New development minister Dirk Niebel rejects increase in development aid to 0.51 percent of gross domestic product in line with EU phased plan. Nevertheless, he wants to fight for a higher budget and emphasizes the 0.7 percent target by 2015. In the epd interview
Mr. Niebel, as FDP Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, what do you want to do differently than your predecessor, Ms. Wieczorek-Zeul of the SPD?
Niebel: I want to move away from the cliched Ministry of Poverty to a ministry that succeeds in enabling other states to act as partners on an equal footing with us. So the classic system of helping people to help themselves.
epd: So a self-help ministry?
Niebel: No, if you address me in short form, then please as a development minister. But of course there is an enormous amount involved in the ministry, especially at the interfaces with classic foreign policy and foreign trade promotion. It is a great opportunity that the FDP heads all three ministries: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economics and Ministry of Development. One can then pass on the partners as in a relay race, from hand to hand, in order to continue the commitment elsewhere.
epd: Can you give a concrete example of this form of transfer??
Niebel: I talk to the Chinese ambassador about China becoming a truly equal player in the world. This equality should also be expressed by coming to a partnership consultation, which combines competencies of Germany and China – and thus again helps third countries.
epd: This is reminiscent of her predecessor's concept of anchor countries, using large developing or emerging countries as role models and locomotives for other states.
Niebel: Yes, but it has never been tried with China. China's involvement in Africa does not sit well with European public opinion, because it is implied that it is only concerned with securing strategic reserves of raw materials. This may be an argument, but it falls short as a sole interpretation. It would be interesting if Germany and China jointly developed projects in an African country to make it clear that they are going to Africa as development partners.
epd: The world climate summit is just around the corner. The German government is no longer counting on a binding climate protection agreement.Do you still want to increase investment in climate protection??
Niebel: If there is a climate ministry, it is the development ministry. Our budget already provides one billion euros per year for climate projects worldwide. If we want to intensify our efforts, we will have to spend more money. This must also be our responsibility, as we have greater possibilities than the Ministry of the Environment, also in combination with government development cooperation. We can increase, reallocate and go new ways.
epd: Keyword money. You have announced that you will continue your predecessor's draft budget for 2010. So an increase of 23 million euros in your 5.8 billion budget?
Niebel: The German chancellor has clearly stated that the goal is to increase development aid to 0.7 percent of gross domestic product by 2015. The budget of the Development Ministry must grow in order to be able to meet our international obligations. But this cannot be achieved in one year.
epd: The goal for 2010 is to increase development aid to 0.51 percent. Is this still achievable?
Niebel: The predecessor's government is at the current level of about 0.38 percent. That means our big goal must be to achieve the 0.7 percent by 2015. Intermediate goals should also be achieved as closely as possible, but they should not be viewed dogmatically.
epd: But the 0.51 percent target is laid down in the EU's phased plan.
Niebel: The EU step-by-step plan describes an expression of will, but not an obligation under international law. Going from 0.38 to 0.51 percent in one year is not feasible in the current situation.
epd: You have announced the winding down of cooperation with China. Cooperation with the emerging countries India, Brazil and South Africa is being examined. Will other countries get more aid for this?
Niebel: We will use the growth in our budget to set new priorities, for example with more involvement in northern Afghanistan. I am firmly convinced that development cooperation can have an additional pacifying effect where we are also responsible for the security structure with the German armed forces. We should also deal with Colombia in a more ideology-free way. A lot has happened there in recent years. And, I say this with regard to the government consultations with Israel: I am willing to initiate joint projects with Israel in Africa, for example in the area of irrigation.
epd: Why Israel of all countries?
Niebel: Because Israel has a high level of expertise in irrigation techniques. Water shortage is one of the biggest problems in Africa, which is why the most modern technology must be used. In addition, Germany has easier access to Muslim countries. Through good and reasonable cooperation, we can also become more active again in the Palestinian territories.
epd: You have announced your intention to strengthen churches, political foundations and private development organizations. Does that also mean more money?
Niebel: In development cooperation, it's like in real life: Not everything has to be done by the state. Others sometimes have very different and much better approaches to solving problems. Of course, this must be reflected in the budget.
epd: How does the announced dissolution of duplicate structures within the government look like?
Niebel: I would like to make the development ministry satisfactory. I want to restructure the management level and install a planning staff like the one in the Foreign Ministry here as well. The strategic planning of development cooperation, the work on principles, needs improvement. Such a planning staff is a prerequisite for talking at eye level about dovetailing and dismantling duplicate structures. This should be done as soon as possible.
epd: How do you now coordinate foreign policy? Telephone every day with Mr. Westerwelle?
Niebel: I don't have to talk to Mr. Westerwelle on the phone every day. I did not have to do that even as FDP secretary general. We spoke to each other on the phone when we felt there was a need for discussion. We will continue to do that in the future.
epd: Mr. Westerwelle proposed last year to stop development cooperation with countries that discriminate against women or homosexuals. Will you stick to it?
Niebel: Mr. Westerwelle is absolutely right in principle. But if we were to refuse cooperation to all countries that discriminate against women or homosexuals, then many countries would fall out and we would also deprive ourselves of opportunities to exert influence. But we also have to set a point for dropping out of cooperation. It is reached when one considers that nothing more can be done. Then contact must be ended with government agencies that act in a way that is contrary to the rule of law and hostile to human rights. But with a country like Uganda, for example, which is currently debating discrimination against homosexuals as a law, conversation must be sought.
epd: In a few days, the Civil Peace Service will celebrate its tenth anniversary. Why is an evaluation agreed in the coalition agreement?
Niebel: It's about a review of what came out of it, open-ended. I make no secret of the fact that we were skeptical about the Civil Peace Service in the past. We felt that the Civil Peace Service often acted out of touch with reality. He said that in general everything has to be non-violent, everything has to be peaceful. But we are representatives of the defensible democracy. But skepticism does not mean passing judgment from the outset.
epd: Have you already planned trips to developing countries?
Niebel: I would like to start with Africa in January. We are voting on this right now, so I can't name any countries yet. In February, if it is possible, I would like to go to Vietnam and Cambodia.The interview was conducted by Elvira Treffinger and Ellen Grobhans.