Konrad von Moltke

Founding director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy

Konrad von Moltke was an eloquent champion of the environment as a subject for European and international attention and of the essential role of non-governmental bodies in shaping policy and making it a reality. He was the founding director in 1976 of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) in Bonn, and in 1984 settled in the United States where he continued to pursue these themes in association with a variety of academic and non-academic organisations. He remained a constant visitor to Europe, having a pied-à-terre at various times in Amsterdam and Paris, with frequent stops in London, and continued to inspire bodies he had founded or with which he had forged links.

Konrad von Moltke, environmentalist: born Kreisau, Silesia 23 September 1941; founding director, Institute for European Environmental Policy 1976-84; married first Ulrike von Haeften (three sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved), second 2001 Annabelle Winograd; died Norwich, Vermont 19 May 2005.

Konrad von Moltke was an eloquent champion of the environment as a subject for European and international attention and of the essential role of non-governmental bodies in shaping policy and making it a reality. He was the founding director in 1976 of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) in Bonn, and in 1984 settled in the United States where he continued to pursue these themes in association with a variety of academic and non-academic organisations. He remained a constant visitor to Europe, having a pied-à-terre at various times in Amsterdam and Paris, with frequent stops in London, and continued to inspire bodies he had founded or with which he had forged links.

Konrad von Moltke was born in Kreisau, Silesia (now part of Poland) in 1941 into one of the most illustrious families in German military history. At the end of the Second World War, his mother Freya, with Konrad and his elder brother Caspar, took refuge with her husband's English grandparents in South Africa, his father Count Helmuth von Moltke having been executed a few months earlier by the Nazis for the allegedly treasonable activity of promoting discussion about the future of a Germany and a Europe without Hitler.

Konrad von Moltke was brought up in South Africa and Germany until 1960, when his mother settled in the United States. He graduated in mathematics from Dartmouth College, but somehow combined this with medieval history in Munich. Medieval history was the subject of his doctorate at Göttingen in 1970. He then taught history at the State University of New York but returned to Europe in 1972 working on educational policy.

This brought him into contact with the European Cultural Foundation which was concluding a wide-ranging project called "Plan Europe 2000". To take forward the conclusions of that project, the Cultural Foundation established several institutes around Europe, including the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) in Bonn in 1976, with von Moltke as its first director.

Von Moltke quickly came to the view that an institute in Bonn, whatever its name, would be seen by other countries as a German rather than a European institute, and that to be effective it was necessary to have a presence in several countries. Over the years, offices were opened in Paris, London, the Netherlands and Madrid. He similarly resisted the commonly held idea that European policy was made by "Brussels", preferring to show how often it was made by the interaction of the practices and priorities of different member states and that, to contribute to policy, and indeed to ensure that it would work, it was necessary for different countries to understand traditions in others.

Hence the importance he attached to building up a truly European civil society, rather than unconnected national ones. It is hard not to feel that if this view had been more widely shared and applied, we might have avoided aspects of today's growing scepticism of the benefits of European collaboration. Although a committed European, von Moltke often found that enthusiasts for the European idea were the greatest obstacles to the changes that he believed necessary, but he had the satisfaction of seeing the environment embedded in the Treaty of Rome and widely accepted by the public as one subject that certainly cannot be handled by nation states alone.

In 1984 von Moltke, his wife Ulrike, and their four children moved to the United States. They built a delightful house next to his mother's in Norwich, Vermont. Von Moltke lectured, as an Adjunct Professor, at Dartmouth College and founded, and for 10 years edited, International Environmental Affairs, which he subtitled "a journal for research and policy". It thus served as an outlet for peer-reviewed academic papers but also for unacademic contributions, which von Moltke believed needed to be published if they contributed to some relevant policy under discussion.

He associated himself with a number of organisations if they were pursuing ideas which coincided with his own, although often it was he who had suggested those ideas in the first place. International trade and the environment was the subject that had recently most occupied him, working with the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Canada. He preferred the freedom of not being part of a bureaucracy, or of having to run an organisation, and of confining himself to spinning off ideas and inspiring others to pursue them.

There was a never-ending stream of papers, reviews and reports, but I believe his greatest influence was when speaking. The combination of his commanding presence - he was immensely tall - his delivery, his fluency in many languages and his gentle wit, as well as the intellectual power in his arguments, was irresistible to many kinds of audience.

I particularly remember the impact he made in Britain on the House of Lords European Scrutiny Committee at a time when the Commons paid little attention to EEC legislation. He had asked me to open the London office of IEEP in 1980 and I had little difficulty in persuading him to accompany me to give oral evidence on proposed EEC Directives. He enjoyed the style of the questioning and the committee appreciated his explanations at a time when people in Britain were only just coming to understand how EEC policy worked. On one occasion, when the directive on environmental impact assessment of development projects was being resisted by the Government, his evidence enabled the committee to challenge the Government's position, which in turn enabled the Government to agree to the directive's adoption.

I had been looking forward to seeing him at a workshop on EU chemicals policy in Paris last week, which of course he had instigated and to which he had suggested I be invited to speak. This was typical of how he kept in touch with old colleagues. But he contracted a rare form of lung cancer and died unexpectedly quickly. At his funeral in Vermont his mother, now aged 96, spoke movingly.

Nigel Haigh

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