The History of the Green Foundations

On 31 January 1983, in the name of the German Green Party, the Berlin law firm of Schily, Becker, Geulen filed a lawsuit with Germany’s Constitutional Court against the practice that foundations affiliated with political parties received federal funding – a practice the Greens regarded as implicit financing of political parties. In addition, the plaintiffs argued that the fact that such funding was only available to the established political parties violated the constitutional principle that all parties be treated equal. However, in 1986, the court in its verdict upheld the practice that political foundations receive federal funding. This marks the beginning of the history of the green political foundations.

How to build a green foundation

Still, the creation of a green foundation was not a straight-forward process. First, the Green Party had to decide whether to set up its own foundation at all. In preparation of such a decision a Foundation Commission was created on 24 August 1986.

However, at the time, people outside the Green Party had already come up with suggestions for such a foundation, namely the ‘Initiative for a Heinrich Böll Foundation,’ the ‘Frauenanstiftung,’ the so-called ‘movement model,’ and the idea to set up an alliance of the green foundations in individual German states. The latter suggestion came from a number of state-based foundations and institutes for continuing education.

Indeed, even before 1983 the Green Party had some affiliated foundations at the state-level – and these had already tried to form a green federal foundation.

The Frauenanstiftung was run by women from the feminist movement; the people behind the ‘movement model’ came from an alliance of independent peace and third world initiatives; and the ‘Initiative for a Heinrich Böll Foundation,’ officially launched on 14 September 1986 in Cologne, had among its founders a number of well known green politicians, namely Lukas Beckmann and Christa Nickels, yet they considered themselves independent from the Green Party.

A party convention that took place on 19-20 September 1987 in the city of Oldenburg, debated which of the four models should be recognised as the foundation officially affiliated with the party. In the end, the alliance of state-level foundations won 234 votes, the Heinrich Böll Foundation 168. However, as no model gained a two-thirds majority the final decision was postponed.

Three foundations, one umbrella organisation

Subsequently, the representatives of the state-level foundations proposed the creation of an umbrella organisation that would be in charge of co-ordinating the programme activities of the individual foundations as well as certain federal tasks. This model also proposed that the state-level foundations should receive about 50% of the funds available. An alternative model advanced by representatives of the Böll Foundation and the Frauenanstiftung proposed that the three autonomous foundations should have equal rights within the umbrella organisation. The final decision lay with a Green Party convention that took place between 25 and 27 March 1988 in the city of Ludwigshafen.

Finally, on 26 July 1988, the Stiftungsverband Regenbogen (Rainbow Foundation Federation) was created. Earlier, on 1 July 1988, the state-level foundations had already formed the Buntstift federation. On the 15 August of the same year the Green Party’s executive board recognised Stiftungsverband Regenbogen as its affiliated political foundation.

After reunification: The new Green Party recognises Regenbogen as its affiliate

After German reunification and the merger of the West German Greens and East German Bündnis 90, the new party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen recognised Regenbogen as its affiliated foundation. An advisory board comprising activists from the East German civil rights and environmental movements was tasked with organising programmes in the new German states.

In 1992, at a Green Party convention in Berlin, a proposal was submitted to reform the umbrella organisation and have it focus more clearly on the shared objectives of all three foundations. Specifically, it was suggested that the scholarship programmes and international activities should merge and that domestic programmes should be better co-ordinated.

The merger: a united and powerful Heinrich Böll Foundation

In the end, such debates resulted in comprehensive reform. In March 1996, in the city of Mainz, a Green Party convention voted in favour of a merger. Programmatically, gender and women’s issues were defined as cross-sectoral tasks of the new, united Foundation, and a strong emphasis was put on gay and lesbian rights as well as on questions surrounding migration policy.

A majority of delegates at the convention voted that the new organisation should be known as Heinrich Böll Foundation. On 1 July 1997, the new Heinrich Böll Foundation was launched, and this day also marked the beginning of the Foundation’s move to Berlin.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation today: continuity and change

The Heinrich Böll Foundation, Germany’s green political foundation, is affiliated with the political party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen. The Foundation is a Green think tank, a laboratory where reform proposals are being tested, and an international network with over 100 project partners in over 60 countries on four continents.

Within Germany, political education programmes are conducted regionally by the state-level foundations in each of Germany’s 16 states.

Our namesake, the writer and Nobel Prize laureate Heinrich Böll, personifies the values we stand for: civic courage and tolerance, independent thinking, and the valuation of art and culture as independent spheres of expression and action.

The Heinrich Böll Foundation is the locus for open political, scientific, and academic debate. With its domestic and international political education programmes the Foundation promotes democratic, grassroots decision-making processes, active civic involvement, and it contributes to international debates. In this, our main focus is on environmentalism and sustainability, democracy and human rights, social equity, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Political challenges facing Germany and Europe

Currently, under the header Models for a Green Turnaround, the Foundation is pursuing long-term programmes in the policy areas of urban renewal, mobility, the greening of key industries, and the green reform of the financial system. The programme on Social Participation and Opportunities for Advancement addresses issues to do with social mobility as a precondition for greater inclusion as well as the tension between the principles of, on the one hand, honouring individual performance and, on the other, individual needs and equality. Finally, the programme on Democracy and the Public Sphere investigates the future of democratic systems whose institutions are faced with a crisis of legitimacy, a structural transformation of the public sphere, and the ever-increasing role of the internet.

International challenges

The Foundation continues to pursue an international strategy that focuses on climate and energy policy, gender policy, the promotion of democracy, as well as foreign and security policy. The main axis tying these programme areas together is the challenge posed by climate change. Our key activities are analysing national and international climate policy, informing and raising awareness on the consequences of climate change, and the building of capacities related to climate policy within governments and civil society.

Within transatlantic relations the Foundation has managed to establish itself as an influential player in the areas of climate and energy policy. An ongoing challenge is the nexus between climate protection and the fight against poverty.

On the European level the Foundation is actively pursuing the creation of an international coalition for renewables. At the same time, we are pushing the debate on a common European energy policy.

International agricultural policy and food security, as well as the future of the commons are a further important focus area. Here, the main issues are a level playing field for (small) farmers, as well as the interrelation between land use, agricultural policy, and climate change.

The promotion of democracy is a cross-sectoral task of the Foundation, as is gender policy. Questions of democracy and participation are relevant within all of our focus areas. In addition, the Foundation has human rights programmes, projects to promote the rule of law, and projects that aim to prevent conflicts.

In the areas of foreign and security policy we are developing a cross-regional strategy concerning the “civil and military use of nuclear power.” A further focus area will be efforts to revive peace talks in the Middle East. A main tenet of the Foundation is to create spaces for dialogue on the political, institutional, and social level, in order to enable open debate and participate in the development of new political initiatives.

Women’s and gender policy are a signature feature of the Foundation’s activities, and related programmes are being pursued by almost all of our international offices, although with different emphases. The issues of religion, gender, and politics as well as gender and security / crisis prevention are of particular importance to us, and to achieve greater political and economic participation for women remains one of our greatest strategic challenges.

The activities of our Gunda Werner Institute for Feminism and Gender Democracy are mainly focussed on peace and security policy, autonomy and how to secure women’s livelihoods, gender democracy and feminism, European gender policies, as well as gender counselling and gender trainings. The Institute’s website presents numerous analyses and reports.

The Foundation also promotes the arts and culture as part of its political education programmes and as expressions of social self-understanding. On this we spend 4.5% of our annual budget.

In 2012, the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s scholarship programme awarded over 1000 scholarships to students and post-graduates. Here, one of our objectives also is to support students from abroad.

The Foundation currently maintains foreign and project offices in Brussels, in Poland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Israel, Lebanon, the Arab Middle East, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, China, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, El Salvador and in the USA. Another Office is under development in Morocco.

Quick facts:

  • The Members’ Assembly, the Foundation’s highest decision-making body, comprises 49 members; the Supervisory Board has nine elected members. The Foundation’s presidents are Ralf Fücks and Barbara Unmüßig, the CEO is Dr. Livia Cotta. The Foundation has Expert Advisory Boards for its scholarship programme, for North-South and for transatlantic relations. Gender democracy and diversity are the Foundation’s cross-sectoral tasks and core elements of its mission statement.
  • The Foundation has a publicly funded annual budget of about 47 million euros. About 200 people are employed in our Berlin headquarters. In addition, 400 friends and supporters provide us with financial and non-material backing.

  • The Foundation currently maintains foreign and project offices in: Brussels, in Poland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Israel, Lebanon, the Arab Middle East, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, China, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, El Salvador andin the USA. Another Office is under development in Morocco.