African access to European markets challenges German government | Africa | DW | 18.11.2009
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African access to European markets challenges German government

In his first speech before parliament Germany's new foreign minister pledged a continuation of the country's overall foreign policy. Berlin's Africa strategy, however, is up for review and could see important changes.

Boy writing on a black board in Nigeria

The Free Democrats want to evaluate classical development strategies

In his first address to parliament as Germany's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle vowed to continue the broad outline of the country's foreign policy but stressed that continuity shouldn't be equated with a lack of ideas.

Nowhere else could that statement prove to come true than in Germany's policy toward Africa. As the liberal, market-oriented Free Democrats (FDP) have not only gained control of the Foreign Ministry, but also the Ministry for Economic Cooperation, they stand a good chance of putting their ideas into practice.

Dirk Niebel at a speech in his previous role as general secretary of his party

The new development minister has admitted that he needs to time to adjust to his new office

The fact that the ministry which traditionally has a strong focus on Africa is now headed by Dirk Niebel, who previously argued against such an independent development ministry, only increases the expectations and trepidations about how much the Free Democrats will be able to reshape Germany's Africa policy.

"The most important thing is that we finally have a coherent approach and a coherent strategy towards Africa," Marina Schuster, the FDP's Africa expert in the German parliament, told Deutsche Welle.

She pointed to coordination problems and turf battles between the foreign and the economic development ministries in the previous administration, "We will try now to improve the strategy toward Africa, meaning that we cover political, economic and security cooperation."

The most pressing issues for the continent are the many obstacles that make it difficult for African countries to sell their products in Europe and elsewhere, according to Reinhart Koessler, an Africa specialist at the Freiburg-based Arnold Bergstresser Institute and a sociology professor at the University of Muenster,

"This whole complex is really at the core of what should be addressed not only in terms of equity in trade and free trade for both sides, but it's also a recognition as equals that is really lacking from the policy so far," Koessler told Deutsche Welle.

He said he views this as a key area in which the FDP could have real impact, "One will have to see whether especially the Free Democrats will take their ideas about free trade really seriously in this important matter."

Fighting poverty

African Union assembly

Increased cooperation with the African Union is one way Germany could support Africa

In his first speech before parliament as development minister, Dirk Niebel said he considers development policy to be more than fighting hunger and that it should instead be part of an overall policy of dialogue in a globalized world.

That sentiment was echoed by the Free Democrats' Schuster, who said Germany needs to reexamine its strategies regarding classical development aid for Africa.

"I think the main goal is that Africa doesn't need anymore development aid, but is able to cover all the needs of its people on its own," she said. "We have to focus on the possibilities and we have to be very critical of just donating money."

The Free Democrats' critical stance toward traditional development aid has led some analysts to worries that the fight against poverty and hunger in Africa may no longer be a top priority. While a blueprint for a future development strategy for Africa is not yet available, "the idea that it will be trade-related, that it will also be pushing German exports to a larger extent than before, that it will be also less poor-oriented is perhaps at least an educated guess," said Koessler.

There is, however, no reason to fear that a more market-oriented policy approach would increase hardship for Africans, Schuster said.

"Of course, we see that we have responsibilities for fighting hunger and fighting HIV/AIDS, so of course we see our humanitarian responsibility for the African continent."

Schuster agreed with Koessler that unfettered access to the European market would tremendously help African nations. She said her party would work toward that goal on the European level as well.

Budget aid

A man carrying a large sack of grain on his head

Experts debate the sense of long-term aid versus immediate donations

Perhaps the biggest philosophical difference between the Social Democrats who headed the foreign and development ministries in previous administrations and the Free Democrats is the latter's skeptical stance toward so-called budget aid. A government that receives budget aid can use the money any way it wants. The funds flow directly into the government's coffers with no strings attached. Project aid, another widely used development funding method, must be spent on a particular project or for a specific purpose.

"I think that budget help is the wrong approach for Africa, because we don't see how this money trickles down to population and to the people who need the money," said Schuster. "I think what's really needed is that we focus on a cooperation, not just donate money, but also see how we can create sustainable growth."

While Koessler agreed that criticism of certain budgetary aid practices is valid and that monitoring how the governments spend the money is tricky, he warned of dismissing budget aid altogether.

"I think there are good reasons for taking this idea very seriously, not least because of the experience with project aid which has been criticized so much on good grounds for a long time," he said, adding that a new approach that looks at all options and creates a mix of suitable practices is necessary.

Click to read more about how Germany could improve human rights in Africa.

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