On 20 March 2013, Prof. Dr. Simonis and Michael Zschiesche were interviewed about East and West German identities in environmental policy consultancy at Ecologic Institute, Berlin. In the conversation, the differences between East and West Germany became clear, even though the beginning of the institutionalization of environmental politics seems similar. The discussion (in German) can be watched online.
In West Germany, the first Environmental Action Program was passed by the Federal Government in 1971. In the same year, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) and, shortly later in 1974, the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) were founded. Similarly, in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the first environmental institutions and programmes were introduced in the 1970s. Already in 1970, the Landeskulturgesetz – an environmental framework law – was adopted and the Ministry for Environment and Water was founded. On paper, the legal situation was temporarily more progressive than in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Michael Zschiesche emphasized, however, that the laws were insufficiently monitored, implemented and embedded in civil society.
Concerning science-based environmental policy institutes, considerable differences between East and West Germany were mentioned during the conversation. In West Germany, first independent or alternative scientific institutes emerged in the 1970s. These institutes provided the scientific support for the environmental movement’s protest. Due to their critical view, these institutes contrasted with classical university research, which had been very technology-friendly and industry-oriented at that time.
The foundation of independent institutes was prohibited in the GDR. Therefore, critical environmental science only emerged in East Germany with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. However, faced with serious environmental pollution, an environmental movement formed very early. In numbers of protesters and actions undertaken, protest behaviour of the movement was clearly weaker than that of the West Germany environmentalists. At the same time, however, the East Germany movement concealed the political protest from the system itself, whose deficits became apparent in the environmental area: the confidentiality of environmental information in the GDR, for instance, led to a confrontation between civil society and the state.
Concerning the current development, Prof. Dr. Simonis and Michael Zschiesche saw positive and negative developments. Prof. Dr. Simonis named the SRU and the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU) as examples of state funded, but independent councils – a unique characteristic of German scientific policy advisory. This is supplemented by the existence of independent institutes. Nevertheless, the influence of science on politics has to be strengthened. As Prof. Dr. Simonis stated, "Even if science has been established (…), this does not necessarily have a great impact on society. How strong is politics actually influenced by science?” Both experts pleaded for a stronger involvement of the civil society and science in environmental politics, which also has to be supported by an increased attention of the media.
Prof. Dr. Udo Ernst Simonis is Professor Emeritus at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) and was Director of the International Institute for Environment and Society (IIUG) for many years. Michael Zschiesche is Chairman of the Board of Directors and Managing Director of the Independent Institute for Environmental Issues (UfU), the only independent environmental institute with roots in the GDR environmental movement.