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Germany’s Federal Government

“A core issue, not a side issue”

by Dirk Niebel
In mid-December, Dirk Niebel, Germany's new minister for econo­mic cooperation and development, was in office for seven weeks. Formerly the secretary-general of the liberal party FDP, he explained the main tenets of his policymaking in an interview with Hans Dembowski. [ Interview with Dirk Niebel ]

Your party’s coalition agreement with the Christian Democrats emphasises support for the private sector. Your predecessor, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul of the Social Democrats, also spoke along the same lines. What has changed?
The difference is that we mean it. It is obvious that economic activity is the basis for fighting poverty, which is why we are promoting sustainable economic development in partner countries. To make sure German private capital is mobilised for development, I want business representatives to accompany me on foreign trips. At the same time, I want to create opportunities for German quality products – for example in terms of environment-friendly technology – to be used in developing countries. But rest assured, I do not want to tie aid, that would go against the grain of my liberal convictions.

So what you are doing is not about export promotion.
No, in our government, Rainer Brüderle, the minister of economic affairs, is responsible for the promotion of the export sector. I’m the minister for economic cooperation and development, and our government is serious about these terms. This ministry here is not a global welfare agency. We will gladly help where it's urgently needed, but our goal is to take economic development to the point where our engagement becomes superfluous – and our colleagues from the economics ministry can take over.

The DEG, a subsidiary of the state-owned KfW Banking Group, is strongly involved in supporting the private sector in developing countries, for instance, by directly investing in promising companies. Are you planning to expand this approach?
That’s right, and we've already initiated the next step with the DEG, in order to further expand our cooperation with the private sector. The programme called Developpp.de involves the DEG, GTZ and Sequa, the development organisation of German business associations. Private investors will get additional funds, and that will serve development purposes.

Investors from Europe or Africa?
The target group of Developpp.de is European investors, but we are also running a facility for African investors.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick recently announced that the Bank wants to cooperate with China in establishing new industrial sites in Africa. What's your opinion?
As a matter of principle, I believe three-way cooperation makes sense. Emerging economies should share their developmental experience. I recently suggested such three-way ventures to the Chinese ambassador in Berlin, provided the African partner is interested too. China, with fresh dynamism, and Germany, with long standing-traditions in development cooperation – this would be an interesting combination.

In Washington, Zoellick is considered a typical “panda hugger”, who wants to cooperate with China, rather than one of the “dragon slayers”, who want to prevent China from growing stronger. Do you support his China policy?
Involving China is always a good approach. The country is too big, too dynamic and too important to try to marginalise it. But it's also crucial to recognise that China is an economic giant, certainly facing a host of domestic challenges, but it can largely solve its problems on its own.

The coalition agreement stresses aid effectiveness. What are your plans for German agencies?
The agreement foresees the reorganisation and merger of our agencies involved in technical cooperation. This goal makes sense. Our outstanding institutions have a great reputation all over the world, but some structures do overlap. Some people sneeringly say that, whenever they visit a German House somewhere in the world, there are always several jeeps from different German agencies parked in front. That gibe is exaggerated, but not entirely wrong. We have a clear mandate to draft a concept for a new, integrated agency within a year, and then we will implement the plan before the next elections.

So in the end GTZ, DED and InWEnt will have a single human-resources department – or will the changes go deeper?
They will go deeper. The agencies’ fields of action overlap, and so do some structures. That must change, we really need a single German performance.

Will German embassies then be in charge of German development engagement, or will the new institution – whatever its name may be – have its own offices in developing nations?
We already have advisers for economic cooperation and development in 50 German embassies and permanent missions to international organisations. Our goal is to be able to say that of every partner country – but, so far, that has not been possible due to a lack of funds. In any case, the new agency will have offices of its own just like the old ones have today.

Aid effectiveness is also an issue of international debate. The Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action stress donor harmonisation and budget support, among other things. Your coalition agreement, however, speaks of a ratio of two thirds bilateral aid to one third multilateral aid. Are you straying from the international consensus?
No, we are not. Neither Paris nor Accra demand that everything be run on a multilateral basis. Both declarations call for coordination and a division of labour. Bilateral approaches have two advantages. First, it becomes easier to recognise German contributions; second, the projects are easier to control. We want to promote fundamental values we believe in, such as democracy and the rule of law. For good reason, we will be quite cautious about budget support. Disbursement of such funds must always depend on good governance, respect for human rights and similar issues.

Development policy overlaps with many other fields of policy: climate, trade and military security to name but three. How will you deal with this?
Our new government has the chance to present coherent policies to the outside world. Therefore, I will cooperate very closely with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Coordination with the ministries of economic affairs, environment, defence and justice is of equal importance, and we will cooperate without friction. Better coordination will actually open up new perspectives for developmental engagement.

There is also need for coordination with the Chancellor’s Office, regarding the G20 or the G8, for instance.
Yes, and it is highly advantageous that Chancellor Merkel views development as an important field of policy. Our ministry's budget has increased a lot since she first became chancellor. In her recent state-of-the-nation address, she said once more that she considers development cooperation a core issue and not a side issue. Germany’s liberal party could not agree more. What matters is that we operate in a coherent manner, and, yes, global development is an important item on the agenda of the G20 and the G8.

Considering the many fragile states, not only in Africa, one should expect more UN blue helmet missions in the future. How do you view cooperation with the military?
In fragile states, we have to make it clear that military involvement – whether it's with the use of blue helmets or not – helps to improve people’s lives. That is why I provided additional funds for efforts in northern Afghanistan a few weeks ago. People need to see a peace dividend fast in places where our soldiers are working to provide security. If this is achieved through civilian engagement, security is boosted, both for soldiers and aid workers. Ultimately, we want to empower the people to live without foreign assistance. Therefore, we are not only supporting police training in northern Afghanistan, but also help to create jobs and build schools. The idea is to get the economy started. By the way, in Africa, Germany is contributing to the implementation of UN peace efforts mostly through development cooperation.

Is there a difference between your approach and what the army calls CIMIC, short for Civil Military Cooperation?
These are two different mandates. CIMIC serves to make military issues understandable to civilian partners, in order for civilian administrations to know what is necessary in military terms, and what is needed for fast and effective cooperation in the case of a catastrophe or a crisis. Development cooperation in areas where the military is active is a different matter. The goal is to create the basis for the end of military involvement.

So you cannot play CIMIC and development programmes off against each other.
Correct, as I do not have any phobia concerning the Bundeswehr, Israel or the business community, and that will show in my practical work.