60 years of the Federal Minesty for Economic Cooperation and Development – an interview

Global problems can only be solved when we and our partners are on an equal footing

The interview with Dr. Claudia Warning (right) was conducted by AGdD's managing director, Dr. Gabi Waibel.

Ms. Warning, in 1961 theFederal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) had modest beginnings as the "Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation" with only 34 employees. In 2014 there were about 800 employees, and now there are more than 1,200. Over the years, the ministry’s budget and remit have been reviewed and renegotiated repeatedly. The first question that interests us is: Why does development cooperation have to have a ministry of its own?

When the ministry was founded in the early sixties, it was about taking on more responsibility in the world, and about wanting to give something back. This is still reflected in the work of the ministry today. When other ministries engage in international cooperation, altogether different questions, such as "What’s in it for Germany?”, are – quite rightly – at the forefront. What’s special about our ministry is that we think about issues from the point of view of our partners. What do our partner countries need? What position are they in right now? And from this particular perspective, an independent Ministry for Development Cooperation has an important role in German politics.

Over the course of 60 years, development aid has become international cooperation. During this time there have been paradigm shifts, successes - and setbacks as well. What continuity has there been in German development policy?

What we are doing now in international cooperation encompasses a huge range of activities, but some things have remained constant over the years. The key role of education, for example. And the promotion of development in the fields of health, agriculture, food security, and good governance.

Over time, new issues have been added, such as digitalisation, combating the pandemic, climate change, globalisation, and the global sharing of information and ideas. And nowadays it is no longer mainly a question of conventional development aid. Our points of reference are the Paris climate agreement and the SDGs.

The anniversary publication, "On an equal footing. 50 years of the BMZ", which was published in 2011, defines three phases of the ministry's history: growth and development (1961 - 74); consolidation (1974 - 91); and reform (1991 - 2011). What title would you give to the phase since 2011? And what are the most important keywords that you would use to describe it?

The BMZ is developing into a ministry of the future that thinks and acts globally and sustainably and addresses humanity’s questions about the future: issues that range from climate change and flight and migration to the current struggle against the pandemic, and the issue of biodiversity.

For the minister, Gerd Müller, the issues of justice and inequality have been of key importance during the past eight years. Now the topic of "conflict" is increasingly shaping our work – with the conflicts in Syria, Venezuela, Myanmar, the Sahel, Sudan, ... For more than ten years now, we have had to give more and more attention to how we deal with conflict.

The BMZs tasks have become broader and more complex, and the budget has doubled over the past eight years. Are you content with the obvious growth in importance of the BMZ and its role in German politics?

It is my observation that it is becoming increasingly clear in this government department that we have a particular view of the issues of international cooperation and that we have methodological competencies to contribute that are not to be found in any other ministry.

Germany is playing a more significant role in the world today and we must proceed in such a way that the various departments can each contribute what they have to offer. For example, together with the Ministry of the Environment, the Federal Foreign Office, and the Ministry of Agriculture, we are offering India an SDG and Climate Partnership. Each of these departments is already active in India. Now we want to combine the various competencies in a coherent, inter-departmental approach. If India and Germany are to make joint progress on climate issues, no department can do this on their own. Rather, it is essential for us to combine our competencies. In this context, BMZ contributes, among other things, a partner-oriented perspective.

We will continue to be faced with the global impact of the corona pandemic for a long time to come. What does the BMZ have to say about this?

We were quick to launch the corona policy at an early stage – in February/March 2020. The minister, Gerd Müller, decided to respond rapidly to the crisis: in the health sector to start with; then in the field of food security; and in the maintenance of economic activity, thereby safeguarding jobs.

Our crash programme to combat corona is providing 4.7 billion euro to support developing countries in these and other areas. We had already investigated the possibility of epidemics before corona – and, incidentally, also considered the problem of human-animal transmission. This approach is called “One Health”. We were very well prepared. Last year, we set up a health and pandemic control section, not least in order to combat possible causes of pandemics at an early stage.

And we also have a mobile emergency team, the SEEG (Schnell Einsetzbare Expertengruppe Gesundheit - rapid response team of health experts), in which the Charité (Berlin University of Medicine) and the Robert Koch Institute are involved, alongside other organisations. This team is frequently called upon by partner countries. They set up laboratories, train staff, and supply ventilators, laboratory equipment, and protective clothing, etc.

When the BMZ was founded, Germany was the first country in Europe to have a separate ministry for overseas development. A few countries followed suit. But the BMZ is now once again the only ministry for development cooperation and the largest donor in the EU. What role does German development policy play within the EU?

We are now the only ministry in the world with this particular remit. There are high expectations of Germany within the EU. As the largest EU Member State, we have wider scope for action, but also carry greater responsibility. In 2020, when Germany held the EU Presidency, we negotiated the development cooperation and external action sections of the EU’s multi-annual financial framework. That was not an easy task. The minister, Gerd Müller, called on the EU to do more in the way of development cooperation – especially in Africa.

Let's just look at measures to combat the pandemic, as an example. What we spend internally is out of all proportion to what we spend externally. But we will not be able to control this pandemic unless we combat it worldwide. So this is where we are trying to make progress in Europe. The Team Europe Initiatives are very new, for example. Together with other European partners, we are pooling our resources in mixed teams. Right now, about 70 major programmes are at the planning stage. These initiatives are not only about combating the pandemic. They are also about addressing the issue of post-corona reconstruction – and how this can be as sustainable and climate-friendly as possible.

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