Citizenship and the Environment

In Germany the debate about the undesirable effects of the “party state” and “the crisis of parliamentary democracy” became acute in the 1960s and 70s. One factor was the grand coalition federal government (1966-1969) which, along with the student revolt, gave rise to an extra parliamentary opposition, to civic action groups and to new social movements, whose militants had often been disappointed by the established political parties and their poor responsiveness to the field of the new politics.

One result was that protagonists of parts of the growing new social movements – comprising predominantly the peace movement, the anti-nuclear energy respectively the environmental movement and the feminist movement – decided to form a new party. After first successful participation of Green party lists in regional elections[4], “DIE GRUNEN” as a federal party was finally founded in 1980, consisting of very heterogeneous political groups.

As the existence of a rather closed class of professional full-time politicians within the disliked established parties was seen as the basic problem in German party democracy, the newly created party organization was structured corresponding to the principle of grassroots[5] democracy in order to prevent a future party elite from moving away from the ordinary participants of the new party. Thereby the goal was to maintain the unity of the political party with the social movements.

The underlying main aim of grassroots party democracy was the securing of an undistorted transmission of the political intentions and desires of the represented members up to the top executive committee and guaranteeing the party leaders’ responsiveness to the ordinary members by specific means. The exceptionally structured party organization and special rules laid down in the party statutes mark the difference between the grassroots democracy of the Greens and the intra-party democracy of the other German parties.

Since then, twenty-seven years have passed and the party has undergone a deep change. During the first decade conflicts arose between factions and personalities especially over the issue of participation in government with the Social Democrats at regional and federal level. Far from being an “anti-party party”, as one protagonist of the Greens described her party in its early period, Alliance 90 / The Greens now find themselves since 1998 at the heart of power as the smaller coalition partner in the federal government.

Thereby the Greens have themselves become part of the establishment, following the motto of changing society from inside its political institutions instead of only from outside and by fundamental opposition. The question that I want to answer mainly is: Do the Greens fulfill their claim of representing their electorate in a truthful way? The aim of this paper is to find out whether and in which ways party activists of Alliance 90 represent their voters. I realize that is necessary to explain here, how voters are represented.

For this I have chosen the representation model of Hannah Pitkin in “The Concept of Representation”. My theoretical discussion on representation is based on Pitkin’s classification of types of representation. “Representation, taken generally, means the making present in some sense of something which is nevertheless not present literally or in fact. ”[6] She identifies four theoretical groups that taken all together come to an extensive understanding of representation: 1.

Formalistic representation: According to the “authorization view”, a representative is formalistically seen as someone who has been authorized to specific actions by those he represents. Within the “accountability view”, which seeks to limit the powers that the representative gains by the act of authorization, a representative is formalistically defined as someone who is accountable to those he represents. 2. Descriptive representation: “representing […] depends on the representative’s characteristics, on what he is or is like, on being something rather than doing something.

”[7]. Here the question is what characteristics are seen as relevant[8]. Close to the descriptive understanding of representation, the identity theory of democracy in the tradition of Rousseau argues that the legitimacy of a representative body depends on its ability to serve as a reduced copy of the whole of the represented. 3. Symbolic representation: Representing also means symbolizing. A relationship of symbolic representation is based on an irrational belief that those represented have in the legitimacy of the representative.

Both symbolic and descriptive representations are grouped into representation as ‘standing for’. This notion indicates that no action, but certain characteristics are needed in order to constitute a representational relationship. 4. Representing as ‘acting for’: In this sense, “representation is a certain characteristic activity, defined by certain behavioral norms or certain things a representative is expected to do”[9] Many of the elements of grassroots democracy of the German Greens aim at influencing the composition of representative bodies.

Whereas other normative and theoretical traditions dispute that social or policy representation is a necessary recondition of obtaining a maximum level of responsiveness, grassroots democracy emphasizes the importance of accurate social and policy representation as a means to the end of responsiveness. 4 Therefore the main significance of grassroots democracy is the realization of responsiveness by specific organizational structuralinstruments that try to guarantee the undistorted transmission of the political intentions and desires of the represented.

Within Pitkin’s conceptual context this indicates a strong significance of representation as standing for. The underlying assumption is that certain characteristics and attitudes of political representatives have a decisive influence on their political (voting) behavior. From a stronger grassroots democratic point of view and in the tradition of Rousseau’s notion of identical democracy[10], identity of social characteristics and ideology between representatives and represented in the sense of descriptive representation is seen as a value in itself.

“In their election manifesto, the Greens are addressing the voter directly, asking them to vote for an ecologically-friendly future. They demand participation in society and the labour market for all. For them, freedom requires social security. Highlighting Green achievements during their time in government – the reform of the tax system, the lowering of wage incidentals, the increase of the child benefit and the reforms of the social security system and the labour market – the party believe to have improved the general conditions for enterprises to generate more employment.

On those who are missing the positive economic effects, the Greens call to be patient as reforms take time to materialize in progress. The Greens want to concentrate research on renewable sources of energy and to make them the energy sources of the future. Further goals are to strengthen the service sector, using the productive capacity and added value of immigrants, give priority to the reduction of working hours, demand a minimum wage, expand basic social security, invest in labour, education and childcare whilst consolidating the public budget.

The Greens also want to strengthen consumer protection, promote early learning and conduct ethical research. Finally, they aim for clearer distribution of competencies through a reform of the federal system. ”[11] Who is voting for the Green Party in Germany or in general? Citizens that believe that a new politics is need. People that believe in the creation of a just, equitable and sustainable society are the ones that vote for the relatively new ideology. Are the green parties here to stay?

My answer is yes. In my opinion human beings need something new, something that addresses every day problems: pollution, defending animal’s rights, and protecting the environment are few of the issues “attacked” by the Greens in most of the cases. The relationship between humans and nature cannot be separated and treated in isolation. There is no single argument to explain the need of green parties. There is some support for the claim that green parties are an expression of a new politics.

Green parties do draw support disproportionately from the “new middle class”, but this statistical relationship does not tell us very much as the majority of this group supports other parties.


Dobson, Andrew – “Citizenship and the Environment”, ed. Oxford University Press, 2005. Frankland, E. Gene / Schoonmaker, Donald (1992): “Between Protest & Power: The Green Party in Germany”. Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press. Hayward, Tim in “Environmental Politics”, vol. 15, no. 3. Pitkin Hannah – “The Concept of Representation” University of California Press, 1967, pp 8-9.