The Czech Greens and The Irish Greens: Greens in Power

Considering the Green movement is a global movement, I thought we could use more news and commentary about our sister parties abroad.

Green Parties around the globe have seen more success than us here in the U.S. with some gaining representation in national legislatures and local councils.  There are even a few Green Parties that have served in coalition governments. The most famous of such coalitions is the 1998-2005 Social Democrat-Green Party coalition in Germany.

Today, there are several Green Parties that serve as junior partners in a number of coalition governments.  The first two Green Parties that come to the top of my mind that serve in government are the Irish Greens and the Czech Greens. Both Green Parties have entered coalition governments with center-right parties. And both Green Parties are experiencing tough times given the public outcry over the slumping world economy and also internal disputes within both parties.

On the surface it may be surprising to see a Green Party working with a center-right party, but it’s important to recognize the unique socio-historical-geo-political context of each part of the world. Yes, the Four Pillars unite Greens all around the world, but for many reasons no two country’s Green Parties are ideologically the same (just as no two state Green Parties are ideologically the same here in the U.S.). The Czech Greens can be described as centrist and more open to market reforms while the Greens in Portugal are stridently more left-wing and eco-socialists. And of course, each country’s Green Party has divisions and variant political thoughts within the party (ex: the fundis and realos factions from the German Greens). I personally think this diversity in Green Party political beliefs is great because each party’s values are grounded in the local context (think grassroots democracy, community-economics, decentralization!) and that diversity in general strengthens the whole (think multiculturalism and biodiversity!).

But I digress, we’re talking about the Czech and Irish Greens in government. I’ve gathered that all is not well in both parties. Some party members in both countries are angry that their party is making too many concessions to their bigger center-right coalition partners. These disputes have resulted in members leaving or being thrown of the the party. In the Czech Green Party, four members (two of them members of the lower house) were expelled for being critical of the Green Party’s chairman, Martin Bursik as well as speaking out against many official party stances. I don’t want to cast judgement because I probably don’t know the whole story nor the local context.

In Ireland, two local councilors left the party in January 2009 because they felt that the party reversed many of its platform policies as a result of working with the their center-right coalition partners.

It remains to be seen what legacy both the Czech Greens and Irish Greens will leave; whether or not they were able to implement Green policies; whether or not they’ve established their parties as a permanent force in the political landscape as the German Greens have done. Serving in government definitely requires a delicate balancing act; trying to stay faithful to the party platform and to Green values while being pragmatic. Being completely unyielding and doctrinaire will not get Green policies implemented, but neither will completely selling out the party’s principles in order to hold onto power. We can learn a lot from our friends abroad; both from their mistakes and their lessons.

Here in America, there are definitely differences in opinion within the party on how to run elections, what are the party’s priorities, what policies should the party adopt, etc. I truly believe that we are not a dogmatic doctrinaire party and that we are able to discuss and debate party policy and accept dissent while respecting the majority. When we get into power eventually (Because we will! That’s for another blog topic.) we are going to have these internal disputes and disagreements. I think it’s important to accentuate what we Greens have in common (ex: Ten Key Values) while embracing our diversity. That’s what going to keep us together and help us accomplish our goals of implementing Green policies. We’re going to have to work together whether we like it or not. After all, too much is at stake for our planet and for our posterity.


I'm a member of the Illinois Green Party.


  1. I know I’ve overemphasized the bad stuff going on in each party so be mindful that I am not a native of the Czech Republic nor Ireland so I only am giving my interpretation from what I read online. There are probably a lot of positive things that the Czech and Irish Greens have done in government that I didn’t mention.

  2. I wouldn’t call the Portuguese Greens stridently left-wing, given their opposition to same-sex adoption.

    And it is also worth mentioning that the other two governing coalitions in which Green parties currently participate — in Finland and Latvia — are also center-right in orientation.

    It used to be that it was controversial for Green parties to compromise their values to the extent necessary to enter into center-left coalitions. Now many of them have gone far beyond that.

  3. Isn’t the Iceland coalition (at least until the next election), basically a Green and Left coalition? Will the collapse of the world economies lead to more such coalitions?

  4. Actually, Iceland is governed right now by a coalition of Social Democrats and Left Greens, with the SDs the larger group. Elections in Iceland are approaching, and it’s possible the Left Greens could become the larger party in the governing coalition. As Walter has pointed out here before, however, the Icelandic Left Greens are not part of the Global Greens.

    I believe the Czech Greens split over the US missile defense system to be installed in the Czech Republic. God bless the Greens who refused to go along with it.

    As for the Irish Greens, it seems they are in a tough spot. On the one hand, the center-right Fianna Fail is quite corrupt and doesn’t deserve their support. On the other hand, I wonder if they should stay in government just long enough to enact a carbon pricing plan, which I think was on the agenda for later this year. All the disappointments so far would be worth it, if at least one country in the world could take meaningful action on climate change.

    Who knows, maybe Iceland will soon?

  5. You’re right, the missile defense system was one of the main causes of the split in Czech Greens. It’s been evident from the beginning, that after Bush’s departure, whole project would be canceled. In spite of this being prevalent opinion in party, chairman Martin Bursik supported the project publicly, in order to stay loyal with right-wing coalition partners.
    There were some other things – e.g. privatisation of healthcare system, social politics and, first of all, the authoritarian way Bursik secured majority in the party- he used government means he had for gaining control over party’s authorities.
    All this led to totall defeat of the Green’s in regional elections. But instead of his self-criticism, he let the critics be expelled from party. The two expelled MP’s voted against controversial policies mentioned above in the past, as well as for no confidence for government today…
    It seems now, that Czech green hopes are in ruins…

  6. @Eric: Ah, I didn’t know that about the Portugal Greens. I only assumed they were leftists because of their close association with the Communists there.

    Speaking of world Green Parties’ positions I disagree with, the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico’s policies seems like the total opposite of what I would think of as a “Green Party.” They are in favor of the reinstatement of capital punishment, want to criminalize abortion, and have been accused of nepotism and corruption.

    The European Green Party Group even withdrew their recognition of the Mexican Greens as a sister Green Party:

  7. Ca Bhuil An Commanacht Na Glas na H’Eirreann?

    From the Legion of th e Damned

  8. The German Green Party in the city/state of Hamburg is also in a governing coalition with the center right Christian Democrats.

    This is true in many German towns, counties, and cities as well. Has been for several years.

    Frankfurt am Main, in Hessen, has had an especially successfull Green/Christian Democrat led center right government. They’ve made much progress on Green energy, growing green business, and the green economy.

  9. “It used to be that it was controversial for Green parties to compromise their values to the extent necessary to enter into center-left coalitions. Now many of them have gone far beyond that.”

    I think some of the cognitive dissonance we US Greens experience when we hear about Green coalitions with center-right governments is based on the difference in election systems between the US and most European states.

    Since proportional representation is the norm in Europe, there is no two-party system to limit political competition in most European countries. There have been many socialist and social democratic governments in Europe, as well as liberal and corporatist/fascist. The country where I am now, Norway, was ruled for decades by social democrats. As a result, people are highly educated, wages are high, public transport is plentiful and well-maintained, healthcare is excellent, vacations are long, the environment is clean, social capital is high and attitudes are progressive. Greens in Norway focus on issues like whaling and oil drilling expansion by the state oil company.

    In these European countries, Greens are more focused on sustainability issues, no matter the economic policy of the ruling party. After all, we’ll have thousands of years to work out economic justice if we solve our sustainability problems, but not the other way around.

    In the US, the chokehold on power by two corporate-sponsored parties has left us without any progressive alternative. Also, the winner-take-all election system forces candidates to adopt a broad platform covering all the issues. So most of us American Greens are social democrats as well as environmentalists. That’s probably why Green coalitions with the center-right seem confusing.

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