Beyond “Weltinnenpolitik”?

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Conference report #Brandt2030 – “From the Brandt Commission to the 2030 Agenda, 40 years of common efforts for a peaceful, just and sustainable world” hosted by the German Foreign Ministry on August 31st 2017 at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities


Waste and corruption, oppression and violence, are unfortunately to be found in many parts of the world. The work for a new international order cannot wait until these and other evils have been overcome. We in the South and the North should frankly discuss abuses of power by e1ites, the outburst of fanaticism, the misery of millions of refugees, or other violations of human rights which harm the cause of justice and solidarity, at home and abroad.

-Willy Brandt[1]


All of the issues mentioned by Willy Brandt in 1979—elites that are misusing power for their own gains, corruption, violence, terrorism, and the precarious situation of refugees—are still a part of our lives today. Certainly, the members of the “Independent Commission on International Development Issues” (known as the “Brandt Commission” after its Chairman) did not know many of the problems they discussed would remain relevant four decades after the commission began its work. It was this fact that became a central point of debate at the conference “#Brandt2030” organized by the German Federal Foreign Office to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Brandt Commission.[2]


The Brandt Commission

Willy Brandt was a visionary statesman who believed in the positive power of politics. In doing so, he always looked beyond national boundaries. He did so as a young man, having been forced to leave Germany to escape persecution by the Nazis. He did so later in his career, because he had realized the necessity for cooperation and tried to find solutions together with other leading politicians. After his chancellorship, he remained leader of the Social Democratic party (SPD) and became president of the Socialist International. Although already well-known at home and abroad, his international reputation was thrust directly into the spotlight when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

In September of 1977, Willy Brandt accepted the chairmanship of an independent commission which would elaborate propositions for development and address the future relationship between the “global South” and the “global North,” an unequal relation referred to as the “North-South divide.” The foundation of the commission was initiated by the then president of the World Bank, Robert S. McNamara. The idea was to overcome the political standstill in questions of development with an expert body that was truly independent and would abstain from dominating confrontations, particularly the East-West conflict. Out of the 18 members of the commission, 10 came from a developing country. The commission report’s title[3] “A Programme for Survival” makes clear how importantly the commission’s members regarded the improvement of North-South relations. The perception was that humanity is confronted with existential challenges that could only be resolved through better co-operation, development and the reduction of inequality. The report argued that development policies need to be freed of the political self-interests by donor countries and that a stronger integration of developing countries into the world economy would be beneficial for all. In a way, economic interests were given preference above vested political interests. With the accentuation of common economic interests, the report avoided presenting a sense of mutual consent on values.[4]

Besides these appeals to decision-makers, the Brandt Report also addressed citizens, asking them to accept responsibility and realize solidarity across borders. At the time, the report was widely discussed, but its recommendations were largely ignored. However, according to Dirk Messner,[5] the report’s legacy is that it made international politics aware of the world’s interdependencies and paved the way for a global perspective on development – even if it was a failure in terms of tangible outcomes. This lasting effect is reflected in initiatives and international summits about global challenges (for example the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 or the Commission on Global Governance in 1995) and of course in the conference #Brandt2030 itself, which had the intention of linking the Brandt Commission’s efforts to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.


Impressions from #Brandt2030

In his already mentioned foreword, Willy Brandt refers to the need for considering the interdependencies between the South and the North as a form of “Weltinnenpolitik” (global domestic politics). Such global aspirations built on local experiences were certainly realized at the conference dedicated to the Brandt Commission and its lasting influence. Three expert-panels and the many young participants discussed a wide range of topics linked to development and threats to our shared future. Among them were the growing importance of global cities, reasons for anti-globalization tendencies, and the impact of the Sustainable Development Goals. If one reads Brandt’s introduction today, it becomes clear that many so called “new approaches” to development policies have actually been in discussion since the end of the 1970s. This is also the case for the commitment to development aid or assistance. The Brandt Report refers to the target of 0.7 percent of Gross National Product (Gross National Income, GNI) to be spent by richer countries for Official Development Assistance (ODA).[6] This is still the UN target and has not been reached by many countries until now. According to OECD data, Germany’s ODA in relation to GNI reached the 0.7 percent mark in 2016 for the first time in history.[7]d In 2015, the ODA/GNI ratio for Germany was 0.52 percent.[8]

This record perfectly matches the question asked by the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, in his speech[9] at the conference: “Reading the Commission’s reports makes one wonder what we’ve been doing for the past 40 years.” The inevitable inquiry about the change and progress achieved so far had already played a role before in the first panel discussion. Amrita Narlikar, the President of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) from Hamburg, diagnosed a “backlash against globalization.” For her, development politics today are confronted with “a nasty cocktail of new and old problems.” Some of these problems were presented by Akinwunmi Ambode, the Governor of Lagos, who is dealing with the population growth of his city. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway—who also had chaired an UN commission on sustainable development—made clear that universal principles form the basis for international cooperation: “We all can understand the common destiny we are in. It is not about that the already fortunate countries of the rich part of the world tell the others what to do.”

One notable insight from the panel discussions was that identifying more disparities between and within countries could also be seen as an advancement. Development is not linear and not as controllable as it might be often wished for by policy-makers. It also seems to be pretty unimpressed by the widespread use of terms like “inclusive economic globalisation.” Such vague concepts promise strategies where everybody knows that the cluelessness will continue. Their advantage is that they avoid confrontation precisely because of their total openness for interpretation. That’s why conferences like #Brandt2030 are a valuable opportunity to critically reflect upon the basic assumptions and actually engage in discussion with experts.

The conference ended with a networking event in which young leaders had the opportunity to present their projects and ideas.


The Brandt Commission Matters for Public Policy

Identifying common goals and working towards their realization was the task for the members of the Brandt Commission 40 years ago, and it is the task of students at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy during their education, and all the more later during their careers. Therefore, the commission’s approach—as one of the first attempts for global governance—can still be an inspiration for Brandt School students. Not only because of the involvement of Willy Brandt, but even more because of the questions it raised about development and interconnectedness. Discussing development goes far beyond economic data, it requires among other things an understanding of globalisation and must take into account trade policies, institutional settings, and of course the role of politics. To make a fruitful analysis about the mechanisms of globalisation, it will also be required to develop a form of consent about universal principles. Differences are often fruitful as well, but public policy is more than saying how things are done “in my country…” Public policy strives to improve people’s living conditions and provides answers to social problems. Consequently, the normative dimension of development policies that asks about what to do best, for whom and for what reasons, should not be overlooked. Willy Brandt put it like this:[10] “development, in the broader sense, is another word for peace.”

[1] Brandt, Willy (1979). A Plea for Change: Peace, Justice, Jobs – An Introduction by Willy Brandt. In: A programme for survival. Report of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues, p. 7. Retrieved from:

[2] Some impressions from the event can be found here:

[3] Independent Commission on International Development Issues (1980). North-South: A Programme for Survival. The Report of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues under the Chairmanship of Willy Brandt. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

[4] Michel, Judith (2015). Reaktionen auf Willy Brandts entwicklungspolitische Vorschläge vor dem Hintergrund neoliberaler Strömungen, der Wirtschaftskrise und des Ost-West-Konflikts. In: Ettrich, Frank, & Herz, Dietmar (Eds.). Willy Brandt: Politisches Handeln und Demokratisierung. Schriften der Willy Brandt School of Public Policy an der Universität Erfurt. Opladen: Budrich UniPress, p. 104.

[5] Messner, Dirk (2013). Einführung in den Brandt-Report. Eine Einordnung in die Diskussionen zu globaler Entwicklung seit den 1970er Jahren. In: Bundeskanzler-Willy-Brandt-Stiftung. Willy Brandt. „Das Überleben sichern“ – die Einleitung zum Nord-Süd-Bericht, p. 14. Retrieved from:

[6] North-South: A programme for survival. Report of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues, p. 31, p. 162 f. Retrieved from:

[7] See also the references for facts of German ODA by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development:


[9] The speech is available here:

[10] Brandt, Willy (1979). „Das Überleben sichern“ – Die Einleitung zum Nord-Süd-Bericht, p. 38 (translated from German by LSL). Retrieved from:

Follow Lukas-Simon Laux:

My name is Lukas-Simon Laux, I studied political science at Bielefeld University and joined the Brandt School's Public Policy programme in 2014. My specialization modules are International Affairs and Political Economy. Currently I am busy working on my master thesis about the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. However, I try not to lose sight of my other research interests like the development of the European Union, popular critique of democracy and all things related to Russia. Sometimes you can find a comment of mine on Twitter: @TheOldEurope