A New Start for the Czech Green Party

A New Start for the Czech Green Party

March 13, 2012
Martin Ander
The unsuccessful parliamentary elections in the spring of 2010 were the culmination of one stage in the history of the Czech Green Party. It was the party’s first participation in government as well as in parliament, a period of relatively good financing for the party, and what at the time was an unprecedented expansion in party membership. But this period will always be associated with sharp intra-party conflicts, the break-up of the parliamentary group and above all the gradual erosion of public trust, which completely collapsed in May 2010. Although public opinion polls show a return in support for the Greens to five percent (the threshold necessary for representation in parliament), the party must begin to build its future from the ground up if it is to contemplate a return to a place in the sun – in other words, it must undergo a sort of “restart”.

This also became the content of Green Party Chairman Ondřej Liška’s first post-election remarks to the Czech public. In his post-election speech on live television, he stated that an era had ended for the Greens but not for green policies as such, and he called upon those who believe in the values of green policies to support the Greens by joining the party and thereby helping it to get started again. An unexpected wave of several hundred applications from new members followed, which partially transformed the party’s membership.

Through its failure in the elections, the party got itself into a very difficult situation: it lost both its ability to influence policy from within parliament as well as state financial support for its activities [1]. The programme to “restart the Greens” thus concerns not only rethinking the party’s political strategy and modernising its organisational structures, but must also go hand in hand with a fundamental structural change in its working methods and the financing of its activities.

The programme to restart the Czech Greens was announced by Chairman Ondřej Liška in the summer of 2010. The plan was then approved by the membership with his re-election as chairman at the party conference in Prague in December 2010. It is a strategic vision consisting of several interconnected project modules which we describe in greater detail below.

Fundraising and financing party activities

The first step taken by the party leadership in the new situation had to be to adapt financial exigencies to the changed conditions. The team staffing the main office was halved, and management positions were cut in the regions. But a new approach to financing operational expenses was introduced nonetheless. A code of ethics for fundraising was elaborated which set rules of transparent partnership with corporate donors, making it possible to reduce expenses on a range of services. For the long term, however, the most important change was the Green Cafés project. Thanks to an agreement with a corporate partner, the party’s main office was relocated to new premises in the city’s historic centre which even include part of the building’s parterre. This, in turn, was obtained from the party under a partnership agreement by a company operating a green café on the site. A space in the centre of Prague was thus created where all Greens could meet, and where working sessions and public meetings could be held. Moreover, 10% of the café’s revenues are donated to the Green Party for its operational expenses.

One of the most important goals of the party leadership is to secure financing for the party’s basic operations which is sustainable in the long term. To this end, the executive board prepared a new fundraising strategy based on obtaining funds from the following sources:
1. small perennial donors contributing each month with a standing order of CZK 100 or more (expected involvement mainly among Green Party members and sympathisers – the sustainability threshold will be reached with the involvement of 600 regular donors, and the present level is roughly one-third of this),
2. one-off donations from individuals,
3. financial gifts from companies under the code of ethical partnership,
4. services from companies at a reduced price under the code of ethical partnership.

For purposes of gradually fulfilling the strategy, a fundraising team was set up, led by the party’s first ever professional fundraiser. Based on the experience of large environmental organisations, a professional fundraising database was introduced to manage donors, and all current and former party members were solicited with a request to make regular donations. Appeals to other groups of potential donors will follow.

Today, the Green Party is undoubtedly a pioneer in ethical financing of political parties in the Czech Republic with a focus on small individual donors. By executing a strategy based on regular donors, high ethical standards of partnership with companies and transparent accounting, the Greens are showing the other political parties a practical path to clean and sustainable political financing. In parallel, the Green Party has elaborated and presented a draft law on political party financing, which contains 18 principles. The Green Party has complied voluntarily with those concerning political parties themselves. The party’s financing is thus completely in accordance with its policy programme, and is also a direct manifestation of green policy itself.

Modernisation of statutes and changes in intra-party communication

In 2011, the party also worked on modernising its statutes. The executive board set up a working group which initiated a broad intra-party discussion. This process culminated in December 2011 at the party conference in Pardubice where the Green Party adopted amended statutes.

The main theme of most of the changes was: “What we advocate externally, we also observe internally.” And thus the Green Party became the first Czech political party whose statutes specify a quota for the representation of both genders, including the highest party offices (the office of the 1st deputy chairman/chairwoman must always be occupied by a representative of the opposite gender to that of the chairman/chairwoman). The procedure for calling an intra-party referendum was also simplified, the office of intra-party ombudsman was established, and a system of proportional representation was introduced for elections to party bodies at the national and regional levels.

As part of the project to restart the Greens, the executive board strengthened communication inside the party. It now communicates more frequently with the chairs of regional organisations on what is needed to develop the organisation in the regions and on preparations for regional elections. A supporting document entitled “List of Activities and Steps Important for Effective Preparation for Regional Elections”, including a pre-election coalition agreement, was prepared for the regional leadership. In order to educate party management and candidates, trainings will be held on how to successfully run a low-cost election campaign.

In order to strengthen and professionalise intra-party communication, the party leadership managed to procure professional multi-purpose database software through a sponsor. After initial testing and customisation for the Green Party’s needs, this internet application will make it possible to share information and to administer party activities in a simple, inexpensive and effective manner, including profiles of individual members, party discussion forums and the like.

Support for education and sharing of experience

One of the key projects to restart the Greens is the Green Academy. The Green Party needs to strengthen the personal development of its politicians and candidates for public office in the long term. In recent years, the party has neglected intra-party education and sharing of political experience. The experience of local representatives who have already advocated the values of green policies as Green Party members at the local level in several election cycles remains practically untapped, as has the potential of Green politicians who gained valuable experience in ministerial or other high official offices. This is why this education project is a high priority for the party leadership.

Formally, the Green Academy is a project of the Institute for Active Citizenship, a civic association, which was established at the beginning of 2011 by several experienced Green Party politicians. The goal of the Green Academy is to offer educational programmes on specialist topics as well as on political skills to anyone interested in green policies. Thus in 2012, thanks to cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Green Academy will offer, for example:
 educational seminars on current political issues (renewable energy, economic tools for creating a green economy, etc.)
 workshops for exchanging experience among communal politicians (how to make use of the opposition representative’s powers of oversight, how to monitor the fairness of public contracts in municipalities, etc.),
 practical trainings for future Green female politicians (rhetorical skills, working with the media, etc.),
 seminars on how to run a successful election campaign for regional party managers and politicians, and
 a series of public debates on current political issues in Prague and Brno.

The Green Wikipedia project also supports the sharing of experience among Green politicians. Its goal is to prepare and share a public database of green know-how and argumentation on specialist political issues. Database content will be provided mainly by the expert section of the Green Party and by successful local representatives.

Strengthening the programme debate

The executive board views strengthening the programme discussion as an important aspect of reviving the party, and so it will organise programme conferences more frequently on selected current political issues. In October 2011, an introductory conference was held with the goal of evaluating the Green Party’s term in government and parliament between 2006 and 2010, which was followed by a discussion about the party’s position on the current government’s reform agenda. Subsequent conferences will address education reform and a solution to the eurozone crisis.

Another important aspect of the Green Party restart was a reform of the party’s expert sections. The goal of this reform was to open up a larger space for the participation of Green Party members and sympathisers in the elaboration of expert opinions, thereby strengthening identification among the membership with the party’s current policies. Accordingly, the process for becoming a member of an expert section was streamlined, and the rules of debate were changed in order to promote the search for consensus opinions and to protect minority viewpoints. Sections’ competencies in developing the programme discussion within the Green Party were expanded as well.

New approach to public action and media work

The main goal of the Green Party restart is to restore public support for green policies, and thus another essential component of the programme must be a change in the Greens’ style of public action. The basis of the new strategy is quick reaction to current events, and systematic monitoring of, and commenting on, priority issues. Quick reactions in combination with the Greens’ active involvement in the public debate and even specific actions have been realised in recent months, e.g. on issues of renewable energy, the infiltration of right-wing extremism into public administration, addressing social unrest in the Šluknov region, the protection of a valuable natural environment in Šumava National Park, support for initiatives against homophobia, and others.

The executive board has also endeavoured to profile the Green Party on key issues connected with our programme in an effort to address the public on a longer-term basis and to achieve real changes in state policies. For example, the Greens opened the issue of financing political parties and election campaigns. They introduced their own draft law and have been advocating persistently for making the financing of Czech politics more transparent. They communicate this issue in the media as well as through political partners. Another long-term priority is foreign policy, where we are advocating an active approach on the part of the Czech Republic in defending human rights, and unequivocal support for the Czech Republic’s active participation in the European integration project.

In addition to current political issues, the Greens’ executive board has also decided to develop a new way of working with the public based on edification, long-term argumentation, profiling of positive issues and debunking certain established myths about green policies. It has thus created working groups which are preparing the basis for long-term public campaigns on two issues:
 modern energy based on maximum use of renewable sources, a departure from nuclear energy, and massive investment in raising the efficiency of energy use;
 clean air achieved primarily through limiting emissions from industry and transportation, supporting the smart economy, and creating green jobs.


Active involvement of members in party activities

Since May 2010, a total of 130 new members have joined the Green Party – almost one-tenth of the total membership. The party leadership is thus all the more responsible for setting up mechanisms which will persuade members to become actively involved in party activities.

A new tool along these lines is the Green Job Bourse. On www.zelenaburzaprace.cz, there are opportunities for volunteer work, short-term jobs, and in future also offers of regular employment involving the party’s work; all the party’s organisational units can post offers on the site. The reform of expert sections will also make it easier for members to become involved in party activities.

The programme to restart the Green Party has been operating for twenty months. Certain projects are already running at full speed, while others are still in the preparatory phase. However, It has already been clearly demonstrated that if the party is to continually grow roots on the Czech political scene, there is no other way than through a thorough modernisation and by establishing sustainable mechanisms for financing activities and providing education for the continual personal and political growth of individual members.


Notes:

[1] Only those parties which receive at least 3% of votes in elections to the Chamber of Deputies are entitled to a regular annual state contribution for the activity of political parties. In the elections of May 2010, the Green Party received only 2.44% of votes.

 

Martin Ander - chairman of the Green Party organization in Brno, director of the Institute for Active Citizenship

 
 
 
 
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