the image of greenness, with its connotations of freshness and nature, was thought to have proved so powerful. It also carried the advantage, as a colour, of a certain ideological freshness; although the colour of Islam and of some nationalist movements, it was not tainted with images of the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ in politics, unlike blue, red, black, white, and others.
The nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986 proved a fillip to the green cause in many countries and green parties met with considerable electoral success in the late 1980s. In the elections to the European Parliament in 1989 most green parties achieved record performances, including a remarkable 14.9 per cent of the vote in Britain. Green parties entered national governments in Europe for the first time in the 1990s, in broad left coalition governments: in France in 1997 and in Germany in 1998. However, in the twenty‐first century green parties have tended to decline even where it might be thought that they have won the argument. This is partly because they have demonstrated the natural fissiparity of radical movements and parties, but it is also because some of their analyses were adopted by larger parties with more resources. To use a nineteenth‐century expression, their clothes were stolen by the established parties.
Subjects: Politics — History.