Germany is set to spend 6.2 billion euros on development aid in 2011, more than ever before. Despite the unprecedented figure, however, the amount is still below Berlin's Millennium Development aid pledge.
Berlin stands accused of pursuing its own interests in its development policies
Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, has announced its aid budget for 2011, which will see Berlin spend 6.2 billion euros ($8.3 billion) on helping developing countries.
That's the highest figure that Germany has ever spent on development aid. But opposition parties in the Bundestag have criticized the pledge, saying it is well below the amount Berlin promised as part of the Millennium Development Goals set out by the United Nations to fight global hunger, child mortality and disease.
Niebel has been criticized from all sides for his policies
The 6.2 billion euros accounts for around 0.35 percent of Germany's gross domestic product; yet, at the Millennium Summit in New York in 2000, Germany pledged to allocate 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for the development targets.
But if there's anything the German development minister is used to hearing from the opposition, it is criticism. A year after taking up his post in Berlin, Dirk Niebel is often reminded by political adversaries and journalists of his Free Democratic Party's stated intent (while it was in opposition) to abolish the development ministry - or rather to incorporate it into the foreign ministry.
Niebel was accused of using the development ministry as a guise to pursue Germany's economic interests abroad, in countries where lucrative business deals are waiting to be made in infrastructure - one of the core areas of Germany's economy.
Green Party politician Thilo Hoppe, as the deputy head of the Bundestag's development committee, accused Niebel's ministry of promoting a "paradigmatic turn" in the development ministry's mission.
He told Deutsche Welle he was not against economic involvement in public-private partnerships, but objected to the current projects that place too much emphasis on Germany's economic interests in development projects.
As an example, Hoppe referred specifically to Germany's support of the Meyer shipyard in northern Germany, which, with help from the Development Ministry has been able to secure a lucrative contract in Indonesia. The deal concerns a ferry boat, in which Hoppe said Germany is investing 49 million euros.
Thilo Hoppe told parliament that the development ministry was 'purchasing contracts'
"Without the government development subsidy, the Meyer shipyard would have no chance of winning this contract. Now it can still apply, for the deal has yet to be agreed. If the Meyer shipyard weren't in the running, Indonesia would have certainly already bought a cheaper vessel somewhere else."
Hoppe referred to this as a form of "contract purchasing" for the German economy. He vehemently objected to Germany's inclusion of such investments in its official development assistance (ODA) quota, which measures how much government money is allocated for development aid.
Despite such "development funds," Germany remains far from reaching its pledge of allocating 0.7 percent of GDP for developing nations, something Hoppe said is not only the fault of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right government.
"Every German government so far has failed in this regard, even the earlier coalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens," he said.
"Of course, I shouldn't say this too loud; but I do so anyway, because that is part of being honest. Maybe it will help get the point across that development aid should transcend party lines. Whatever happens, we have to stop making promises that we don't keep."
There is consensus among Germany's politicians focusing on development aid policy that Merkel's government must do more. And this comes in the face of the current budget debate, which sees, if anything, more cuts than increases in future development spending.
One of Niebel's ideas, which is supported by his Christian Democratic (CDU) coalition partners, is the idea of civil-military cooperation. The CDU's development spokesperson, Holger Haibach, argued that based on a study commissioned by Niebel's predecessor, Social Democrat Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, this could be the way forward.
"When civilian and military action are seen as working together, the people have the impression that it is best," Haibach said. "And since it is successful if you do it right, I believe it is right."
Haibach wants to see the idea of civil-military partnership debated as part of development policy as well as "a constructive dialogue about what cooperation between the civil and military areas can contribute."
However, most NGOs are opposed to the idea of working with the military out of fear they could become the targets of terrorists or hostile soldiers.
Author: Marcel Fuerstenau (glb, cb)
Editor: Nancy Isenson