German Development Minister Dirk Niebel has worked with industry in ways that the opposition would never consider. He likes to be controversial, but he has also been praised for his last four years in office.
Dirk Niebel has not reinvented the wheel of German development policy, but he has certainly brought about more change than his predecessors in the last 20 years.
German businesses have benefited most from these changes, while they are thorns in the sides of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the opposition parties. Niebel's motto as a business-friendly Free Democrat is that supporting developing countries should not just be about spending money, it should also be about making money.
According to his reasoning, the state still plays a major role by providing most of the funding, but private investors are welcome and encouraged to contribute.
Niebel thinks that small and medium-sized companies in particular can benefit from combining charity and business, for example, by getting involved in infrastructure projects that can help local people and also generate money. He likes to refer to it as a win-win situation.
Niebel is very outspoken about his projects and views, and he is not afraid of criticism. When rebuked for the turnaround in German development policy, he countered that he is "minister for economic cooperation and development - in that order."
The German government, he stated, "is convinced that services like general infrastructure, health care and education can only be financed and maintained by stimulating economic growth, which will result in higher tax revenues."
Niebel also stressed that the best way to fight poverty is to help create jobs so people have the means to support themselves.
Praise from World Bank
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who is from the US, supports Niebel's stance. "If you're ambitious, it's all about maximizing the effect of every single dollar of development aid," Kim says.
The financial situation in the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has certainly improved substantially under Niebel. When he took over there in 2009, the budget was 5.1 billion euros, now it's 6.4 billion euros.
As Europe's biggest economy, Germany currently sets aside just 0.38 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for development aid - far less than the 0.7 percent the major industrialized nations have committed themselves to under the Official Development Assistance (ODA) quotas.
Given that budget cuts are on the cards, it's highly unlikely that Germany will make that quota in the next few years.
Unwanted poultry for Africa
Niebel's fiercest critics are in Germany's Left party. Heike Hänsel, spokeswoman for development issues, berates the government for following a purely neoliberal course with regards to developing countries.
She points to the "exploitation of natural resources," exacerbated by the EU's agricultural subsidies, which destroy local markets, according to the Left party. Niebel does not disagree, he has also called for an end to the EU subsidies. But nothing has been done so far.
The German Protestant charity "Brot für die Welt" ("bread for the world") keeps reminding politics of the chasm between promising change and acting on those promises.
Last year, for example, German exports of chicken to Africa increased 120 percent to 42 million kilos, compared with the previous year. Extremely low prices squeeze local producers, many of which are women, out of the market.
Working with the military
The former chairwoman of the Association of Development NGOs (Venro), Claudia Warning, points out another controversial policy: Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised Niebel for his policy of coordinating development issues in conflict regions very closely with the armed forces, as is common practice for German efforts in Afghanistan. Merkel calls it one of Niebel's "greatest achievements."
But Warning calls for an end to this practice, as it runs the very substantial risk of development efforts being perceived as part of the military. Conflict prevention is a lot more successful on a civilian basis, she says.
She is also in favor of a more comprehensive approach in development aid, to "always consider the needs of the poor" when it comes to agriculture, security, fishing and foreign policy.
Majority in favor of more aid
Development issues are unlikely to sway voters in the general election on September 22, but people are concerned about aid.
According to the polling institute Emnid, around 80 percent of those polled were in favor of much higher spending on humanitarian and development aid.