German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called off a preliminary meeting planned for Thursday (20 February) on Africa, including five other ministers from the German government. Among them were department chiefs for defence, development aid, economy, internal affairs and agriculture.
The purpose: preliminary coordination over the coalition's new Africa policy as a starting signal for concrete work on the topic.
Earlier this month Martin Schäfer, spokesperson for the German Foreign Office, said Berlin intended to become more involved in Africa across a variety of portfolios.
Not only from the angle of "military action here, military action there", Schäfer explained. Instead the goal was "to develop a broadly-defined concept, perhaps even with impulse ideas for Europe, which we can use as a foundation for our engagement with the great continent of Africa," he insisted.
But the Africa summit in the German Foreign Office was cancelled. Reasons are likely to have been the developments in Ukraine and the corresponding departure of Steinmeier to Kyiv.
Greater role for the development ministry
In the view of the Bundestag's Green Party's faction, the fact that the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has not made a more significant appearance in the public debate over a greater involvement in Africa, is a significant concern.
"Up until now, the foreign minister and the defense minister have been dominating the public discussion with calls for stronger international involvement from Germany", the Green Party's Bundestag group observed.
Niema Movassat, a development policy expert from the Left Party's Bundestag group, also feels the BMZ should play a key role among the ministries on the issue of Africa.
"It should ensure that all initiatives in Germany's Africa policy are really supporting development," he explained. But an upgrade for the BMZ of this kind, he pointed out, compared to the foreign, economic and defence ministries is hardly conceivable simply because of the staffing in the other departments.
'Partnership aligned with justice and peace'
Despite the cancelled meeting, Africa was on the Bundestag's agenda on Thursday evening. The fourth EU-Africa summit, planned for April 2014 in Brussels, was discussed after Left Party faction issued a proposal under the headline "EU-Africa Summit – Partnership aligned with justice and peace".
In the proposal, the party called on the German government to actively ensure that the EU avoid certain demands in negotiations over a trade agreement with African states: liberalisation and privatisation demands should be avoided as well as calls for dismantling export restraints for raw materials and investment requirements.
According to the Left Party, the "economic penetration in Africa through free trade agreements and military - often flanked by civilian - influence" has a clear goal: The EU wants to make up for lost ground in the race for raw materials, which are in large supply in Africa, against competing powers like China, India, Brazil or the United States.
Nevertheless, Thursday's agenda point on the "EU-Africa Summit" in the Bundestag only lasted 47 seconds.
As it turned out, no discussion took place in the plenary. Instead, a transfer of the issue to relevant committees was decided internally among the political groups beforehand. Written speeches by MPs were simply submitted for the record in the plenary's meeting report.
In his speech submitted to the plenary report, Christian Democrat MP Charles Huber directly confronted the Left Party's demands.
Development in African countries is not helped, Huber said, by a discussion in the Bundestag limited to indicating all the things that should not be done in Africa.
"Whoever allows every initiative toward economic cooperation with African states to degenerate into a discussion over principles, will only prove one thing: that they do not have their own plan and are simply trying to give an objective legitimacy to their destructive nature," Huber emphasised.
At the moment, anyone who utters the word 'economics' in a discussion over development policy cooperation runs the risk of being labelled an exploiter and this had to stop, Huber said. He also pointed out that moves to stabilise fragile states were being compared to a neocolonial invasion, adding: "no party in Europe has the right to forbid people, in the style of colonial paternalism, from developing themselves – not even if the party comes from the left."
Victim of capitalist industrialisation?
The proposal from the Left Party contains a reminder of the "colonial guilt", which EU member states - including Germany - carry towards Africa.
"This guilt is reinforced by persistent economic exploitation and the effects of climate change," the Left party wrote, adding that in this way the people of Africa "have again become victims of the capitalist industrialisation of the north".
Bärbel Kofler of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) called on the Left Party to "verbally disarm" itself with regard to this formulation so their suggestions could be taken in a more productive way.
With words like this, she said, the Left was painting "a very one-dimensional picture" of Africa that did not accurately depict the developments on the African continent.
"All economic dealings depend on the fact that whatever is planned for a country, should also benefit the population", Kofler's written speech said.
Magical economic partnership agreement
In his written speech, Movassat called for a fundamental change in Germany and Europe's Africa policy. Until now, he said, the focus had often been on gaining access to raw materials and markets in African countries instead of effectively fighting poverty.
Rather than a change of course, economic partnership agreements are only the "new magical cure" in Africa policy. "They sound great, but mean a tough continuation of the policy taken thus far", said Movassat.
Ghana, for example, gave in to the pressure of industrial states, accepted free trade and was inundated by poultry import dumping as a result. "Their own poultry producers broke down because they could not stand up to competition in a Europe subsidised by taxes. Countless people lost their jobs and today the country is dependent on poultry imports."
'Solidarity with the agriculture lobby'
Uwe Kekeritz (Green Party) pointed out that the African Union had pronounced 2014 the year of agriculture.
"Here, Germany and the EU must uphold their responsibilities instead of conducting global policy in solidarity with the agriculture lobby," Kekeritz said, "development cooperation must take another route and accompany these countries on the way to food sovereignty".
In Kekeritz' opinion, farming and ecologically sustainable agriculture must be supported while simultaneously promoting development and the expansion of value chains as well as social protection systems.
"We expect clear German and European commitments on this. Minister Müller has already mentioned such commitments behind closed doors", explained Kekeritz. But it would be more convincing, Kekeritz added, if Müller would push for the execution of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) agreed in 2008, "which is still being thwarted by the agriculture lobby".
Any hope beyond empty phrases?
In his first speech before the parliament as minister of development in late January, Gerd Müller emphasised that a paradigm shift was needed, that markets should also be subject to rules and that Africa could be able to feed itself.
But Movassat fears the discussion will "remain at empty phrases".
"It remains to be seen, what he concretely means and - if it is progressive - whether he can even push the policy past his colleagues in the cabinet", the Left Party MP told EurActiv Germany. "So far, a massively strengthened military component can be detected in German government's foreign policy, as well as a connection between development and defence policy - an aspect Mr. Müller also did not question."