“Last generation”: How to deal with climate protection activists?


Germany discusses raids. Italy imposes draconian penalties. And in Britain, the climate activists themselves have imposed a blockade freeze. How Europe reacts to the movement.

Water Police: After the action the members of the “last generation” were taken away in the Trevi Fountain

In Germany, on May 24, the time had come: the police and public prosecutor's office launched a nationwide raid against the “last generation” for the first time. The result was house searches and the shutdown of the website. 

Four days earlier, climate protection activists in Italy had chosen a target for their protest that would give them maximum attention. Pictures show members of Italy's 'Last Generation' climbing into Rome's famous Trevi Fountain and pouring a black liquid, charcoal diluted with water, into the crystal-clear water. Their demand on the banners: “An immediate end to the public subsidies for all fossil fuels.” Michele from “Last Generation” Italy defended the action to DW as a symbolic act.

Maximum attention, maximum annoyance: On May 21st in Rome, members of the “Last Generation” climbed into the famous Trevi Fountain and dumped charcoal into the water

“The black vegetable carbon represents fossil fuels that pollute the water. We decided to stop tourists from enjoying the clear water for a few hours so that they understand what climate change means,” she explains.

Meloni government tightens laws

Rome's Mayor Roberto Gualtieri condemned the protest in the strongest possible terms: 300,000 liters of water would have to be exchanged and a lot of energy would be required for this. The activists ended up at the police station and must expect draconian penalties. Vandalism of cultural assets is the charge, which could result in criminal sanctions and 10,000 to 60,000 euros in damages.

“Politicians have sharply condemned such protests from the start, and Giorgia Meloni's government has so far shown no understanding whatsoever,” Andrea De Petris, scientific director of the Center for European Politics (CEP) in Rome, told DW. “However, it will now be interesting to see if society's perception will change in the face of the current environmental disaster.”

Political scientist Andrea de Petris: “The interest in environmental protection is very low in Italy compared to Germany”

There were 14 deaths after the devastating rains and floods in the province of Emilia Romagna, and climate change is also becoming increasingly noticeable in Italy. So far, according to De Petris, a large part of the Italian population has had a negative attitude towards the protests of the last generation, just like in Germany, only a few believe that politicians are not doing enough climate protection policy.

“Possibly could opinion is now turning a bit due to the storm. There are people who certainly share the goals of the last generation, but not the means.”

Against cars in Germany, against culture in Italy

While the protest actions of the “Last Generation” in Germany, which are sticking to the streets in this country, are primarily aimed at drivers and traffic policy, the activists in the south are targeting the Italian nerve: the cultural assets.

To the ” Target” belonged to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, which was spray-painted orange. Or the fountain at the Spanish Steps in Rome, where black paint ended up. A painting by Vincent Van Gogh in Rome with pea soup spilled on it. And now the Trevi Fountain in the capital.

“Last generation” – raids in seven federal states

Italy is rigorous in the fight against crimes committed by climate protection activists. In Padua, in northern Italy, the “last generation” is being investigated for forming a criminal organization. And the state police unit specializing in combating terrorism and extremism is also handling the case.

Blockade stop in Great Britain

In Europe's activists' fight against the climate crisis, everyone is fighting for themselves. Anyone who calls the “Last Generation” in Germany and asks for the contact of their fellow campaigners in Italy will be referred to their homepage.

Even when it comes to the choice of means, not everyone agrees: while the “Last Generation” in Spain was stuck to two paintings by Francisco de Goya in Madrid, the activists of “Extinction Rebellion” in the UK announced a temporary halt to their blockade actions in January.

Protest in Madrid in November 2022: Climate activists stick to Goya paintings

If you want to understand how the climate protection movements in Europe tick, you have to talk to Louisa Parks. The political sociologist at the University of Trento in northern Italy has for years been concerned with the question of how targeted campaigns and activism can influence international politics.

Their conclusion: “Countries have different traditions as far as the type of protest actions are concerned. These are also subject to constant change, depending on the political possibilities.”

At a table with activists?

< p>In Germany, representatives of the “last generation” recently exchanged views with Transport Minister Volker Wissing. A meeting that would be unthinkable in Italy. 

Sociologist Louisa Parks

However, politicians across Europe are faced with the question of how to deal with organizations such as the last generation. The various opinions on the subject in Germany are representative of the difficult handling.

While Christian Democrats are in favor of an observation of the climate protest group by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, political scientists criticize the raid as disproportionate. This could drive activists even further into radicalism.

The United Nations demands that the moral voice of young people must be protected. Sociologist Parks explains: “The decision to take tough action is a conscious choice about how to deal with activists who make certain demands. Governments are not coerced or 'helpless'. When we see other forms of disruptive activism in recent years, such as against vaccinations or the use of masks, it becomes clear that this reaction is a conscious decision.”