Germany is one of the absolute world leaders in aid to other countries. With The federal government supported several countries in Africa, South America and Asia with around €33.9 billion in “development services” in 2022 (more recent figures are not yet available).
In this way, the Federal Republic has established itself as “the second largest bilateral donor in the world, behind the USA, ahead of Japan, France and Great Britain”, says Federal Minister of Development, Svenja Schulze (SPD ). She proudly announces: “Germany takes responsibility. “This is an important signal to the global community.”
“Development services” also include humanitarian aid from foreign countries. Office, for example, in the event of natural disasters and famines or the provision of study places for young people from developing countries.
Billions in German taxes flow around the world
But even if these items are excluded, there remains a considerable amount of “pure development aid” that Svenja Schulze can distribute around the world. In 2023 it was around 12.2 billion euros.
The flow of money to distant regions is not seen as positively everywhere as by the politicians responsible for the traffic light coalition in Berlin. Lately, critical voices have been increasing regarding German development aid.
“Billions of German tax money would be wasted,” claim legions of users on social media. There is talk of “hardly understandable” and “strange” transfers. German development aid is largely useless and often even “counterproductive”.
The debate has long reached the Berlin political scene. The opposition is already demanding a rethink. Alexander Dobrindt, head of the CSU regional group in the German Bundestag, told FOCUS online: “Questionable German development cooperation projects should be examined as soon as possible.”
German tax money “must also be used selectively globally,” Dobrindt said. “Only then can we use it as an effective lever to gain international allies, control and stop migratory flows and conclude repatriation agreements.” In general, the following should apply: “German taxpayers' money can only be received by those who are with us.” and not against us he is working.”
Kubicki, vice president of the FDP: “It can no longer be explained rationally”
Even a member of the federal government, FDP vice-president Wolfgang Kubicki, calls for a change of course. Some development aid spending “can no longer be explained rationally,” says the 71-year-old from Lower Saxony.
The two politicians say what the majority of German citizens think. According to an exclusive Civey poll for FOCUS online, 71 percent of Germans think that the federal government should “reduce tax-financed development aid to other countries.” 18 percent would like to keep it as is, only 10 percent (most of them are Green supporters) would like to expand it.
If you look closer at what Germany helps finance around the world, you are sometimes surprised.
Millions for “green refrigerators” in Colombia
The Federal Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection, led by Robert Habeck (Greens), finances “green refrigerators” in Colombia with 4.6 million euros. Other projects of his company, some of which are worth double-digit millions:
- Renewable energies in Chile (1.7 million euros)
- Production of low-emission rice in Thailand (8.1 million euros)
- Energy efficient rehabilitation of residential buildings in Mongolia (6.2 million euros)
- Climate policy in Brazil (11.3 million euros)
- Clean energies in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam (29.6 million euros)
- Urban climate protection measures in China and India, among others (22.6 million euros)
- Support for the national climate change strategy in Peru (6.4 million euros)
- Climate policy and biodiversity in Thailand (10 million euros)
Sanitation in Timbuktu: Germany pays
The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), headed by Svenja Schulze, is financially committed to, among others, these projects:
- Water and sanitation in Benin, Africa (15 million euros)
- Establish a modern tax administration in Cameroon (5 million euros)
- Promotion of renewable energies in Senegal (27 million euros)
- Municipal environmental protection in Colombia (80.5 million euros)
- Climate-friendly public transport systems in Latin America (106.5 million euros)
- Biodiversity in Paraguay (6 million euros)
- Construction of a network of bike lanes in Lima/Peru (20 million euros)
- Urban climate adaptation in El Salvador (12.6 million euros)
- Improving water and sanitation in Timbuktu/Mali (€24.5 million)
- Energy efficiency in public buildings in Montenegro (82.9 million euros)
- Digital reform of the health system in Uzbekistan (53.7 million euros)
- Biodiversity in mountains and mountain ranges of Mexico (25 million euros)
Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD): Investments that pay off
All examples (in total more than 450) can be found in a 23-page response from the federal government to a short question from the CDU/CSU parliamentary group on December 6, 2023.
The Schulze ministry emphasizes on its website that the The statistics are not a “systematic list of all current German development projects”, but rather a representation of “older and newer projects”, which typically “develop over many years”.
Regarding the respective financing amounts, the ministry explains that some of them are “loans that would later be repaid by partner countries.” And anyway: every euro of German taxes that the government allocates today to development aid will later save “four euros in emergency humanitarian aid.”
But this calculation can hardly appease critics of the direction of Germany's development aid. For many, the height of absurdity is support for India. The government's official list includes funding projects such as:
- Sustainable urban development – Smart Cities India (164.6 million euros)
- Energy efficiency program in India (122.7 million euros)
- Climate resilient urban infrastructure in India (144.1 million euros)
- Several projects for climate-friendly urban mobility in India (up to €210.9 million each).
Aid to India “seems like a joke”
These expenditures represent only a small part of German development aid to India.
Already in 2022, the BMZ promised India financing of 987.52 million euros. And a few weeks ago, the federal government announced that it would provide India with another €10 billion in the coming years to promote climate protection there.
Germany supports a state that is a nuclear power (India has between 130 and 140 nuclear warheads) and was the fourth country, after the Soviet Union, the US and China, to successfully send a probe to the Moon. Particularly thanks to its flourishing IT industry, India has become the fifth largest economy in the world. As one of the BRICS countries – along with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa – India is gaining increasing global influence.
Given this background, isn't it absurd to financially support the South Asian country? Is CDU budget expert Carsten Körber's analysis correct, according to which German aid “seems like a citizens' joke”?
Development Minister Schulze does not want to know anything about it. He considers close cooperation with India “imperative.” Only together can we combat “global challenges like climate change.”
And he makes it clear: “For the majority of German-Indian cooperation, tax money is not needed.” Because 90 percent of support services are obtained through cheap loans. “India will return these funds with interest.”
Will there still be money for gender training in China in the future?
It is doubtful that this will end the controversial discussion. Given the current budget crisis in Germany, spending in other countries will certainly continue to be viewed critically.
How to explain to single mothers, impoverished pensioners or families living in precarious circumstances that Germany happily spends money on gender training in China or on a positive masculinity project in Rwanda? Or, to continue with what is probably the most controversial topic at the moment: the development of a network of bicycle highways in Lima, the capital of Peru?
Much of the questionable financial aid may soon resolve itself: on the one hand, pressure is mounting to cut German development aid in favor of domestic political projects.
On the other hand, the traffic light government, badly affected by the budget ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court, plans to significantly cut funding for Schulze's ministry. For necessity.