‘I Have to Disappoint You’: German Green Party Neglects Climate Whistleblowers

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German Whistleblower

Germany’s Green Party is a very long way from that day in January 1980 when 1,000 young idealists gathered in the country’s southwestern city of Karlsruhe.

“It certainly was a colorful bunch of people. There were veterans of the 1968 students’ movement, environmental activists, anti-war protesters, conservatives, animal rights activists, equal rights activists and communists, to name just a few,” Deutsche Welle reported on the Greens’ 40th anniversary last year. “Many of the men had long beards and wore brightly colored overalls. Many women wore handmade knit sweaters. The Greens had been founded.”

Imagine the sense of achievement this past Sept. 26, when the Greens collected an all-time record 15 percent of the national vote and 118 seats in the Bundestag. This was by far their best result since first standing for election in 1980, when, according to Deutsche Welle, they were viewed “pretty much as oddballs and misbehaved children.” The description is apt, considering that the Greens’ first parliamentarian, Joschka Fischer, helped beat up a police officer during a street protest in 1973.

And imagine the feeling of pride on Dec. 8 when the Greens joined the Social Democrats and Free Democrats to form a new government to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, who retired after 16 years of noted stability.

Here’s where things get surprising. Before Merkel left office in December, it was the Justice Ministry under her center-right Christian Democratic party – not the progressive-left Greens – that said climate whistleblowers should be protected. “Effective and comprehensive protection of whistleblowers,” the proposal states, “serves the achievement of sustainability goals,” including “climate protection measures.”

A betting person would think the Greens would maintain – or even strengthen – Merkel’s pro-climate whistleblower proposal when they joined the ruling coalition. Instead, the party founded by former hippies did the opposite.

When contacted by Whistleblowing International, the Greens’ second highest-ranking Bundestag member said he saw no reason why climate whistleblowers deserved special notice or rights. “No, I have to disappoint you. We will not include such a formulation,” Konstantin von Notz wrote to the Berlin-based NGO on Nov. 4.

The explanation from von Notz reveals a classic error commonly displayed in countries with little or no experience in handling whistleblower cases – and, as with Germany, where “whistleblower” is not even an official designation.

“It makes little sense from our point of view to explicitly mention whistleblowers from a certain area, but not other areas,” said Notz, known more for his work on homeland security and civil rights than the environment.

By listing specific types of misconduct considered to be whistleblowing, employees who make such reports have a stronger assurance of being legally protected from reprisals. They are less likely to fall through a legislative loophole. German officials do not have the first-hand experience to understand this, as the country still has no public agency that handles whistleblower cases and retaliation complaints.

The Greens also missed an opportunity to support climate whistleblowers in the coalition agreement it co-authored with the Social Democrats and Free Democrats. The 178-page document only tepidly refers to a new European Union regulation: “We will implement the EU whistleblower Directive in a legally secure and practicable manner.” Not exactly the stuff of political oddballs.

To be sure, the German Greens were more daring when they were in the opposition. Green parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele became one of the first government officials in the world to visit Edward Snowden when he traveled to Moscow in October 2013. Now that the Greens are co-leading the German government, complacency seems to have set in, and they appear to be on track to squander the opportunity given to them by voters.

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