GERMANY: Greens betray anti-nuclear movement

Wednesday, April 11, 2001


By supporting the March 26-29 shipment of high-level radioactive waste from France to the German town of Gorleben, the German Greens have ditched all four elements of their original platform — environmental sustainability, disarmament, social justice and democracy. All that remains is the conservatism and opportunism implicit in their mantra "neither left nor right but out in front".

Six "Castor" containers — each with about 10 tonnes of vitrified wastes arising from the reprocessing of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors — were taken by train and truck from nuclear company Cogema's reprocessing plant at La Hague, France, to Gorleben, where a salt mine is being used as a "temporary" dump.

In the weeks preceding the shipment, tens of thousands of protesters launched a wave of demonstrations across Germany. Along the route of the waste train, thousands of people protested and many delayed the train by sitting on, or cementing or chaining themselves to, the tracks. About 20,000 police were involved in the counter-operation, and water cannons were used to drive back thousands of protesters as they tried to storm Dannenberg railway station.

Thousands of tonnes of German-origin spent fuel and reprocessing wastes remain at La Hague, and the German and French governments plan two shipments annually.

Although the six Castor waste containers arrived at their destination, the political and financial costs to the German government — the police operation cost over 10 million German marks ($9.3 million) according to the March 28 British Independent — have jeopardised future shipments.

The transfer of reprocessing wastes to Gorleben was a politically expedient way of "solving" a problem for German nuclear power corporations, which have limited spent fuel storage capacity.

Cogema's motives are similar to those of the German nuclear corporations: it must get rid of reprocessing wastes in order to assure the future of its operations.

As a result of the waste shipment to Gorleben, German nuclear corporations will shortly resume spent fuel shipments to Cogema.

Public opposition to waste shipments is motivated by the environmental and public health risks they pose. In 1998 it was revealed that Castor containers had been travelling across Europe for about a decade, emitting more radiation than was permitted. The radiation limit recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency was exceeded in a number of cases, sometimes by a factor of more than 100.

As a result of the contamination scandal and the public reaction to it, the then Christian Democratic Union government was barely able to keep the waste shipments going and was forced to call a halt to all Castor rail transports. The March 26-29 Castor shipment was the first since 1998.

Jochen Stay noted in the February 16 news communique of the World Information Service on Energy, "Now the transport ban is coming to an end, but it is still questionable whether a Castor is safer now just because the current Environment Minister carries a Green Party membership card."

'Consensus nonsense'

The German Greens became the junior partner in government with the Social Democratic Party in late 1998. Both the Greens and the SPD campaigned for phasing out nuclear power and promised such legislation within 100 days of forming government.

In the end it took about 600 days, and instead of legislation the SPD-Greens government came to a "consensus agreement" with nuclear corporations on June 14, 2000.

The agreement was hailed as a "great victory" by Australian Greens' Senator Bob Brown, but most commentators believe it was a great victory for the nuclear corporations and deride the agreement as "consensus nonsense". The share prices of German nuclear corporations rose by 4-5% on the strength of the consensus agreement.

Previously, the German Greens had called for a "clearly defined schedule for the end of atomic power". However, the June 14 agreement did not specify a timeline for the "phase-out"; instead, it puts a cap on the lifetime output by all 19 operating reactors, equivalent to an average reactor lifetime of 32 years.

The Greens dropped their demand for the closure of the two oldest reactors before the 2002 national election during negotiations. Greens and SPD leaders also dropped a Greens proposal for a new input tax on nuclear fuel.

In January 1999, the SPD-Greens government announced that it would ban the reprocessing of Germany's spent fuel from January 1, 2000. The Greens hailed the decision as an "about-turn for nuclear energy". It turned out to be yet another broken promise — the consensus agreement allows reprocessing to continue until July 1, 2005.

The SPD-Greens government could have brought about a rapid end to nuclear power, either by legislating it, or simply by refusing to allow further shipments of spent fuel to reprocessing plants in France and Britain. The government chose the consensus agreement instead, and as a consequence supports the resumption of spent fuel shipments to France and Britain and the return of reprocessing wastes to Germany.

The Greens voted by an overwhelming majority at a party congress at Stuttgart on March 10 to oppose blockades of the March 26-29 waste shipment. The resolution passed by the congress urged Greens not to build or support "actions, demonstrations or blockades that are directed against the nuclear consensus".

The Greens' betrayal of the anti-nuclear movement is just the latest sell-out of their stated principles of environmental sustainability, disarmament, social justice and democracy.

The Greens have shown a remarkable capacity to put a green gloss on neo-liberal policies. In February 1999, Martin Hufner, chief economist with Germany's second largest bank, said the Greens were "emerging as the voice of economic reason in a number of areas".

Hufner said the Greens were applying the concept of sustainability to economic and social policy. He cited Greens' opposition to pension increases, which were justified with references to "generational equity" — one of the buzz words of ecologically sustainable development. The Greens argued that it would be unwise to add to the financial burden of future generations by increasing pensions.

Increased taxes on fuel and power, introduced in 1999, have been sold as "eco-taxes" but are having a disproportionate impact on low-income earners while largely exempting business. Massive cuts in state spending — affecting pensioners and the unemployed, in particular — have been supported by the Greens and justified with reference to green catch-phrases such as thrift, resourcefulness and autonomy.

Dis-disarmament and non-non-violence

The Green principles of disarmament and non-violence have also been ditched. In the lead-up to the 1998 election, the Greens' election program stated the aim of a "de-militarisation of politics — all the way to the abolishment of the army and the dissolution of NATO".

A few months after the election, the Greens supported NATO's military offensive against Serbia and Kosova. Ironically, in 1999 some Greens defended the party's militarism as a necessary price to pay for winning a "commitment" from the SPD to force the closure of nuclear power plants.

Some Greens have also supported military attacks on Iraq since 1998, most recently in February when foreign minister and Greens leader Joschka Fischer refused to condemn US and British bombing raids, instead expressing his government's "understanding" of them.

The Greens also support the militarisation of the European Union, which has so far resulted in the establishment of a military planning staff and a political and security committee, with plans for a 60,000-strong "rapid reaction force".

Three months after the end of the NATO bombing of Kosova and Serbia, Angelika Beer, the defence spokesperson of the Green parliamentary group, presented a paper in which she argued for German armed forces "characterised by great mobility, technical and operational superiority, leadership-adapted discipline and flexible deployment capacity in the context of multinational and international operations".

Bastardised green concepts are peppered throughout Beer's paper, titled "Less is More!", which turns green frugality and resourcefulness into support for "higher performance and more cost-efficient armed forces" with which Germany, the European Union and NATO can pursue their imperialist interests.

"Liberation" for Beer means liberating the German army from its slumber: "Insufficient structural reforms have led the army into a dead end, from which it must be liberated in order to be prepared for the future".

As for the last of the Greens' principles, democracy, Fischer told a Greens conference on May 13, 1999, "If you pass a resolution calling for a unilateral stop to the [NATO] bombing [on Serbia and Kosova], without a time limit, I will not carry it out".

Federal elections will take place in Germany next year. The Greens' vote has declined in numerous state and local elections since the 1998 federal election, and it is doubtful whether the party will secure the 5% vote necessary to secure parliamentary representation.

It is debatable whether it would be a set-back for Germans (and others) if the Greens lose their parliamentary representation. The Greens have won some gains — a substantial growth in wind power, for example. However, on a series of important issues — such as German involvement in the war on Serbia and the nuclear power fiasco — the Greens have actively blocked progressive movements.

The balance sheet is overwhelmingly negative and the political trajectory of the Greens into the arms of the ruling class is equally clear. According to Peter Staudenmaier of the German Institute for Social Ecology, "The formerly activist-driven 'anti-party party' has shrivelled to a coterie of thoroughly professionalised career politicians without any ties whatsoever to grassroots movements".