(Bloomberg) -- Voters drained away from the European Union’s two main political parties as expected in Sunday’s election, but they didn’t end up with the populist insurgents.
Instead, the Greens emerged as one of the biggest winners and are positioned to play a key role in the bloc’s next policy program.
The Greens will be the fourth biggest group in the next EU Parliament after their share of seats rose to more than 9% from 7%, according to provisional results released on Monday morning in Brussels. Big gains in Germany and France underpinned the European environmental movement’s success while the mainstream Christian Democrats and Socialists saw their combined share of seats fall below 50% for the first time.
The greater fragmentation of the 751-seat European assembly gives smaller pro-EU groups a chance to wield more clout, especially when it comes to installing a new leadership team at the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. The Greens signaled they would demand a high price for joining a pro-EU majority coalition to help counter a parallel boost for euroskpetic, far-right parties such as the League of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.
“We want to weigh in on the negotiations,” Philippe Lamberts, Belgian co-leader of the Green faction in the EU Parliament, told reporters in Brussels as the final ballot results were still being tallied. But he insisted his party wants "measurable, verifiable and tangible change" as the reward for its support.
The Greens encompass two often-competing threads: grassroots action and skepticism of globalization on the one hand, and pro-EU instincts and a commitment to multilateralism on the other.
This gives the Greens a foot in both broad political camps -- with populists such as Salvini and France’s Marine Le Pen and with centrist political families like the Christian Democrats and Socialists.
German members of the EU Parliament’s Green group will increase by nine to 22, while French members are slated to double to 12, according to the preliminary election results.
Another country where environmental campaigners’ political fortunes are improving is Belgium, where the Greens are slated to increase their representatives in the EU Parliament to three from two following months of weekly climate demonstrations, driven in part by a United Nations report on the dire state of climate change.
“That was a wake-up call because the report said we have only about 10 years left to act,” said Saskia Bricmont, a Belgian Green candidate who failed to win a seat in the European assembly five years ago and who is expected to enter this time.
Within EU countries, the Greens have been advancing for years at local, regional and national levels. Though their biggest political achievement is probably still their role as junior partner in Germany’s ruling coalition from 1998 to 2005.
Environmental policy in general and climate protection in particular have climbed up the EU agenda over the past 15 years, as the bloc has imposed caps on carbon dioxide from power plants, factories, cars and airlines. Over the period, the EU has also steadily tightened CO2 limits on heavy industry, decided to do the same for autos between 2020 and 2030 and approved similar curbs on trucks between 2025 and 2030.
(Updates with latest result in third paragraph.)
--With assistance from Viktoria Dendrinou.
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