Challenges: the new development policy in Germany

Development Policy14 Dec 2009Wilfried Steen

The development policy of the new Federal Government is characterized by some remarkable changes.

Even though development policy is the last point in the 130 page declaration of the coalition agreement of the government parties, there do not seem to be great changes in German development policy. The obvious emphasis is placed differently. The new government’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was noted with satisfaction, especially by the German non-governmental organization (NGO) community, but it is known from the past that a commitment to the MDGs is often just lip service, and there is no will to implement the ideas and to reach the targets. Also, experts agreed upon the focus on poverty reduction, but the new management raised some serious questions.

New heads of the ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

The appointment as minister of the political all-rounder Dirk Niebel was surprising for two reasons: firstly, the Federal Democratic Party (FDP) wanted to incorporate this ministry into the Foreign Office, and secondly, there are capable personnel within the ranks of the FDP parliamentary group, in terms of development policy. But this is obviously not crucial in the political business. Similar questions must be asked about the appointment of Mrs Gudrun Kopp as the Parliamentary Secretary of State. She is an outstanding expert in energy issues, but up to now nobody has heard that she is committed to development policy.

For German development policy, this is certainly not an encouraging sign. But there is always the hope that new personnel will learn and discover the outstanding importance of strong development for the future of our planet.

The previous minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, always showed a very thorough knowledge of development issues. She knew all the tricks on the international stage. Especially in international conferences, she proved herself to be an expert and received a lot of recognition for German development policy at the international level. The new Minister of Development, Dirk Niebel, will do well to match with his predecessor and her excellent capabilities.

What should the focus of German development policy be in the future?

We must recognize democracy and the rule of law as central to human development. The new government emphasizes this, but draws few conclusions. However, Niebel has proved himself as a populist with flair, but not as a long-term thinker or development politician.

Fair world trade

Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that fair world trade can do more to combat poverty than many billions of aid.

It is striking that, although in some parts of the coalition treaty of coherent speech, an integral development policy for the German Government is not already visible. Developmental problems such as the free trade policy of the World Trade Organization, which led to a massive loss of jobs globally, are not mentioned. It is not evident that the new government wants to promote an equitable world trade. Trade policy should not lead to an increased competition for ever-decreasing wages in Germany and worldwide. The labour and human rights situation must be improved globally.

Peace building

Peace is the most important precondition for development worldwide. Without peace, all efforts to implement human development will fail. For instance, the hopeless situation in the Horn of Africa causes a lot of trouble. Multitudes of refugees overflow into southern Europe; more than half of the illegal migrants arriving by boat in Malta are young people from Somalia and Eritrea. You can’t stop this army of messengers of poverty and civil war. Simply discussing how to protect Europe from illegal migrants will not be enough. We urgently need a plan to give those people in serious trouble a real chance for a decent life – under the obedience of human rights – in their own country.


The international climate conference in Copenhagen brings an inflation of words and vocal declarations. Meanwhile, the knowledge has spread that concern about climate change is not only the concern of green environmentalists and cranks, but a necessity for the survival of our common world.

Above all, it is important that the countries make measurable pledges.

A draft text written by Denmark, the summit hosts, says the world should agree to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from 1990 levels as part of a UN climate pact. More and more states have overcome their hesitation and announced clear measures. For example, Singapore wants to cut carbon pollution by 16% versus projected business-as-usual levels by 2020. China pledges to reduce its carbon intensity (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP) by 40-45% percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. For China, this target is voluntary. India has revealed a target to cut its carbon intensity by 24% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. These are no more than first steps, however, and far from sufficient.

After the conference, we will have to look at what is implemented. In many cases, funds have already been allocated, and have been repeatedly mentioned in the balance sheets. The federal government of Germany must commit to a legally-binding agreement on the climate. The industrial countries, which are the main causers of climate change, must support poor countries in the world through climate-friendly development; that is, contribute to enabling developing countries to invest in new, renewable energy sources and not put their money into outdated technologies.

I am aware that my brief contribution here is incomplete in all measures. My purpose is just to discuss some aspects of the current debate. NGOs such as the Church Development Service (Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst) struggle to raise interest among the public and the church in these crucial themes. There are a lot of deaf ears around us, but a rising number of people accept that there must be more awareness in our society to make our world sustainable.