Three Questions with Stefan Leiderer on Development Policy

Jonathan D. Katz
GMF Editorial Staff
5 min read
Photo credit: George C. Marshall International Center
Editor’s Note: GMF Resident Fellow Jonathan Katz and former USAID deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia sat down with Stefan Leiderer on the sidelines of a

Editor’s Note: GMF Resident Fellow Jonathan Katz and former USAID deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia sat down with Stefan Leiderer on the sidelines of a recent development symposium to discuss future of EU, German, and American development. Stefan Leiderer is head of the Department of Governance and Official Development Cooperation at The German Institute for Development Evaluation (DEval).

Jonathan Katz: There is a heated debate in Washington, including among some in the Trump administration, about the impact of soft power and massively cutting U.S. development assistance. Some in Washington question whether providing assistance is advancing U.S. interest and whether this support is impactful or a waste of precious American resources. There are even reports that USAID will be folded into the State Department. I think that would be a big mistake for the Trump administration and would negatively impact U.S. interests, security, and development goals. Is there a similar debate about foreign assistance happening in Germany? How is the German government addressing questions such as whether Germany should be spending money at home versus spending it overseas, or whether assistance is successful, impactful, and advancing German development goals?

Stefan Leiderer: The debate is relatively comparable. There is a lot of pressure on the German government to demonstrate results of what it is spending abroad. There is a strong general consensus in the German public that we need to provide assistance and aid to developing countries, and that has probably increased with the refugee crisis in Europe. There is a focus on providing aid now in Germany and how we mitigate conflict and reasons that make people flee their home countries and come to Europe. So, in principle, there is a lot of pressure to demonstrate results, but I think there is a relatively strong consensus, maybe more so in Germany than in the United States that aid is something Germany should be doing ­— the government should be doing — and that we need to spend money on. At the same time, that is where the similarities really start. Given that public knowledge in Germany, just like in the United States, about how aid works is very limited — what it does, how much money we spend on it. So, the pressure on the government is to show impact, to show results and detailed information on what has been achieved. At the same time, governments, like in Germany, need to produce more evidence on what works, what doesn't work. The institute I work for, DEval, has an independent mandate to evaluate German development cooperation and foreign assistance at a strategic level.

Katz: One of the issues being debated in Washington is that U.S. assistance does not advance America’s national security interests.  You mentioned that you are seeing a similar questioning of German assistance. Do you see that same correlation between national security interests and foreign assistance as the German government is developing its assistance policies? Is there a direct correlation?

Leiderer: It is increasingly important in the discussion in Germany, and not so different from the United States. German foreign assistance is diversified. Germany is providing support to some 138 countries. Obviously, not in all these 138 countries is aid given with a view to Germany's security and the safety of German citizens. There are a number of regions where conflict that does affect Europe is the main topic. An increasing number of partner countries are fragile countries that are either in conflict, have come out of conflict, or have looming conflict. So, the security-development nexus is becoming increasingly important — more important in terms of reality, but especially in terms of the discussion on why we provide aid and what we want to achieve in terms of mitigating security risks.

Katz: It is the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, which was critical to the eventual establishment of USAID and U.S. development assistance. The German Marshall Fund of the United States, through the work of the Black Sea Trust, Balkan Trust for Democracy, and Belarus Fund for Democracy, is continuing the legacy of the Marshall Plan seven decades later. What is the impact of the Marshall Plan on German foreign assistance and development cooperation today?

Leiderer: I think the perception of what the Marshall Plan did for Europe and especially for Germany cannot be underestimated in terms of Germany’s own experience and how it tries to assist its partner countries. The Marshall Plan has a lot of relevance in terms of Germany’s perception of its responsibility to assist developing countries, given it received the substantial assistance after the World War II. This assistance contributed to postwar development and what we call the German economic miracle. So I think the perception of the Marshall Plan’s role is very strong in Germany, especially when it comes to German development. It is as a testimony to its legacy that the latest development initiative by the German government is called The Marshall Plan with Africa — a direct reference to the Marshall Plan. This is an initiative on how the partnership between Europe and Africa should be redefined for the future.

The German development bank KFW, to my understanding, was initially founded to manage those funds provided through the Marshall Plan and that is the bank that up to today provides German financial assistance to partner countries. At the institutional level in Germany, you have this continuity that shows how relevant the Marshall Plan really was for Germany’s development, but also now for Germany’s development cooperation and development policy.