Philippe Lamberts’ father owned a small company that produced sauerkraut. In Belgium. However, simply taking over the family business did not appeal to him, and certainly not a company that had to rely on the uncertainties of the weather for successful harvests. So he decided to study engineering and later worked at IBM for about 20 years – for those of you who are younger: Back then, IBM enjoyed an aura comparable to that of Apple today.
Then, the engineer, who also identifies as a Christian, decided to get into politics – with the Belgian Greens, who are united in the “Ecolo” party. In 2009, he bypassed the status of a voluntary party supporter and became a party professional directly when he was elected as an MEP. In 2014, he became co-group leader of the European Greens, alongside Germany’s Rebecca Harms and then Ska Keller, who is now stepping down from her post. Lambert has also announced his retirement after more than a decade on the European stage.
In the 2019 European elections, the Greens became the fourth-strongest political force with 75 MEPs – undoubtedly an electoral success. The rise from 52 to 75 MEPs has moved them from sixth to fourth place in the European Parliament. This puts them behind the Christian Democrats of the EPP, the Socialists and Social Democrats of the S&D, and Renew’s Liberals and “Macronistes”.
Still in the niche in many countries
Mais voilà. Philippe Lamberts welcomes the fact that political influence within the EU is growing, “but it is still hitting a glass ceiling,” meaning that it is difficult to go beyond the traditional Green voters. In this context, he points to the situation in Sweden, where the Greens have still not broken out of their political niche 40 years after their founding. Or the situation in Southern Europe, where the Greens are still struggling to establish themselves politically.
The future duo will have to try to break through this glass ceiling if they want to reach the “Premier League” of European political parties. To achieve this, they will have to prove that social equity concerns are at the heart of the Green project – to make it attractive to a part of the social democratic voters – and at the same time emphasize that they stand for a free social market economy, which would allow them to score points with some of the liberal voters.
But this must be done while also taking into account the criticism of the Fridays for Future generation, which accuses the party of having lost its will to reshape the system and institutions. Not an easy task.
For Lamberts, reaching the Premier League of political parties means, among other things, electing a Green politician to head a national government. “The Liberals have (note: at the council level) a heavyweight with French President Emmanuel Macron,” Lamberts says. This figure would then serve as a potential magnet for candidates who are interested in the Greens but have not yet converted.
Sharp criticism of Macron
The Brussels MEP has made a name for himself during the financial crisis. In 2013, he launched an EU proposal to cap incomes in the financial industry. “We have reached the limits of a market left to its own devices, which revolves around demands for growth and accumulation of wealth,” he says today. “We are not calling for a state-centered economy, but a market economy” – an economy that does not focus on people living off their wealth and in which human happiness is not defined by the accumulation of wealth and possessions.
Lamberts not only reached attention for positions on the financial world, but also for his rhetoric. In Strasbourg in 2018, for example, he criticized the policies of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was visiting the European Parliament. Macron’s policies “call into question the motto of liberty, equality, fraternity,” Lamberts said, criticizing restrictive domestic policies, arms deals, nuclear power and the shutdown of refugee camps.
The Green politician used the expression “les premiers de cordée,” which translates to “lead climber” – a term that describes leadership qualities and one the state leader is particularly fond of. That is why Lamberts had Macron presented with a climbing rope. Paris still chokes on this rope to this day.