«On-the-spot help» begins in Berne

Article as analysis
«Greater development successes will call for a Swiss policy that places no obstacles in the way of developing countries», says Alliane Sud Director Mark Herkenrath.

In early June the National Council followed the Federal Council's proposal to cut development spending for 2017-2020 from the current 0.52% to 0.48% of national income. The matter now goes to the Council of States, where there will also be intensive debates on the meaning and purpose of development cooperation.

Roger Köppel, Editor-in-Chief of the right-wing populist weekly magazine «Weltwoche», engaged in a discourse in the National Council, finding it necessary to assert that despite billions in aid over recent decades, Africa has not moved forward at all. Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter countered this by pointing to Africa's diversity and the fact that many countries there have made major advances. This notwithstanding, the question may justifiably be asked as to why there is still so much poverty and destitution in many developing countries of Africa and other continents.

Development cooperation is not part of the problem, but of the solution. It has contributed significantly to progress in healthcare and education, especially education for girls and women. It has also helped to strengthen local civil societies, which are holding their governments ever more politically accountable. One would prefer not to have to imagine where developing countries would now be without foreign support.

But even the best development cooperation cannot prevail against the enormous power imbalance between industrialized and developing countries, unequal trade relations, human rights violations and profit shifting by transnational corporations or the consequences of climate change. Nor can it prevail against the arbitrary drawing of boundaries, which has been at the root of ethnic strife and power struggles in many developing countries since the end of the colonial period. These are the reasons underlying the persisting problems.

Arms exports from industrialized countries supply the munitions for these conflicts. Warlords are able to finance their transactions thanks to tax havens and opaque trade hubs. At the same time tax evaders are helping them deprive well-functioning States of urgently needed public revenues. Billions disappear without a trace from developing countries every year through illicit financial flows. These flows are more than ten times international development aid funding. In addition, the ongoing climate change is exacerbating the competition for resources and intensifying migratory pressure.

Switzerland also bears some responsibility here. In the Houses there are repeated calls from the Right for «on-the-spot aid». Agreed, but provided the spot is primarily Federal Berne. Greater development successes will call for a Swiss policy that places no obstacles in the way of developing countries. This includes transparency rules for the Swiss financial centre and the trade in commodities, as well as a consistent approach to tackling the looming global climate disaster. Binding rules are also needed for corporations headquartered in Switzerland, which should respect human rights and internationally recognized environmental standards worldwide.