Towards Geopolitical German Development Cooperation? Recent History, Current Trends, and Future Prospects Notes du Cerfa, No. 165, Ifri, July 2021
German development cooperation (GDC) in a post-Merkel era can be expected to become more geopolitical. Recently adopted German policy documents like the Indo-Pacific guidelines as well as the support to the geopolitical ambition of the European Commission suggest such a tendency for future German policy making.
As Germany is a major player in international development cooperation, at least with regard to the amount of official development assistance (ODA), the future prospects of GDC are highly relevant to German international political and development partners.
GDC has recently seen significant shifts linked to the issue of migration and flight and also to a much stronger involvement by the private sector in development cooperation. Several German policy initiatives like Compact with Africa are exemplary for these trends. Moreover, they show that GDC focuses strongly on the African continent. The so-called BMZ 2030 reform of the Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung – BMZ (the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development) underlines the ambition of GDC as relevant to current international trends.
The next German government will have to clarify the relationship of GDC with joint European approaches to development cooperation. Germany generally supports the politicization of European development cooperation and a more geopolitical thinking at the European level. Yet other political priorities, such as the French-German relationship, regularly limit German support for joint European policy-making in practice, as can be observed in Germany´s policies for the Sahel region.
This paper argues that GDC under a post-Merkel government will have to seek new legitimacy and thus German policy makers should look beyond mere geopolitical approaches. While little new thinking can be expected from the political parties of a new governing coalition – probably including the Green Party – development cooperation will be challenged by right-wing populists. The situation provides opportunities, however, to link geostrategic thinking with a more progressive development cooperation that builds on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Dr Manfred Öhm, currently acts as the Deputy Head of Finance and Organization of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). He has lectured at the University of Freiburg (Arnold Bergstraesser Institute for Cultural Studies). He formerly served as country director for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Sudan and Mozambique and headed the FES Africa Department from 2013 to 2021.
This publication is available in french (pdf): La coopération allemande pour le développement : vers une évolution géopolitique ? Histoire récente, tendances actuelles et perspectives d’avenir.