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20 May, 2020  ▪  Спілкувався: Yuriy Lapayev

Dirk Niebel: "Populists play with fears of the future"

During the 29th Economic Forum, held in Krynica-Zdrój, Poland, The Ukrainian Week spoke with Dirk Niebel, Germany's former Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, about countering populism

The wave of populism - why is it happening right now all over the world? What are the reasons for that?

- Many people expect quick, easy solutions to the challenges ahead and short answers to complex issues. This certainly has to do with social media, which traps many people in an individual information bubble.

What are the main topics of populists, which helps them to win hearts and minds of voters? Maybe there are some examples from Germany?

- Many populists work with the argument that they are not established, that is to say, they can pronounce what others would supposedly not dare to do. Especially in Germany it is remarkable that the right-wing populists ’speeches (like the left-wing populists’ speeches) are stoking fears among the people who they are supposed to be the only ones who can defeat them. The right-wing populists score with fear of immigration, especially in areas where there is almost no immigration. Here, ignorance is often one of the reasons for their success.

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How to stimulate people to think more, to analyze the promises of politicians and to divide truth from populist rhetoric?

- Here only the fact check helps. Citizens who do not care or want to worry about the plausibility of statements, or who do not consult other sources, will always be vulnerable to fake news.

What could be some kind of vaccination against populism? How to prevent it? As I understand it - good economic situation is not an answer (if we look at Germany, USA or France).

- A currently good economic situation is not a sufficient reason to prevent populism. Populists play with fears of the future, which means that you have to work on perspectives for the future so that people don't have to worry about losing something they have worked hard to achieve in the future. Education and training are the core prerequisites for preventing populism.

On your opinion, who can do more damage to a country - an old, experienced, but sometimes corrupted politicians or "new faces", without previous political experience, but with lack of competence in government and diplomacy? (If you can - please make your evaluation of current Ukrainian political situation)

- Corruption is the biggest barrier to development in the world. It is therefore necessary to combat them wherever possible. Experience in political action also does not justify corrupting structures. Inexperienced policymakers become and must make mistakes from which they learn. It is wise if they can be supported by unencumbered and experienced consultants from outside, if necessary. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj has brilliantly filled the role of president as an actor. As the elected President of Ukraine, he does not play the role of his life, but is best placed to fulfill his duties by the burden of responsibility and by the fact that the people bear and support him in the recent parliamentary elections.

What can we expect after the populism? What would be the next stage in that evolution?

- If populists are not disenchanted because they do not solve problems, only because they talk them out, this inevitably leads to a loss of freedom and a restriction of democracy.

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Dirk-Ekkehard Niebel

Born on 29 March 1963 in Hamburg, Germany, married with three children (*1993; *1995; *2000)

Professional experience


Since 01/2015 Head of international strategy development and government relations at Rheinmetall AG

Since 01/2014 Policy advisor and management consultantNiebel International Consulting

01/2016 - 03/2019 Advisor for development politics in the advisory council of “Deutsche Infrastructure S.C.A.”, Luxemburg

10/2009 - 12/2013 Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development

Responsibility for an annual budget of EUR 6.33 billion
Reform of German implementing agencies for Technical Cooperation,

merging them to form Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale

Zusammenarbeit, GIZ (17,000 staff in more than 100 countries)World Bank Governor for Germany
Member of the KfW Board of Supervisory Directors

05/2005 - 10/2009 National General Secretary of the FDP

Responsible for two national elections, 14 state (Länder) elections and

one European election with successful outcomes

09/1998 - 10/2013 Member of the German Bundestag, Heidelberg Constituency (Parliamentary Group: Free Democratic Party, FDP) 1998-2009 Spokesperson on labour market policy of the FDP Parliamentary Group in the Bundestag

1998-2009 Member of the Committee on Labour and Social Affairs 1998-2002 Substitute Member of the Defence Committee 2002-2005 Substitute Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee


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