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Upheaval in North Africa

by Dirk Niebel

Opinion

Development Minister Dirk Niebel in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the end of February

Development Minister Dirk Niebel in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the end of February

Germany supports democratic change. Federal Minister Dirk Niebel describes the development-policy tools that are available for this purpose. By Dirk Niebel

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia has triggered political upheaval throughout the Arab World. Egypt too has been gripped by this wind of change, and King Mohammed VI of Morocco has also promised comprehensive constitutional reforms to strengthen democratic rights in an already diverse multi-party landscape. The call for democratic change is getting louder in other countries as well. Many people are only beginning to realise the significance of the change looming in North Africa, and some are worried too. As freedom is won, it is important that people have confidence in North Africa’s development.

In this setting, development policy matters more than ever. German development cooperation is highly respected. It is based on many years of experience; it uses proven tools for providing substantial conceptual and material assistance on issues such as “good governance”, “civil society and political participation” and “economic development”.

To be able to help as swiftly and effectively as possible, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has set up three funds. They reflect the crucial triad of political, social and economic change: democracy, education and business are all of crucial relevance.

The Fund for Democracy Advice and Structural and Regulatory Support is essentially designed for institutions like Germany’s party-political foundations and other civic agencies. Without exposing ourselves to criticism of unduly interfering in domestic affairs of other countries, we want to promote civil society in countries where reform processes are underway and political forces are re-organising. Agencies with a well-defined democratic world-view are best suited to do so.

Our Employment Fund is designed to help young people gain qualifications, primarily in vocational training. This is an instrument for creating prospects for people, especially for the young. Freedom from dictatorship will never be enough. The societies of Europe’s southern neighbours will only stabilise once people foresee a future in which they will be able to earn a decent living – and even prosperity – through their own work. Freedom from dictatorship needs to be complemented by the freedom economic opportunity provides. Accordingly, our Business Fund offers loan refinancing for small and micro enterprises. It is designed to create opportunities for entrepreneurial activity – start-ups, for example – and to improve access to credit.

Apart from the three funds, our current development cooperation with North African countries will continue. The main thrust of this cooperation is in areas that directly benefit disadvantaged people, including water and energy provision, education and economic development. We will maintain such cooperation and increase it where possible. Current political trends should also offer opportunities for implementing, in consultation with partners, more measures to support demo­cratic change.

Germany is not alone on this mission. It is becoming increasingly important to coordinate the efforts of many actors at national and international levels. The European Union is engaged according to the principles of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Above all, I see opportunities for further trade facilitation and granting better market access for the European Union’s southern neighbours. The EU should open its agricultural and services markets further; an accelerated, substantial reduction of existing EU tariffs, in particular, would send a clear signal of support.

At the same time, specific means of support must always relate to the specific progress made in the transformation process. What is feasible at every single stage needs to be discussed frankly with our partners. Germany will prove to be a dependable partner.