Intended for healthcare professionals


What explains Germany’s new role in global health?

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 10 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6715
  1. Ilona Kickbusch, director
  1. 1Global Health Programme, Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. kickbusch{at}

Chancellor Merkel is central but political commitment goes deeper

For many people inside and outside Germany the country’s high level political activity on global health is a surprise. What are the reasons behind Germany’s leadership in global health? Is it genuine? Four intersecting factors are at play here: Germany’s new role in the world; its commitment to working with other countries through international organisations and the European Union; a strategic multisectoral and partnership based approach; and Chancellor Merkel’s personal commitment. Germany has used existing and emerging political opportunities astutely to both position itself and move the global health agenda forward.

New global role shapes foreign policy

The increased activity in global health must be understood in a political context that has forced Germany to reconsider its position in Europe and the world. Since the heavy burden of history from two world wars initiated by Germany, the country has not sought political leadership or a new international role.1

The German president, Joachim Gauck, recently stated: “We Germans are advancing towards a form of responsibility that has not yet become routine for us . . . I don’t believe that Germany can simply carry on as before in the face of these developments.”2 He argues that a globalised Germany benefits from an open world order which “allows Germany to reconcile interests with …

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