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Democracy in the Green Movement

The role of democracy in the green movement
Last update: Dec 13, 2021


This article was created during “Pizza & Write-a-thon” a joint project between Activist Handbook and Federation of Young European Greens

Emergence of the green idea

Green movement today consists of activist green organizations and green political parties. Although the green movement emerged in the middle of the 20th century, green ideas (environmental protection, participative democracy…) can be found in earlier period (especially 19th century) and some other political ideologies, for example agrarianism. During the middle of the 20th century, the ideas became the movement. These ideas were: protecting environment, antinuclear ideas, idea of non-violence, democratic ideas and so on. Activism in society was something that was taken seriously from the beginning of the green movement. At the beginning it was an “activist movement” which transformed in political movement. Many of people who later became green political leaders participated in different protests, for example, Petra Kelly (1) participated in antinuclear protests, Daniel Cohn-Bendit (2) and Joschka Fischer (3) participated in 1968 protests.

Today, there are a lot of green organizations. It seems that the biggest ones are Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (both antinuclear and both founded in the middle of the 20th century). It is important to mention Fridays for future (founded in 2018) as one of the biggest young people’s movement of all times. Also, there are political organizations which are connecting green political parties on global and continental level (for example Global Greens and European Greens).

On example of Fridays for future and Federation of Young European Greens (youth wing of the European Greens), we can see that the green movement is still developing ideas for the future of our societies because the green movement is spreading among “new” young generations. #WorkInProgress (this article is not finished yet)


  1. Here you can read more about Petra Kelly
  2. Here you can read more about Daniel Cohn-Bendit
  3. Here you can read more about Joschka Fischer

Democracy within the green movement

​​Though the green movement in Europe was never unified in the sense of a systemic and coherent theoretical framework, all movements, groups and parties have a common direction of impact.

Despite the diversity, one unifying theme to the broad goals is and always was grass-root democracy. It is arguably not well defined but crucial as rejection of the established parties and how they operated was an essential part of the political context environmental movements and later green parties emerged.

They seek to overcome the hierarchical structure of established parties and their non-responsiveness to demands of ordinary citizens.

In the early days of activism like the anti-nuclear movement used local-initiatives, law-suits and plebiscitaries to implement their concerns. All of which are tools to involve individuals and local citizens.

When (green) parties emerged from the green movements in the 1970s, grass-root-democracy was already core to their ideas and self-conception.

A new type of politics was introduced with concepts such as rotation of public offices and term limitations for party positions.

A common phenomenon in both parties and movements, which results from a strong grass-root democracy is the involvement of every member and their right to vote on party or movement policies and positions.

Green politics inside and outside of the institutions

Participatory democracy in activism

Participatory democracy

Participatory democracy describes a more decentralised, nonhierarchical and consensus oriented way of decision making in political participation. Political participation then is not limited in not only electoral processes. There are some examples of participatory democracy all around the world: In Paris citizens can decide on how specific parts of the city’s budget are used (place for other examples). #WorkInProgress

Why we are in need of more participatory democracy

Especially in times of systemic issues that are affecting everyone’s life, such as the climate change, people are searching for possibilities to raise their voice and express their needs. In order to find a solution to the crisis of our time institutions have to open up the decision making processes and include people from different ages and living realities.


How to practice features of participatory democracy

#WorkInProgress (this article is not finished yet)

Green parties and democratic participation

The Green movement and the Green parties continues to become increasingly popular and influential across Europe. In the most recent national elections, the Green parties increased their vote share in 13 European countries {BBC, 2021].

Paths to power

The Green parties in Europe have gained power through two paths - The Swedish path and The Finnish path. The first route is based on a coalition between the green party and another Democratic Party to form a joint government. This has been seen in national cabinets of Sweden, France, Italy and Denmark. On the other hand, in the Finnish path, the Green parties run independently [Otjes - Green European Journal, 2019].

The Finnish path provides a platform in which the Greens could work with both the Left and the Right wings. Within this mandate of broad government coalition, there is a more moderate overview on issues like taxes and welfare policies [Otjes - Green European Journal, 2019].

How to contribute

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  1. The first footnote
  2. The second footnote
  • Participatory democracy in social movements

*"Participatory democracy in social movements" in: The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements online (

  • Participatory Democracy: the importance of having a say when times are hard

Participatory Democracy: the Importance of Having a Say When Times are Hard | Institut Montaigne

  • Green Democracy in Europe

Green Democracy in Europe

  • The present and future of the Green wave - Part 2: The Future

The Present and Future of the Green Wave - Part 2: The Future

External resources

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