Job cuts sow bitter discord at Greenpeace: As donors' generosity wanes, the environmental group is in deep crisis, reports Nicholas Schoon

INFIGHTING has broken out at Greenpeace's international headquarters over budget cuts and plans for nearly 100 redundancies. The world's largest, most famous campaigning environmental organisation is facing a premature midlife crisis, brought on by shrinking income and conflicts about the road it should follow.

Senior campaigners have been threatened with instant dismissal if they continue to lobby against sweeping reforms and the 'downsizing' proposed by Greenpeace International's Amsterdam- based management. They complain of rule by fear.

For three years Greenpeace International, which co- ordinates the efforts of 30 Greenpeace offices in different countries, has been struggling with a fall in income, blamed mainly on the international recession. It has drawn heavily on large cash reserves.

At the height of its powers it had seven ships; today there are three. A round of about 100 redundancies two years ago is being followed by another.

Matters will come to a head in two weeks when Greenpeace's supreme body, its council of 30 trustees, holds its annual meeting in Tunisia. 'We can't go on living on the edge,' said Richard Titchin, Greenpeace International's director in charge of communications. 'We didn't cut deep enough the first time round and we've been living beyond our means for the last couple of years.'

In an internal memo sent to the Independent, one senior campaigner complains that dissent is being stifled. 'Silence allows many detestable things to happen,' it says.

In 23 years Greenpeace grew from an organisation with a few protesters and a chartered yacht to one with 1,000 staff, offices on every continent and plans to spend dollars 157m this year. Almost all its money comes from donations.

Most is spent by Greenpeace offices in the country where the money is raised. However, offices in the nine countries where Greenpeace has most support (the top four are Germany, the United States, the Netherlands and Britain) send a quarter of their income to Greenpeace International. The Amsterdam-based headquarters spends the money on global campaigns, including spectacular actions on the high seas against whalers and nuclear waste dumpers. International also pays for campaigns in the developing world, former Communist nations and a few wealthy countries where it has not yet built up mass support.

Greenpeace International's last chief executive, Paul Gilding, resigned earlier this year. He wanted to increase co-operation with industry and multi-national corporations much faster than the organisation's seven-strong international board was willing to contemplate. The head of Greenpeace's US office, Steve D'Esposito, stepped in as acting executive director. Under his leadership the senior management team has worked on plans to cut the international budget by 10 per cent and then virtually freeze it for the next three years. Between 65 and 95 campaigners will be shed around the world. Instead of nine campaign topics there will be just five - nuclear issues, threats to wildlife, toxic chemicals, global warming and the ozone layer.

However, the international board, made up of eminent green part-timers, has been in dispute with Mr D'Esposito and the senior management over this budget plan. It wants Greenpeace's council to consider a slightly larger budget, which would imply a further dip into the dollars 57m ( pounds 36m) reserves.

In a memo the board's chairperson, Uta Bellion of Germany, said the dispute raised fundamental questions which had to be resolved by the full council.

'Who is the executive director accountable to? The board, a few rich offices or council?' she asked. She fears Greenpeace's mission as global campaigner acting in poor as well as rich countries is threatened. Staff who use Greenpeace's international electronic mail system to lobby against the restructuring have been threatened with dismissal - the volume of messages has clogged the system up.

Meanwhile, the organisation's American founder, one- time property developer David McTaggart, has added to the internal tensions by openly lobbying for his own choice of executive director for Greenpeace International. Mr McTaggart, now a semi- retired honorary chairman, is calling for Thilo Bode, head of Greenpeace in Germany, to have the job. The international board has hired an executive search company to comb the world for highly qualified applicants.

(Photographs omitted)