One month into the war in Ukraine the IPCC, an international group of experts of the UN working on climate change, published the third part of its sixth report focusing on the possible solutions to avoid planetary catastrophe. However, few political leaders in Europe have paid attention to the report, nor addressed the urgency of the situation, that, according to the experts, leaves only three years to take action.
During the almost three-hour long debate between the two contenders of the French Presidency Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron allocated merely 18 minutes to the climate issue, showing that it is clearly not a priority. One could argue that this is due to the invasion of Ukraine which has had far-reaching consequences, subduing other salient issues and changing the political agenda across the continent.
One rather unexpected effect so far has been the Green parties’ embrace of armament and abandonment of their commitment to pacifism, forgetting that wars produce high volumes of greenhouse gasses and have a calamitous impact on the environment. This article traces the evolution of the Greens in France, Germany, and Bulgaria since the start of the conflict and explores the changes in their positions on the war.
The Greens in France: The tired frames of “humanitarian intervention”
Since its founding in the 1980s, France’s Green party has followed a tradition of pacifism in terms of foreign policy and has upheld non-violent, anti-nuclear, and anti-military positions. One of its main values is the belief that conflicts can be resolved peacefully through discussion and transparency. In this spirit, the party voted almost unanimously in 1990 against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A few years later, however, the pacifism of the Greens began to suffer some exceptions. In 1999 the party supported the NATO military intervention in Kosovo, in 2011 two members of parliament voted for the continuation of the military operations in Libya and two years later the party’s leaders backed the attack against Syria. Today, the party justifies the use of force with the tired frames of “humanitarian intervention.”
Likewise, the party leader and presidential candidate Yannick Jadot appealed immediately after the beginning of the war in Ukraine on the 24th February to send weapons and to impose sanctions on Russia, a decision not unanimously supported by the party members. The member of parliament Bénédicte Monville argued that one must first demand a ceasefire and uphold the positions of non-violence before sending weapons, seeing in Jadot’s action a populist strategy to win over more hawkish voters. Others called for helping Russia’s pacifists first. This is in marked contrast with the 2014 resolution of peace in Ukraine the party adopted after the Maidan events, where it declared that the pressure of the EU over Russia can only be diplomatic, political, and economic and never military, insisting that the acceptance of Ukraine in NATO must be explicitly ruled out.
In addition to sending arms, Jadot called for massive sanctions for the Putin regime’s state oligarchy, reiterating that a peace project must necessarily pass through a balance of power vis-à-vis Putin. This unequivocally includes an embargo on Russia’s oil and gas which would invariably impact France’s and Europe’s ability of procuring energy. In order to avoid any competition between the countries, the Green party leader proposed to designate in Europe a single state as buyer of gas extracted in Russia, to suspend the EU’s directives on the liberalization of energy prices and to introduce price regulation. He also suggested putting photovoltaic panels on the rooftops of supermarkets, schools and other flat roofs because ecology means “peace, climate, and purchasing power at the same time”. However, he mentioned the IPCC report fleetingly in a single tweet.
Amidst the battle with Russia’s oligarchs, Jadot believes that the oil and gas embargo must be extended to France’s oil companies as well as criticizing them for not leaving Russia like Shell, Exxon Mobil, and BP, implying that they are complicit of war crimes in Ukraine, although apparently not all of them left. In the height of the presidential campaign Jadot demanded that Macron force oil companies from France to leave Russia.
In this debacle, the other Green-Left presidential candidate of Union populaire Jean-Luc Melenchon characterized as “stupidity” the proposal to send weapons to Ukraine adding that the situation in Europe now is incredibly tight and one must act cautiously. For this position the left party leader was immediately accused by the Greens of siding with Putin. Unlike Jadot, Melenchon opposes an embargo on Russia’s hydrocarbons suggesting it will have deleterious effects on Europe while deepening its dependence on the more expensive shale gas from US. Instead, he proposed price controls and a single price across Europe. While defending the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he further declared that France should be non-aligned in its international relations and have the possibility to conduct its own negotiations, evoking the forgotten idea of forging alter-globalist alliances to prevent conflicts and act together against climate change – a position defined as capitulation to Putin by Jadot.
If on the 12th March the Green party leader scored 6,5% in the polls and Melenchon 12%, by the first round of the elections on the 10th April the divide increased significantly with the first obtaining 4,65% of the vote and the latter a staggering 21,95%.
The Greens in Germany: Practically calling for a Third World War
During the election campaign last year, the Greens in Germany propagated disarmament and a “value-based foreign policy.” Accompanied by a promotionally effective appearance of their co-leader Robert Habeck in Ukraine, where he posed for much-publicized photos near the Russia-Ukraine border wearing military gear, this campaign element clearly displayed to the critical eye what “value-based foreign policy” means for the Greens: “if necessary,” they would “go to war for values,” as they did when they first joined the government from 27 October 1998 until 22 October 2002 in the First Schröder cabinet.
The Green party was founded in 1980 and emerged from various democratic movements such as anti-nuclear, environmental protection associations, women’s rights, peaceniks, and third world groups. Striving for a non-violent society, the party upheld that no humane goal can be achieved by inhumane means. A central position was the dissolution of the military blocs, above all NATO and the Warsaw Pact, including the German armed forces (Bundeswehr).
This position was first betrayed in 1999 when the then Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer took a turn and declared – while preparing actions against international law – it was Germany’s “moral obligation” as one of the biggest NATO member-states to participate in the US-led military intervention in Kosovo. It was the first war in which Germany took part actively since 1945 and it did not go without internal turmoil. The Austrian sister Green party condemned the French and German Green warmongers but this did not lead to a schism on the European level.
As part of their election program in 2021, the Greens in Germany propagated disarmament and arms export control which they considered too lax. Even though they considered NATO an indispensable actor for the common security of Europe, they criticized NATO’s guidelines of spending 2% of GDP on defense, calling it “arbitrary” and opposed carrying American nuclear weapons with jets from Germany. On the other hand, they advocated staying in touch with Russia and promoting trade with the EU but without exporting weapons from Germany to war zones and to dictatorships. Paradoxically a recent investigation showed that Germany was the second biggest arms exporter to Russia after the 2014 embargo with exports worth 122 million euros.
Today, however, the Greens appear to have made a U-turn and taken a more belligerent position, believing that arming Ukraine massively is the only way, while at the same time looking for ways to quickly become energy-independent from Russia. A few weeks before the war started the current Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced that Germany could not deliver weapons to Ukraine due to its “historical responsibility” emphasizing that diplomacy is the only viable way. Fast-forward a few weeks and Baerbock proposed sending heavy artillery to Ukraine, replacing the “nothing that shoots” position with “everything that shoots,” while backing an additional 100 billion euros for the armed forces in Germany.
So-called “pragmatism” and “realism” took over traditional “green pacifism.” Or, one could also say, “value-based foreign policy” has once again shown its real face. Accordingly, the Green party Member of the Bundestag Anton Hofreiter has been adamant there is no choice but to send weapons, asserting that not acting now risks dragging the war. Another Green party politician, Marieluise Beck, is perhaps the parliament’s most prominent critic of the Putin regime. She went even further than Hofreiter by advising that Germany should take a short-term hit and impose heavy sanctions on Russia despite Germany’s energy dependency. On top of that, she proposed that Germany and France close the skies for Russian planes, practically calling for a Third World War.
This change in “traditional green positions on war,” which has been evident to critical observers for decades, has not gone by without internal conflict. Timon Dzienus, the federal spokesman for the Green German Youth, called upping the funding of the Bundeswehr “a very fatal step.” The Independent Green Left, a grassroots group within the Greens, sent an open letter to the party leaders where they oppose sending arms to Ukraine and demand lobbying Russia’s government for an immediate cessation of all military activities and a return to negotiations. The group said that sending arms gives people in Ukraine the false belief that they stand a military chance against Russia and pose the unconformable but pertinent questions about provoking further escalation and even nuclear war.
Amidst the internal conflict, the party leaders continue navigating the stormy waters of crossing other former “red lines.” Although Olaf Scholz and his cabinet pledged to introduce legislation to require nearly 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, more CO2 will be emitted first. While the nuclear phase-out continues as scheduled, Germany’s coal power plants may be getting an extension for a few more years beyond the deadline of 2030 negotiated by the Greens. Exporting weapons to one authoritarian regime may be off the limits but trading gas deals with another is deemed acceptable.
In an effort to secure new energy sources, in March Robert Habeck – currently the Green Minister of Economy and Climate Action – made a trip to Qatar, the land of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, many Greens vowed to boycott, where labor and human rights barely exist. In addition, Habeck went to negotiate liquefied gas deliveries which the Greens branded as harmful to the climate and totally rejected it until recently. The war demonstrates that the transition to renewable energy is considered by the Greens a national security policy as much as it is a climate policy with the former principles giving way to “pragmatic” albeit contradictory solutions.
This break with former principals has proven lucrative for the Greens making their two ministers Habeck and Baerbock the most popular politicians in Germany today. Behind them is Olaf Scholz, who has been persistently reluctant to send heavy weapons to Ukraine triggering criticism by Baerbock along the lines that “now is not the time for excuses.” The Green’s co-leader Omid Nouripour insisted that the current deliveries to the battlefield are insufficient, ruling out any normalization of the relations with Russia without a change in its leadership. At the same time the defense minister Christine Lambrecht argued that Germany could not deliver tanks to Ukraine from its own stock because it needed them for its own defense as well as for NATO tasks. This deadlock was “solved” by the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during his visit in April when the decision to provide tanks to Ukraine was taken behind closed doors with government officials in Germany, showing that nothing, even the most powerful economy in Europe, can stand in the way of US foreign policy interests.
The Greens in Bulgaria: Taking “all necessary effective measures”
Having been founded in 2008 after numerous ecological NGOs joined forces, the Green party in Bulgaria has a rather short history. Running on a liberal anticommunist political platform, for many years their election results were close to negligible but in 2021 they joined a coalition of two right wing liberal parties called Democratic Bulgaria. Together they managed to enter into the government and now even hold the Ministry of the Environment and Water, their most important political success to date. Although their election program upholds peace, their position today is far from peaceful and equates sending military support to Ukraine with protecting democracy, much like their equivalents in France and Germany but with a more pronounced anti-Russian ideological edge.
Since the war broke out, there has been an ongoing debate whether or not to send weapons to Ukraine to support the country in defending itself against the aggressor. The ruling coalition of four political parties is having difficulties reaching a unanimous decision, with the Bulgarian Socialist party firmly against and even threatening the stability of the government. The same position – but on the other side of the political spectrum – is defended by Democratic Bulgaria, who have been trying to find a way to circumvent the impasse and win the “moral” war. On March 19th the Green party took the decision to propose that the national assembly hold a hearing of Ukraine’s president Volodymir Zelensky. On March 30th Democratic Bulgaria issued a declaration for starting consultations within parliament for military support to Ukraine and in order to defend the “freedom, solidarity, and security in Europe”.
The Greens showed their solidarity in another way as well when one of their party members and former national assembly candidate joined the foreign fighters’ battalion soon after the war erupted. The party also vociferously supported the peace march called “We are not Z neutral,” which demanded intensification of the war by sending weapons. Paradoxically the Green party believes that taking “all necessary effective measures,” which never seem to include peace negotiations, will limit the number of casualties, avert the destruction of cities in Ukraine, help fight off the aggressor, and, ultimately, stop the war.
In a recent interview the Green Minister of Ecology Borislav Sandov even said that not providing military support to Ukraine would mean self-isolation of Bulgaria and its detachment from its “civilizational choice” – the EU and NATO. He even went as far as to imply that this would undermine Bulgaria’s position vis-à-vis North Macedonia, upon which Bulgaria imposed a veto in 2019 on receiving a EU candidate country status. Anything short of more armament is quickly brushed off as veering off the “righteous” path of EU development without questioning such a development. Ironically, amidst all the weapon-rattling the Green movement marked the publishing of the latest IPCC report in a single facebook post only.
Unsurprisingly, being a major weapons producer, Bulgaria has been exporting massively to Ukraine through proxies since the beginning of the war. Upon discovering this, reprisals followed from Russia. Under the guise that Bulgaria refused to pay in ruble for gas from Russia, on April 26th Gazprom announced it would cut the gas supply to Bulgaria starting almost immediately. In preparation for such a turn of events, the Green party co-leader Vladislav Panev proposed to liberalize the market even more so as to allow consumers to produce their own energy. A position in stark contradiction with their counterparts in France.
The bottom line is that the war’s far-reaching consequences have not bypassed the Green parties across Europe, which are embracing more war to stop the war. Their vision of a “pragmatic” solution reduced to sending weapons and imposing sanctions dissolved their pretenses of non-violence and showed their embrace of the “just violence for humanitarian purposes” doctrine. Economically their response has laid bare the ideological disparities within the Green parties. On the other side, the left and nominally left parties in France, Germany, and Bulgaria have all resisted sending weapons to Ukraine. Limiting the public debate since the start of the war to providing or not providing military support to Ukraine has had a deleterious impact on putting forward and reminding of the urgency of climate change and the necessity to take action. Instead, it has made it possible to imagine a sooner end of the world as the slow violence of climate catastrophe would have it.
This text is a contribution to the Berliner Gazette’s “After Extractivism” text series. The original was first published here.