Greens set to be kingmaker in Europe
Party could have role in appointment of key people for EU institutions
The European Green Party, which registered a major victory in the European Parliament election a week ago, is likely to become a key power broker when the new parliament meets for the first time in Strasbourg, France, on July 2.
The Green Party and its traditional partner European Free Alliance, a group often referred to as Greens/EFA or just the Greens, won 69 of the 751 seats in the highest turnout election in 25 years, making it the fourth largest force in the parliament.
The 17 additional seats it gained from the last election in 2014 came mostly from the two largest party groups: the center-right European People's Party and center-left Socialists and Democrats, which lost their combined majority for the first time in 40 years.
The new political landscape will give the Greens a critical kingmaker role when EPP and S&D try to pass legislation and appoint top people for European Union institutions, such as the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, the European Central Bank and the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
"For us, it's a big task and a great responsibility to now put the trust into concrete action for climate protection, as well as promotion of social Europe, in the European Parliament," Ska Keller, a lead candidate of the European Green Party for the European Commission president's position, said after the election victory.
The 37-year-old German politician said any European Parliament group that wants Greens' support would have to deliver on three key principles: climate action, civil liberties and social justice.
The Greens have endorsed calls for the EU to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, still a divisive issue among major EU countries.
Unlike the nationalist and far-right Members of European Parliament, who are often divided among themselves, the Greens are largely united on core priorities of climate change, social justice and democracy.
The Greens have been strong in Sweden, Luxembourg, Belgium, Denmark and Austria. Their biggest success in the election was achieved in Germany when the Greens won second place behind Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.
The Greens performed well in Finland and France, securing second and third place respectively. They also made headway in Ireland and the Netherlands.
In the United Kingdom, the Greens won the fourth place ahead of the governing Conservative Party headed by Theresa May, who will step down on Friday.
"This election was a climate change election. This election was an election for democracy, for human rights, for an Europe open to the world," said Annalena Baerbock, co-chair of the German Green Party.
The Greens' success came after a new wave of climate movement led by 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg. She started the campaign, known as Fridays for Future, last August when she sat in front of the Swedish parliament for three weeks to protest against the lack of climate action.
The movement by the school students, who have not reached the eligible voting age, drew wide attention across Europe and around the world.
According to polling group Forschungsgruppe Wahl, a third of the people under the age of 30 in Germany voted for the Greens.
Major European parties have recognized the growing importance of environmental issues and the Greens. Manfred Weber, the lead EPP candidate for the European Commission president, called the Greens a "possible partner".
"We should sit down together and draft a mandate for the next five years," he said.
"Apparently, climate change is becoming an ever more important factor in the minds of EU citizens," said Jan Willem Blankert, a former EU diplomat in Asia, adding that "with some exaggeration, one may say 'Green is the new left'".
Blankert, who has written extensively on China, believes the Greens don't have an explicit view on China yet, but he thinks the Greens appreciate China's commitment to the 2015 Paris climate accord and the very serious work China does on "greening its economy" in contrast to US government's "hostile attitude" on climate change.
"China could make a greater effort to demonstrate its 'green commitment' to Europe's Greens," he said.
Bas Eickhout, a Dutch MEP and co-leader for the Greens in the European Parliament, said on Euronews television that he saw an opportunity to get a more progressive majority in the European Parliament. But he again expressed no compromise on principles.
"We will need to see much more serious climate action and a real change of attitude, including properly tackling aviation and the greening of agriculture," he said, referring to the inclusion of shipping and aviation emissions, which were left out of the Paris accord.
The Guardian contributed to this story.