German aid minister slams proposed cuts as 'completely incomprehensible'

German Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller. Photo by: UNICEF Ethiopia / CC BY-NC-ND

BERLIN — The budget for Germany’s Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, also known as BMZ, will be increased by just €284 million ($333 million) in 2019 to an overall amount of €9.7 billion, politicians finally agreed last week, up from €8.4 billion in 2017 and €9.4 billion in 2018.

The sums were agreed after months of delay, as German politicians approved the financial budgets for 2018 and 2019 on Thursday and Friday last week.

However, according to a draft medium-term financial plan, which has not yet been approved but was released at the same time, the budget for BMZ — which is usually responsible for up to 50 percent of Germany’s official development assistance — will be reduced significantly from 2020 onward, dropping back to around 2017 levels by 2021. German Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller described the plan as “completely incomprehensible.”

The association of German development and humanitarian aid NGOs VENRO added that the 2019 increase for BMZ of “just €284 million” is “far from sufficient.” By contrast, the German Federal Ministry of Defence is set to receive an additional €4 billion in 2019, an increase of around 10 percent. The coalition government had initially pledged to increase funds at an equal ratio for defense and development.

“It’s lower than we thought it would be,” Jana Rosenboom, project manager at VENRO, said. “We are asking the government to spend much more on development aid.”

Although German ODA is notoriously hard to track, split between different government departments and the country’s 16 states, the BMZ budget is the main contributor and is taken as a key indicator. Observers said the budget figures would make it impossible to hit the United Nations-set target of spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid, which Germany is committed to achieving as part of the European Union.

"We know for sure we will not reach it with the money we have been allocated,” said Rosenboom.

Of the draft plan from 2020, she said a decline in the budget is “definitely going in the wrong direction and makes planning harder.”

Müller, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, slammed the proposal, saying in German: “I do not understand why everyone is talking about the causes of [refugee] flight [a key issue in German politics at the moment], and then the minister of finance [decides to] save on development cooperation.”

Germany’s coalition government, formed earlier this year, had pledged to give €1 billion more to development during its four-year legislative period — but this has now all been allocated for 2018.

“It’s not very useful if it’s all given in the first year, because if the amount goes down [rather than being spread out over the period] you cannot really plan or make good development programs,” said Rosenboom.

Stephan Exo-Kreischer, Germany director of the ONE Campaign, said: “What we are experiencing here is no less than a clear break with the goals agreed in the coalition agreement. This draft budget shows more than clearly that the money is there. What is lacking is the political will to use it to fight extreme poverty, hunger, and humanitarian crises,” adding that, “the strong imbalance between defense and development is a strategic dead end.”

In recent years, Germany has reinvented itself to become the world’s second-largest bilateral ODA donor after the United States. In 2017, the country contributed approximately $24.7 billion in aid. It met the 0.7 percent target for the first time in 2016, after spending $6.2 billion — one-quarter of its ODA budget — on newly-arrived refugees. Levels of aid spending on in-donor refugee costs have caused controversy in the sector, with some arguing it is diverting funds from causes overseas.

However, it missed the 0.7 percent target in 2017 after refugee arrivals fell. Müller estimated it would fall to just 0.48 percent by 2019, although Rosenboom emphasized that this is hard to predict.

The German budget was approved just days after a row over migration threatened to tear Merkel’s coalition government apart and topple the chancellor. Coalition parties are under increasing pressure to harden their stance on issues related to migration.

“Since the refugee debate in Germany is completely overdone and falls short, we must finally take our responsibility in the countries of origin,” Müller said.

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About the author

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    Abby Young-Powell

    Abby Young-Powell is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor based in Berlin. She covers a range of topics for publications including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and Deutsche Welle. Before working freelance, she was deputy editor of Guardian Students, part of the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper. She is also a fellow of the International Journalists' Programme, after working at Die Tageszeitung in Germany.