How Greens Vote in the EU Parliament

My daughter Cate just graduated from Kings University in Halifax in May and has been interning in Brussels with a friend of mine, Catherine Greze, Green Party of France MEP in the European Parliament. As Cate told me what it was like, watching as European Greens came to consensus on issues about how they planned to vote in Parliament, it struck me that it was exactly how I envision a caucus of Canadian Green MPs operating in the House of Commons. All the times I have tried to convince journalists, other MPs, that we will not have iron-clad party discipline in the Green Party — ever — they simply cannot accept the concept. They don’t get it, or believe that it’s possible. So I offer my daughter’s blog as proof. It can be done, and is, on a daily basis in other democracies.

– Elizabeth

I came to see how Greens work in the European Parliament, and I got a good idea of how important Green participation can be for European legislation. The European government has some faults that we can learn from, but it is an exemplary Parliament when it comes to Members’ independent participation. Here is a dialogue between me and the Green assistant I got to know.

“So the Members for the Greens can vote differently from the party decision?”

“Yes, of course. They hear the recommendation from the Coordinator who followed the legislative propositions and debates. Then Members can ask questions or make other suggestions, but for the most part they’ve already seen the work and are in agreement. The group takes a position, but anyone who disagrees can vote the way they think.”

I imagine my friend’s thoughts: This Canadian girl is pretty slow. I have to explain such basic things to her sometimes.

It was a little while before I got up the courage to ask again about party discipline.

“Euh, can I ask you something? About that group meeting I saw where the Greens came to a collective position on the upcoming votes. Do other political parties in the European Parliament allow their Members to vote differently from the party position?”

“Of course. The parties include people from different countries, and they often vote differently from one another. The Greens have more cohesion about the way they vote since we’re a small contingent and we share a common vision. With other parties, people are voting differently from their fellow Members much more.”

I can see that I have to explain myself and this mental block when it comes to free votes.

“I am comparing this to the Canadian Parliament, which works very differently.”

“How does it work in Canada?”

“The strategists of the parties decide how the M.P.s vote, and they’re forced to follow this.”


Ah, how different the European context is from our own.