As soon as Gerd Müller took office as Germany’s new development minister, he emphasised a new agenda that set him apart from his predecessor. However, critics are calling his plans to increase the development budget a “sham”. EURACTIV Germany reports.
“The honeymoon period is coming to an end for Gerd Müller”, said Uwe Kekeritz, development spokesman for the Green Party.
After 100 days in office, Müller is beginning to attract criticism. He took over the position from Dirk Niebel, following allegations that the ex-development minister was pursuing party interests of his own Free Democratic Party, than those of development cooperation.
But Kekeritz is quite critical of Niebel’s replacement. “The CSU man made a mistake in his party membership book,” he said, referring to Müller’s realignment of German development cooperation.
The Green Party development spokesman sees nothing wrong with Müller’s intention to make poverty, hunger and rural development central themes during his term of office. But the ten “lighthouse projects” with which the minister wants to build-up agricultural development in Africa are also about “production sites for German industrial agriculture” – something that Müller fails to mention, Kekeritz said.
Kekeritz’ criticisms harkens back to Müller’s predecessor, Niebel. Under the FDP politician, the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and its implementing organisation, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), were accused of pursuing foreign trade promotion, under the guise of development cooperation.
Now, BMZ circles confirm that there is a certain similarity between the old and new ministers. Müller supposedly keeps domestic politics firmly in view, and is constantly calculating the domestic effects of his work.
When Müller announced that his development policy is values-based, focusing on people and not the markets, he gained widespread approval. “Generally positive” was the preliminary conclusion of the development policy lobby organisation ONE. A stronger focus on Africa was received just as positively as his planned support for agriculture.
“Inglorious calculation tricks” in the development budget
But the proposed €320 million for the 2015 development budget remains a “sham”. Andreas Hübers, political advisor for ONE Germany spoke of “the preceding administration’s inglorious calculation tricks”.
ONE provided EURACTIV Germany with its calculations: The former administration’s medium-term financial planning from 2013 included a reduction in the BMZ budget from €6,282.78 million (2014) to €6,124.54 million (2015), cutting €158.24 million.
But the current provisions for 2015 intend to raise the BMZ allocated funds to €6,445.47 million for 2015. Compared to the non-binding medium-term financial planning of 2013, this is an increase of €320.93 million.
In reality though, funds will only increase by a “homeopathic” sum of €1.6 million compared to 2014.
Hübers laconically commented, “If I were the government’s PR advisor, I would recommend cutting the BMZ budget by one-half in the upcoming budgetary planning. Then, if it remains constant, the federal government can celebrate a doubling of German development aid.”
Kekeritz shares Hübers’ criticism. An excessively tight budget, he says, is making a farce out of the German government’s mantra of holding on to the 0.7% target. In Kekeritz’s view, the €1 billion promised by the “minister of announcements” to fight hunger is either a pipe dream, or can only be realised by making cuts in other areas.
Apparently Gerd Müller has done some reorganising in the BMZ, removing the communication department, for example, which was often accused of being ‘over-inflated’ and used as a supply organ for the FDP.
It has been “slimmed down considerably”, BMZ circles confirm. Staff is currently being transferred from to policy departments. Reconstruction measures are expected to conclude in a few weeks.
But the atmosphere at the BMZ is not negative because of this. On the contrary, there is a spirit of optimism in the ministry, according to BMZ sources. Gerd Müller seeks out personal contact with the employees, showing off his “sense of humour”, and conveying the impression that he is “authentic, charming” and open to new ideas.
Compared to other European countries, Germany is the still the largest contributor to the EU’s development budget. Pledging just under €4.5 billion, Germany contributes 20.5% of the tenth European Development Fund (EDF) for the period from 2008 to 2013.
To ensure that these funds are efficiently spent, Brussels and Berlin work closely together. Their goal, as they have defined it, is to find a common denominator and create one voice from the variety of interests in the Commission and the 28 member states.