Germany as a development actor in a post-Merkel era

File photo of outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  

The era of Angela Merkel, as Chancellor of Germany for the past 16 years, is coming to an end while the battle of a number of global crises is at its peak. The federal elections, on September 26, that mark the end of the Merkel-era, have given rise to a currently unforeseeable political future. So, how will Germany define its role as an important international agent in the fight against global challenges, including climate change, and fostering global sustainable development in line with the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations?

Climate change, resource destruction and species extinction are limiting development opportunities and global scope for action more than ever before. Major emerging economies, including India, and regional powers are, besides the ‘old’ countries of the West, since long shaping the economic, political and cultural interdependencies of a more complex, dynamic, accelerated world. And it is now time to act: to battle climate change and biodiversity loss, rising social inequalities and poverty, defend democracy and secure peace.


Key roles soon

In this, Germany and India take on core roles in the coming two years: Germany, as the second biggest bilateral development donor globally (the United States is first), takes over the G7 presidency in 2022. India presides over the G20 in 2023. These offer an opportunity to mutually strengthen the processes of club governance and foster a focused dialogue among our political leaders and policy-making for a common future.

There is a shift now

Yet, Germany’s ability to live up to this responsibility depends on the outcome of the recent elections and coalition negotiations. The field of international cooperation for sustainable development has, over the past 16 years, moved from the Millennium Development Goals of the UN that were formulated in New York as standards to be reached by low- and middle-income countries, to the understanding that poverty alleviation and fighting rising inequalities go hand in hand with combating environmental and climatic change processes. ‘Development’ was redefined as ‘sustainable development’ and thus, as a challenge to be addressed by all countries, and in all societal and economic sectors. An important instrument for achieving sustainable development is — as has become clearer than ever before — international and transregional cooperation on an equal eye-level, geared towards a global common good.

Today, six years after the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement were formulated and one and a half years into a global pandemic, we need radically transformative structural policies for the global common good and in line with the 2030 Agenda of the UN. Germany as the third biggest economy, in terms of its share in global trade, has to live up to its responsibility and set the course for these transformative changes. Yet, it can only do so in partnership, and especially in partnership with the big transition economies, including India. We need structural policies that foster the global common good. Core fields of action include reducing social inequalities, overcoming poverty and ensuring social justice, promoting social peace, political participation and cultural diversity, creating a climate-neutral and stable economic system, vehemently advocating for healthy ecosystems, stable climate and biodiversity.


The key policy areas that need urgent attention have been highlighted again by the COVID-19 pandemic: we need to make financial markets, digitalisation and the economy sustainable; social protection, food and health systems need to be more robust; strengthen education, science and innovation, inclusive institutions for social cohesion, and promote rules-based, regional and multilateral governance.

Equitable cooperation

This type of policy-making rests on cooperation on equal eye-level: between countries, social groups and living environments; between politics, business, science and society, and between ministerial departments. United and driven by the common goal of the global capacity to act. It is a global cooperation policy for our common sustainable future. Changing internal and external structures in a way that self-determination, political and economic participation and social peace are possible for all people in the future requires continuous dialogue around the identification and shaping of common values and preconditions for the future.


This also means that a global cooperation policy for a sustainable future requires a strong governance architecture. It can only be realised through the interplay of domestic and externally-oriented departments, different decision-making levels from local to global, and politics, business and society working together. However, strategic leadership and coordination must be anchored at the cabinet level, in a ministry whose political logic does not focus only on economic growth or poverty reduction, security or climate protection, but lays emphasis on stronger global cooperation for the global common good. The reduction of social inequalities must be addressed in conjunction with climate protection, political participation and economic prosperity.

The focus must be on the dynamics between the global megatrends of our time; not on ministry-specific single transformational steps. Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development brings the necessary experience to this task. But it needs the will to innovate now, has to develop a strategic vision, and requires the necessary decision-making powers and resources. The partners of cooperation for global transformative change are transition and high-income countries just as much as low-income countries. The multilateral level of cooperation must thus move to the centre, supported by bilateral and European cooperation on all continents.

Glasgow meet as opportunity

The cooperation with India is of key importance — as a transregional player — in fighting social inequalities and addressing climate change. The global differences in combating the COVID-19-pandemic with COVID-19 recovery funds amounting to 16% of GDP in high income countries, 4% in middle income and only 1% in low-income countries, meet the continuous increases in greenhouse gas emissions. The upcoming COP26 in Glasgow thus serves as an important platform to negotiate investments into the greenhouse gas neutral transformations of India’s energy and transport sectors just as much as into the social security systems enabling societal capacities to live with the crises ahead.


A global cooperation policy for a sustainable future must adopt a planetary perspective with a focus on the dynamics between social, ecological and economic change processes, cultivate dialogue across departmental boundaries and systematically shape transformative structural policy for the global common good. Germany in a post-Merkel era requires wise leadership in the Chancellor’s office that turns its attention to younger generations and to the world, recognises the urgency of global cooperation policies for a sustainable future with India and the world, and supports them at the cabinet table. The elections have to pave the way accordingly.

Anna-Katharina Hornidge is Director of the German Development Institute (DIE/GDI) and Professor of Global Sustainable Development at the University of Bonn

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 3:40:13 PM |

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