May 27, 2021 - 4:30pm

The promotion of arms sales to conflict zones is not something one would immediately associate with a Green party manifesto. Yet, the co-leader of the German Greens, Robert Habeck, demanded this week that Berlin should allow the sale of ‘defensive’ weapons to Ukraine.

Habeck had met the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, in Kiev before visiting the front lines of the conflict with Russia in the East of the country. The security threat there made a strong impression on him. He told German radio afterwards that Ukraine ‘feels and is isolated in terms of security policy […] one cannot deny Ukraine weapons for self-defence.’

Habeck’s words caused such furore in Germany that he had to row them back. After criticism from all sides, including his own party, he has now clarified that he had only referred to ‘night vision devices’ and other technology to help with reconnaissance and logistics.

Habeck may not speak for all German Greens, as the strong response to his statement shows, but it is undeniable that his party has shifted further towards the political centre, perhaps even into conservative waters in recent months. After all, it was Angela Merkel’s conservative government that decided not to sell military-grade material to Ukraine.

While in Germany Green party leaders are rebuked by conservative politicians for being too interventionist on the foreign policy stage, the UK Greens have not even developed a formal policy platform that addresses the issue. In a world where security threats from states such as Russia, China and Iran look increasingly menacing, the UK Greens resort to empty platitudes such as ‘wish[ing] to promote Green principles across the world’.

The Green Party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, said after the local elections at the beginning of May that her party was ‘winning all around the country’. It is true that they performed well at a local level, but polls at national level tell a different story: support remains in the single digits in a General Election setting.

Meanwhile, the pragmatism and realism of the German Greens has made them a major player in the political landscape. With less than five months to go until the federal election, they could emerge as a serious contender for government, polling at around 25% — and only a few points behind the conservatives.

The UK Greens often complain that the FPTP voting system doesn’t give them a fair shot, which is certainly true. But with Labour and the Liberal Democrats in disarray, there is political room for them to be the preeminent Left-of-centre party. To advance, the party needs to develop a serious and credible policy platform across all the big issues. Only then can they follow in the footsteps of their German counterparts.

Katja Hoyer is a German-British historian and writer. She is the author, most recently, of Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990.