Germany’s Eurosceptic AfD sidelines development policy

The EU's European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO)’s aid supports the government’s policy of free healthcare for children and pregnant women as a part of the Partnership for Transition in Côte d’Ivoire.  2013 [European Commission/Flickr]

The EU's European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO)’s aid supports the government’s policy of free healthcare for children and pregnant women as a part of the Partnership for Transition in Côte d’Ivoire. 2013 [European Commission/Flickr]

The Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) has failed to define a clear development policy stance up until now. Speaking with EURACTIV Germany, the party revealed only vague, primarily neoliberal approaches, while German development organisations reacted with consternation and spoke of a “completely outdated picture”. EURACTIV Germany reports.

As a result of May’s European elections, the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) will hold seven seats in the next European Parliament, its first win since the party’s foundation in early 2013.

But on development policy, the party still has much explaining to do: the party’s election agenda contains only a single paragraph concerning this area. 

“EU export subsidies should be reduced and foreign trade protection should be dismantled step by step. Both increase economic opportunities for developing countries and potentially reduce migration policy,” the AfD document reads.

In the wake of the AfD’s election success, EURACTIV Germany spoke with the party’s newly elected MEP and former head of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) Hans-Olaf Henkel.

>> Read: Germany’s Eurosceptic AfD seeks allies after election success

“No, not yet”, Henkel admitted, saying there is no AfD agenda on the issue up till now. In the European election campaign other topics naturally took priority, the AfD MEP said. Still, he added, the party hopes to determine development policy positions in the coming months.

But Henkel said he could already imagine what the heading of this concept could be: “Aid toward self-help”.  So, away from the endless “watering can”, explained Henkel.

Henkel himself, claims to be a long-time member of Amnesty International. Once the European Parliament’s composition has been sorted, it is quite probable that he and his colleague Joachim Starbatty will sit in the European Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights.

Speaking with EURACTIV Germany, Henkel repeatedly emphasised the importance of the “sympathetic triangle” made up of human rights, democracy and market economy. These three should be exported, he said, and not development aid. “Everywhere where these three things have been introduced, people are doing better.”

‘Black socialism’ leads to poverty

Regarding Germany’s target-setting on development policy, Henkel called it a scandal that the government has been clinging to the 0.7% target for so long “and then does nothing to achieve it”.

>> Read: NGOs: Germany’s development promises are ‘deception’

In general, Henkel did not have anything positive to say about Germany’s current development policy, calling it purely a treatment for symptoms and only addressing “pain”. He said he could not think of a single development project that targets the actually causes of poverty. “It is the good-person-method adopted by many people, who go to Africa and have their pictures taken with starving black children”, said Henkel, likely hinting at the latest Africa visit of German Development Minister Gerd Müller.

Henkel emphasised: “These people do not suffer from globalisation. They suffer because of the fact that globalisation is bypassing their countries.” In many African countries, the government still interferes too strongly in economic policy, he said, and this “black socialism” always leads to poverty. For this reason, Henkel said he advises German politicians to “knock some sense into them” so these countries finally introduce human rights and a market economy.

NGO: ‘The watering can does not exist’

But this perception of development policy has caused many German NGOs to shake their heads. The development umbrella organisation VENRO did not even want to comment regarding the former BDI director’s positions.

Meanwhile, the Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW), an international development and advocacy organisation, has no tolerance for Henkel’s words. “Mr. Henkel has a completely outdated image of development cooperation,” said the organisation’s press spokeswoman Ute Stallmeister, speaking with EURACTIV Germany.

It simply serves to demonstrate the vocabulary that the AfD politician uses: Nobody speaks of “development aid” any more, Stallmeister said. It has long since become a general consensus, she explained, that people in receiving countries should be considered partners in a “development cooperation”.

“Apparently Mr. Henkel has not heard of the Paris Declaration [2005] yet”, where donors agreed on greater coherence in development policy to increase effectiveness, the press spokeswoman recalled, explaining that “clear rules were determined” there.

“The ‘watering can’ does not exist. I have no idea where Mr. Henkel is taking that from,” Stallmeister said, also rejecting accusations of symptom treatment.  “That is wrong,” she said, indicating the DSW’s projects to improve maternal health and family planning in developing countries. That is not symptom treatment, but rather is targeted directly at specific causes.

Whether the current factual situation will appear in the AfD’s development policy concept, remains to be seen. But Henkel is convinced: “It begins with the market economy.” Because, he said, “in the baggage of foreign investments, human rights and democracy often travel along as blind passengers.”

Nevertheless, Henkel does not preach the pure doctrine of the free market. In international trade, he said he could imagine special conditions for African countries. They could be allowed to export their goods customs free within the EU while retaining customs on goods, which the EU states export to Africa, Henkel indicated. This position, at least, is met with agreement among many NGOs.


Eurosceptic parties around Europe have shown their willingness to act on a European level. The controversial Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders and leader of the extreme-right Front national in France, Marine Le Pen, have led the initiative to form a new group in the European Parliament, together with like-minded parties. 

Other parties, including the British UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Danish Popular Party, rejected outright the proposition.

Eurosceptic political parties are blossoming in many European countries, but their backgrounds and causes are very different. Analysts have argued that even though the next Parliament could have a much higher number of eurosceptic, even populist MEPs, they have a smaller chance of forming a coherent bloc.

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