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A Green New World – French, British and German perspectives

Although Greens tend to agree on most issues, they don’t always think alike. We asked politicians from France, the UK and Germany about their stances and those of their national parties on the military industry, drones, Afghanistan, the legacy of Joschka Fischer, among other thorny issues…


When Joschka Fischer became Foreign Minister of Germany in 1998, the representatives of the peace movement had, for the first time, an opportunity to participate in a national government. To what extent was German foreign policy of that time ”Green” foreign policy? Germany participated in two wars in these years: in 1999 Germany took part in airstrikes on Serbia, and after 9/11 the Bundeswehr sent troops to Afghanistan. Similarly, Pascal Canfin (as French Minister for Development, 2012-2014) had to justify, and participate in French intervention in Mali. Do you think Fischer’s and Canfin’s stints in government represent a paradigm-shift? Or are they simply examples of ”realpolitik”?

Omid Nouripour (Germany): Green foreign policy is always a policy for peace. The preamble to the German constitution imposes this responsibility on us, for reasons of painful historical experience. We take the duty ‘to promote world peace’ more seriously than the CDU/CSU (the two main Christian democratic conservative parties of Germany) or than many in the SPD (the social democrats), with all the challenges which that brings with it in the world of realpolitik. That is why we fought such a bitter battle over the course of our foreign policy at that time under Fischer, and still do today. But economic criteria or power politics barely play a role in these disputes. What we argue about is the right path to spread peace in the world. And that brings with it quite specific differences in realpolitik. This could be seen quite clearly at that time, under Fischer: we said “No” to engagement in Iraq, we put a lot of effort into the Middle East peace process and we regulated arms exports in a very different way to how it is done today.

Tony Clarke (UK): Well to simply say they were “realpolitik” can be depressing and defeatist, but perhaps understandable to a point. Of course any move from any European government towards a less reactive and more hands off approach to international conflict (and in not always supporting America’s military ambitions) will take time and far more than one or two ministerial appointments. The three conflicts mentioned in the question of course were very, very different. Kosovo could be seen in retrospect as a humanitarian intervention to protect innocents, however whilst many in the Green movement across Europe were disappointed particularly at Joschka’s complicit support for military action in Afghanistan and similarly with Canfin’s decision on Bali, the lessons from both France and Germany are that Green Foreign military policy in government needs to be developed more quickly and more precisely out of office to ensure more proactive – and not, as is too often seen, reactive– responses to world issues, once elected.

Noël Mamère (France): There is no Green foreign policy doctrine. However, there are some fundamental principles including, but not limited to, non-violent conflict resolution, respect for fundamental rights, with special attention paid to minorities, cooperation, food sovereignty, and protecting the planet against the ecological crisis. These are all enshrined in the Global Greens Charter. Pacifism has been a pillar of the Green movement in Germany, nonetheless, Greens do not define themselves as pacifists as such. In Germany and France, the specific example of the conflict in Kosovo forced the Greens to re-evaluate their vision of foreign policy by integrating the notion of the right to intervene in defence of human rights. Personally, I was opposed to military intervention in Afghanistan and Mali for political reasons. I maintained that the United States was hauling the international community off into a pre-emptive war against the Taliban, which was inevitably going to turn into a war on the Afghani civilian population, and that it was not a police mission meant to nullify Al Qaeda. As for Mali, my feeling was that France, much like with its involvement in Libya, was simply sustaining Françafrique. Airstrikes, without ground troops, could have stopped the jihadists. In both cases, it is not an issue of paradigm or realpolitik but a real analysis of a real situation carried out on the basis of principles.

How should the European community deal with foreign conflicts? What role should Europe play in international politics?

Mamère: Europe does not have a common foreign and defence policy. In the case of Libya, for example, Nicolas Sarkozy, and then Great Britain, organised a military intervention, which was backed by the United States and approved by the United Nations. There was a specific mandate that was not respected. Rather than doing everything to save Benghazi, military intervention turned into an effort to destroy the Gaddafi regime, which in turn opened the door to the weapons spreading throughout the region and the destabilisation of Libya and the entire sub-region.

Nouripour: It is always better to act through supranational organisations rather than on a purely bi-national basis or in a coalition of the willing. That is why we also have to strengthen the EU in the areas of foreign and security policy.  The current challenges, whether Ebola, the crisis in the Ukraine or the growth of Islamist groupings, all demonstrate one thing: individual states cannot deal with challenges of this magnitude on their own.

Clarke: The UK Green Party believes that any defence policy nation state or EU wide must be consistent with the values of the society it seeks to protect, or else it undermines those very values. A Green defence policy will be democratic, accountable, sustainable, and life-affirming. We are totally opposed to policies based on mass-killing or threatened mass-killing. It is contradictory to seek to defend a Green society by such means. Any defence policy must be consistent with international law and the Charter of the United Nations. We still view the EU as the civilian organisation to which matters that cannot be dealt with more locally should be brought. We feel it is deeply regrettable that the EU has taken the first steps towards militarisation, by the formation of the so-called Rapid Reaction Force. Our primary aim is to reverse this process. In doing so, we anticipate the reduction of tensions between the EU, its neighbours and other countries. Our vision of the EU is not that of a global power bloc or broker. However, maintenance of peaceful external relations is a common concern of the countries of Europe and any outward facing EU policy is de-facto foreign policy.

Due to the current crisis in Ukraine, all three of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) core tasks – collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security with non-NATO-states – need to be rebalanced. How should this be done? In your opinion, what should be the role of NATO regarding the stability of Europe and its neighbours?

Nouripour: I think it is an exaggeration to say that the Ukraine crisis has changed everything for NATO. It is true that some members want to give more weight to the task of collective self-defence. Here, NATO has an important and difficult role: to send out a message of clear and unquestionable support for the members of the alliance but not to pursue a policy of escalation. Because a political resolution of the Ukraine conflict remains central, and that will not take place within the framework of NATO.

Clarke: NATO is a military-oriented body, which imposes conflict cessation rather than encouraging peace building. As such, it is not a sustainable mechanism for maintaining peace in the world. We would take the UK out of NATO unilaterally. Therefore it is not possible for UK Greens to see any positive future for engagement with NATO. We would also end the so-called “special relationship” between the UK and the US. The Green Party sees the OSCE as the most suitable existing forum for developing peace across Europe and we believe that increased effectiveness and development of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) require a transfer of resources to it from other security institutions such as NATO and the EU.

Mamère: The problem with NATO resides in its legitimacy and objectives. Since the cold war came to a close, NATO has been searching for a role and consequently an enemy. De facto, NATO has turned into the armed branch of the West, more specifically of the United States, in Europe and the rest of the world. NATO thrives on the inability of the European Union to establish a veritable common defence policy. When it comes to Ukraine, this prevents us from playing the role of political mediator vis-à-vis Russia because Russia views any European Union and/or NATO effort as a façade for the United States desire to side-line them. NATO has turned into a political problem for the Europeans.

What is your vision for European defence? Could you envision your country as a pillar?

Clarke: No, on inspection, there is little or no threat of direct invasion of the UK by any nation. Commitment to a large standing army, a navy of large warships around our coastline, squadrons of fighter planes and a cripplingly expensive missile defence system is therefore unnecessary. Any threat of invasion that might arise in the future is so remote that realignment of the UK military and defence preparations would be possible long before any invasion occurred. Similarly, the unhelpful and aggressive concept of nuclear deterrence (with the inherent dangers of handling concentrated radioactive substances) is also redundant. As such, immediate nuclear disarmament would be a priority of a Green Government. It is arguably unhealthy for any EU state to identify or promote itself as a pillar for European Defence

Mamère: There is no European Defence policy. This holds true both in terms of military intervention capability – specifically in terms of deployment of ground forces in protracted conflict – and in terms of a common defence industry. France should advocate for a Eurozone of defence, i.e. a core group of countries (France, UK, Germany, Poland, Italy, for example) that would pool their capabilities and finances to establish a common defence system. It all comes down to political will. In the case of the Central African Republic and Mali, we recently witnessed, that some countries that would otherwise ally themselves with France were loth to overstep the boundaries of current nation states.

What should be done with your country’s arms industry? Is it important to maintain it the way it is?

Nouripour: We Greens want above all to make the arms export business more transparent and to involve society and parliament more closely in the decisions. Europe has been spending progressively less on arms for years now, and we support moves towards more sharing of military capability, and thus more savings, within the framework of the EU and NATO. The arms industry, with the help of the conservative-liberal and conservative-social democrat coalition governments, has reacted to this by seeking out new markets abroad and exporting weapons to authoritarian states that do not uphold human rights standards, such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia, lately. Arms exports and the strengthening of authoritarian states should not be the hallmarks of German politics.

Clarke: The UK Green Party is committed to the early conversion of economic, scientific and technological resources presently used to support the arms race, to socially useful and productive ends. An imaginative programme of arms conversion could use many of the skills and resources at present tied up in military industry, to create new jobs and produce socially useful products. Conversion would also free research and development expertise and capital. New renewable energy industries, for instance, could be set up in the same area and use the same skills and resources as the existing arms industries e.g. wave power (shipbuilding), wind power (aerospace) and tidal power (power engineering). However, an acceptance of military means of defence and peace-enforcement requires an acceptance of the existence of arms manufacture. Hence, although weapons of mass destruction will not be made under a Green Government, moderate quantities of conventional weapons and vehicles will. A green Government will have less commitment to protecting either the UK or the EU arms manufacturing industries. Sales of military equipment to other countries will be tightly controlled by a stricter licensing system. Equipment exported will be of a defensive nature only, or strictly and verifiably for use in international campaigns sanctioned by the UN or its regional organisation. Such a licensing system will take proper account of social sustainability criteria, human rights and regional stability issues. There will be a presumption against supply unless an export fulfils all criteria.

The EU and its member states are among the greatest donors of international development funding. Is Europe doing enough in this field?

Clarke: No, aid has often been conceived in a paternalistic and economically colonialist fashion. Instead of serving the needs of the poor in poor countries, it continues to be used by donors as a means of furthering political, economic or military objectives, including the promotion of business interests. The recent history of economic conditionality applied to aid flows, particularly under the so-called Washington Consensus and post-Washington Consensus, has been disastrous, in some cases decimating infant industries and public services, extending environmental degradation and entrenching poverty for millions of people. The preponderance of donors, each with its own agenda, has also tended to reduce coordination and transparency, increasing the politicisation of aid, heightening the risk of corruption and placing a significant management burden on aid-recipient countries. Genuine participation of local people, let alone local control or oversight of aid expenditures, rarely occurs in practice, despite donor rhetoric. Similarly, while ‘sustainability’ has become a buzzword within the aid system, it is generally framed in terms of ‘sustainable economic growth’; defining poverty in terms of income alone and failing completely to prioritise equity and environmental quality, or to address ecological limits in the design and implementation of aid programmes. Across the EU we would campaign for 1.0 percent of each states GNP within ten years being committed to overseas aid. Emergency aid, aid to dependent territories and debt relief should be an addition to this.

Nouripour: It is clear that in development policy the problem lies not in the size of the budget but in the cooperation between the states. The bigger member states of the EU all have their own ministries and agencies for development work. These often follow very different philosophies and priorities. Then alongside them there are also the EU’s own programmes. For the people on the ground this is confusing, and in many instances unfortunately it can also become counter-productive. The EU’s ‘Joint Programming’ is a start here, but far too little use has been made of it so far. Especially for small countries which cannot afford their own implementation organisations, the EU provides a good means of engaging on a shared basis.

Mamère: It does not all come down to money. Here is another case where there are country specific approaches. Europe essentially does not have a full-fledged common development agency where it can consolidate all of its efforts. The result is a divvying up of geographical areas: French speaking African countries to France, for example. It is true that public development assistance has never reached the targets set in the Millennium Development Goals but the real crux of the question is elsewhere: the relationship with countries to the South. Yet there exists an ever increasing structural inequality in our Common Agricultural Policy and in our relationship to ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries, to the detriment of the poorest countries. The primary objective of development policy in Europe should be to make sure that aid gets where it is needed most, i.e. the least advantaged members of society.

How can the presence of the UK and France as permanent members of the Security Council contribute to the resolution of conflicts? Wouldn’t it be about time to replace these two countries by a permanent EU-seat?

Mamère: The UN is the only international body in a position to contribute to stability and peace in the world. Unfortunately, it is structured poorly for today’s challenges. Built at the end of WWII and in the Cold War World, this entity is not an adequate expression of the expectations of countries that were former colonies. Therefore, the system needs an overhaul. The European Union should have one or two full-fledged seats on the Security Council in place of Great Britain and France. And all other regional bodies (African Region, ASEAN, Alba, Arab league) should be represented.

Clarke: The United Nations is based on the principle of national sovereignty. While recognising that the old concept of sovereignty and the nation state has its limits and problems, erosion of this principle, however, carries the danger of legitimising international intervention, which is neither invited nor strictly defensive. Any erosion of national sovereignty within the UN Charter must therefore be on very limited and closely controlled criteria such as the prevention of genocide. The current structure of the UN Security Council, with permanent seats for France, the UK, the US, Russia and China, is undemocratic and unworkable due to the right of veto. All permanent seats on the UN Security Council should be abolished, all nations should take a seat in turn, continents should be represented in proportion to their populations, and decisions should be made by a two-thirds majority. In the absence of this reform, we would accept a mandate given by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly and by the relevant regional organisations of the UN.

How should the international community proceed in Afghanistan?

Clarke: It shouldn’t (not in Afghanistan!). The war in Afghanistan was according to all informed military sources an unwinnable one. Furthermore, it has had the effect of destabilising the entire Afghanistan and Pakistan region, with the remaining consequent danger of the collapse of the Pakistani state itself. It has taken the lives of countless UK troops and diverted resources at a time when the government should have been concentrating resources into job creation, health and the educational sector, among others. Continuation of western intervention increases the risk significantly of a terrorist attack on the UK and a massive increase in refugees fleeing from war and oppression. There remains a need for a new regional peace agreement, as without the co-operation of the regional powers, peace and a functioning administration will be impossible to secure in Afghanistan. We should continue with the support from the EU, UN and other international bodies to support the rebuilding of Afghanistan and the provision of international aid. The protection of women and minorities in Afghanistan and the upholding of human rights must remain an essential part of any future agreement reached with the regional powers, the UN and the people of Afghanistan. The issue of Afghan refugees in neighbouring states and elsewhere, and their long term settlement and humanitarian support should also be made a priority.

Mamère: This is a case of a failure of policy in every sense of the term. The Taliban are reoccupying whole swathes of land and are knocking on the door of Kabul. Corruption and drug trafficking are rampant. Regional warlords are ever so powerful. The coalition has run itself into a dead-end because of its failure to have understood the importance of Pakistani meddling in Afghani home affairs, its inability to establish a policy of reconstruction of the country beyond the military aspects, etc. The only viable solution will necessarily have to include the entire region and will be long term in nature.

Nouripour: It is essential that we learn from Afghanistan the over-riding importance of engagement with the civilian population. The biggest failures of the Afghanistan mission were our half-hearted and underfunded efforts to strengthen the police force, to support the rule of law and to create employment. And we have to learn that it is important to keep people in Germany on board. Foreign policy can only succeed if it gains the support of the public, if it sets out the premises on which it is based and if it is evaluated in terms of its commitment and effectiveness. It is also important for many Afghan women and men that the new government offers them the prospect of a better life. This involves not only improving the economic situation but also – as President Ashraf Ghani promised – combating corruption and human rights abuses. There is a young, hopeful generation, who must be supported. And of course that applies to the international community too. It has to show that it can be depended on to maintain its involvement in Afghanistan, politically and with military support. But whoever gets involved must also be able and willing to demand reforms from the Afghan government.

In Afghanistan (as well as in Pakistan, Yemen, etc.) the media has reported a large number of drone strikes. The unmanned aircrafts are employed for the precision of the strikes, however, in terms of international law they raise a number of concerns. What’s the Green stance on this issue? Are there any alternatives to drones when it comes to eliminating threats to European security without putting civilians and soldiers in danger?

Nouripour: The Greens have always unequivocally condemned the unlawful drone war and will continue to do so. It is a breach of international law. It hurts innocent people. And it will not help combat terrorism. It results instead in radicalisation and continually drives new recruits into the arms of the terrorists.

Clarke: The Green Party in the UK has not developed a separate policy statement in relation to drones outside of its general views on the use of similar military technologies in conflict, but we believe that like other such devices drones cannot be used effectively without significant risk of death or injury to the civilian population, either during or after a period of conflict. Whilst accepting that such weapons may be precise in the nature of their strike we remain unconvinced that the targeting and deployment of such weapons within the theatre of war is anything but precise and share the concerns raised by many as to indiscriminate and unlawful use.

Mamère: I believe in an international convention on the use of drones for military purposes.  I would even go so far as to advocate for a ban as an act of piracy. Drones are used absent of any international oversight and result in summary execution of people on lists that have been compiled without any legal grounds. Again, the solution is not technical. Targeted drone strikes have not put an end to the emergence of jihadists. First the causes of terrorism must be eliminated, their funding lopped off, resistance to islamo-fascists, like in Kobane, must be supported.

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