A joint meeting between the German and UK Greens

In April 2016, delegates from the Green parties of Germany (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and England (Green Party of England Wales) met for the first time ever for a two-day exchange of views and experience in order to learn from each other and to strengthen their European partnership in the pursuit of their common goals.

The meeting took place in Bristol, with the help and support of the local Green party, and involved both senior elected representatives and rank and file members from both sides. In total over 60 people took part, including leaders of both parties (Simone Peter, co-spokesperson of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, and Natalie Bennett, Leader of the GPEW), a member of the Federal German Parliament (Manuel Sarrazin MdB) and a grand total of four MEPs, two from each country (Jan Philip Albrecht and Terry Reintke from Germany, and Jean Lambert and Molly Scott Cato from the UK). In addition, there were a number of local and regional representatives, notably a strong contingent from the Green Group on Bristol City Council and the Green Party candidate for Mayor of the City. They heard presentations from experts on social and political problems common to both countries, debated Green solutions, made friends, and discussed (some of them late into the night) how to cooperate more closely both in the European Parliament and in activist networks working at all levels and at any kind of scale, right down to connections made between two individuals in either country. Of which there were many.

The event kicked off in the streets, with a joint protest against dangerous levels of air pollution at the appropriately-named Bearpit in the middle of a busy roundabout in Bristol town centre, from where the energised (if wheezing) throng moved on to a joint press conference in Hamilton House in Stokes Croft given by Natalie Bennett and Simone Peter and chaired by Bristol Green Councillor Gus Hoyt. Delegates to the thematic workshops were then welcomed by MEPs Terry Reintke and Molly Scott Cato and the two party leaders. Molly was especially pleased to welcome visitors to Bristol as the Green MEP for the South-West and to point to the radical traditions of the town and the region in the hope that these would inspire the delegates over the coming day and a half. This hope was immediately strengthened when Natalie was able to announce the news of the acquittal of the Green protestors accused of wilful obstruction at the DSEI arms fair in London, and the judge’s finding that there was ‘compelling evidence’ of illegal sales at the fair.  

The German delegation announced that their contribution would be inspired by the hashtag and slogan #HugaBrit which expressed their determination to persuade the British electorate that the rest of Europe dearly wants them to remain a part of the Union. This determination was then captured in a photoshoot of a group hug on the stage, and was manifested from then onwards at regular intervals, often without warning, to the dismay of those of the Brits clinging to their stiff upper lips. (If that is physically possible.)

The first thematic workshops were on Green energy transformation & divestment at the local level (notes and presentation) and on Refugee integration. For those with a deeper interest in one or more of the themes addressed, video of the discussions will be available online shortly.

The first day closed with a panel discussion open to the public on Building a Western Powerhouse: What can we learn from Germany's renewable energy transition? A packed room heard three German and three British delegates  - chaired by Terry Reintke with such charm and skill that even her introductions were applauded - discuss whether Southwest England could use the successful German Energy Transition, which is on track to move Europe’s biggest industrial economy onto an almost entirely renewable-energy footing, as a model to help turn the region, whose renewable energy resources are better than Germany’s, into a regional economic ‘powerhouse’ (literal as well as metaphorical) and the catalyst for a sustainable Britain. Steam was then let off (and Brits were hugged) under the influence of English beer and traditional English Indian food to round off the evening.

The thematic workshops on the morning of the second day addressed Far right wing populism and Civil rights in the digital age (notes). These were followed by a presentation by Dr Wolfgang Rüdig of the University of Strathclyde on UK Green Party Membership - what we know and how things are changing, which included the striking news that the ‘Green Surge’ means that membership of the GPEW is now higher than that of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen. One of the least surprising conclusions, among many newer comparative insights, was that the absence of proportional representation in UK general elections was probably the single biggest reason for the far smaller number of elected representatives there compared with Germany.

The final session was a discussion on The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum (notes), which was notable for the passion with which the German delegates urged the Brits to make sure that this burgeoning partnership, and especially the increasingly productive cooperation within the European Parliament, would be able to continue and grow. Europe needs Britain was their message, and European Greens need British Greens. With that message, and with a final hug, the Brits were sent back out on to the streets to campaign for a Remain vote in the referendum, with renewed energy and a renewed sense of the importance of the task.

Britain and Germany are the two oldest industrialised nations in the world, and the two biggest economies in Europe. Arguably, they have a special responsibility to lead the way in helping to put the world on a sustainable footing. They also have contrasting political and social histories and traditions which offer a rich resource for comparative analysis and new thinking going forward. The Green parties of Germany and of England and Wales want to cooperate more closely in future to this end, and they have issued a joint declaration arising out of this meeting expressing that intention. So it only remains for us to say: Wir freuen uns auf ein Wiedersehen in Deutchland!