COM 01/2017

The Hanns Seidel Foundation – A Short Introduction & Interview with Hanns Bühler (Head of HSF’s South- and Southeast Asia Division)

Hanns Bühler, Head of HSF’s South- and Southeast Asia Division


In all facets of its work as an academic institute and think tank CPG is closely connected to a great number of partner institutions throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. In Thailand this applies   especially to the German political foundations which will be introduced in this and following issues of the Magazine under the rubric “think tanks and institutions of development cooperation”. In this issue we introduce one of CPG’s oldest and closest cooperation partners, the German/Bavarian Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) with which CPG was and is running a number of program lines in the field of the rule of law dialogue and professional training, mainly in the field of human rights and related to the intersection of human rights and security issues. Only with the HSF’s offices in Thailand and Indonesian more than 40 events have been arranged since 2010.

Founded on 7th   of November 1966  HSF is one of six German political foundations (next to Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Heinrich Böll Foundation, and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation). HSF is legally distinct from, but politically affiliated to the Christian Social Union (CSU), a center-right political party with political tenets covering conservatism, liberalism, and subsidiarity, all of them embedded in a religiously, namely Christian informed concept of society. In Germany, a federal state with 16 federal states, the CSU runs for election only in the biggest Federal State of Bavaria with the capital of Munich where the CSU has been in power with an absolute majority from 1966-2008 and again since the latest election in 2013. On the national level, the CSU as a “sister-party” of the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) is currently forming the ruling coalition government of the joined CDU/CSU faction and the Social Democratic Party. Within the German federal government CSU-members are currently holding the offices of the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, and for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Under the motto “In the service of democracy, peace and development” HSF is globally engaged in the fields of policy advice, political education, international development cooperation and promotion of young academics. Organizationally the work in these four fields is divided up into four departments, namely the Academy for Politics and Current Affairs, the Institute for Political Education, the Institute for International Cooperation, and the Institute for Scholarship Programmes. With a budget of around 60 Mio. Euro in 2014 these four departments together arranged more than 6000 events across the world attracting nearly 270.000 participants.

The following interview with Hanns Bühler, Head of HSF’s South- and Southeast Asia Division, informs about HSF’s global engagement in the field of development cooperation with special focus on Southeast Asia. Mr. Bühler supervises the Foundation’s activities in India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Prior to his current appointment he served inter alia as Programme Manager at the liaison office to the European Union in Brussels and the Project Office in Jakarta, Indonesia. He holds a Master degree in International   Management   and   Asian   Studies   from   the University of Konstanz, as well as a Master degree in European Law from Eberhard-Karls University Tübingen.

Mr. Bühler, where and in which areas of international development cooperation is the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) globally engaged? How much funding is provided and where does the funding come from?

Established in 1967, the headquarter based in Munich in the Free State of Bavaria, the Hanns Seidel Foundation is one of the six German official political foundations. We are currently active with project offices in more than 60 countries worldwide, conducting more than 103 projects.

Being one tool of German foreign and development policy means also that we are 100% public funded. However we are not a government organisation. It is the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) where we get our mandate from and it is the Bundestag which decides on the Budget, which is in then channelled through our Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Our core task is to strengthen Germany’s bilateral relations through a dialogue with our project partners on the promotion of democratic structures. This assignment or mandate involves the strengthening of the relevant institutions and persons, procedures and norms and the requisite attitudes enabling development worldwide which are sustainable and in accordance with rule of law.

The former German Federal President Roman Herzog once said that “education towards democracy” is the “permanent and real responsibility of political foundations” both within Germany as well as abroad. He stated that this education helped “citizens of an open society to participate in the development process of a democracy with as much knowledge as possible”.

When we talk about democracy promotion I am convinced that lecturing other countries or our project partners is not a successful way to work together. The Hanns Seidel Foundation does not lecture. We offer experiences and ideas towards our project partners, which can be representatives from civil society, institutions or politics.

In 2014 the budget for the international work of the HSF was approximately 25 million Euros.

What are the focal points of HSF‘s work in Southeast Asia and in Thailand? What specific projects are you are currently running in this region?

We currently focus our work in Southeast Asia on three pillars:

  • promotion of democratic structures and institutions and rule of law
  • promotion of environmental policies
  • promotion of economic and social structures

Despite their heterogeneity, the countries of South- and Southeast Asia are increasingly shaped by regional integration. Therefore, concerted yet individualized approaches of project cooperation are needed to complement each other.

On a regional level, HSF maintains close contact to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF), the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) and the  United  Nations Environment Programme UNEP in Bangkok. This network contributes to the strengthening of legislative powers and promotes regional integration.

On national level HSF runs projects offices in Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.

Thailand is a very essential country for HSF not only because of its regional and economic importance but also because the representation of HSF in Bangkok is responsible for our activities in Lao PDR as well.

In Thailand HSF is active since 1988. In cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and selected Thai universities we are supporting the idea of a more effective local self-government. In addition, we share experiences with the Royal Thai Police in the field of democratic and community friendly policing. And together with the CPG and local partners we are constantly supporting a human rights dialogue in South Thailand.

What  project  is  dearest  to  your  heart  or  what  project  you  deem  as  most interesting?

It is always very difficult to pick one certain project. All of our local and regional partners in Thailand as well as in the other ASEAN and Asian countries work with great commitment. Therefore, please allow me two pick two regional aspects of our work.

One aspect of our work in Asia and beyond is the support of federal and decentralized structures. We initiate on a yearly basis the Munich Federalism Days. This international exchange program provides an in-depth analysis on the standing and stage of development of federalism in Asia and Europe and gives practical recommendations on how cooperation between national and sub-national levels of government can be established. This conference has for example led to an extensive and sustainable exchange with Myanmar’s Parliament, civil society organizations and civil servants on the topic of principal state organisation and federalism. In this context I would like to underline that cooperation mechanism between national and sub-national levels of government and parliaments cannot be invented on a drawing board. They have to grow from the bottom up and respect national contexts, traditions and the national balance of power. Each country must find its own way, as context is crucial and circumstances are very different everywhere. Therefore, there is no “one size fits all”-solution for federal nations, or for countries that are considering greater sub-national autonomy and decentralization. However, I am sure you would agree that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel; one can definitely learn from others, perhaps more so from avoidable mistakes rather than from their ‘good practices’. The sharing of power and competences between different levels of government might also be a very good tool for conflict regulation between centre and regions.

One further aspect of our regional work in Southeast Asia, which I would like to mention, is our cooperation with ASEAN police forces. Police organizations occupy an important position in the engagement between governments and their citizens. They are one important corner stone of democracies. Our understanding is that police forces should be responsible for protecting the freedom of each citizen. And police forces around the world have a monopoly over the use of legitimate force, which gives them a special responsibility in terms of ethical and legitimate conduct. Therefore, HSF’s main field of work is the development of a police education and training program that provides policemen and -women with knowledge and methods needed in order to safeguard a democratic country. We are aware of the sensitivity of this cooperation but we believe that it is an important contribution towards a better protection of human rights and rule of law.

As Head of the South- and Southeast Asia Division, what are in your eyes conditions and indicators for success?

Structural change in order to strengthen rule of law, democracy and human rights takes time in any country. You could for example argue that the activities in Thailand were not successful because the military has taken power. To measure success you have, however, to analyse the projects themselves. Of course it is very difficult to measure success in the field of rule of law and democracy promotion. In Indonesia for example HSF has been supporting the institutional building of the Indonesian Constitutional Court (MKRI) since its establishment in 2003. Joint activities like knowledge exchange with the Constitutional Court in Germany have certainly contributed to the development of the MKRI which is considered more than a decade later as one of the pillars of democracy in Indonesia.

I also believe that our cooperation with the Royal Thai Police has been proven successful because we could build a partnership where we trust each other and where we have the feeling that there is interest to improve the educational system for young cadets. You have to be patient and constantly work together to be successful. Short term projects are very rarely successful in this kind of work.

We Germans know from our own bitter experience before, during and after the World War II: freedom and democracy is not a gift. Freedom, rule of law and democracy have to be won and constantly defended. The understanding of a democracy, the participation of all sectors of society in political processes, has to be newly acquired in each generation. Civic education or the promotion of rule of law is a long-term duty for democracies and it is also a long term duty for political development actors.

Formulating indicators is one major task of our work. We have to explain to the German tax payers in detail what we do and why we do it and we need to be able to measure our own success in order to improve our projects. To measure success we need indicators. But as the field of democracy promotion and rule of law is vast and varied, indicators have to be formulated for specific projects according to aim and context. In civic education for example, a development actor could aim to reach people in rural areas where the voter participation is generally low. Through workshops and seminars, they seek to teach voters how important each single vote is in a democracy, as this is how each and every one can influence policies in their country. Indicators could be the percentage of participants after the workshop who feel that it is unacceptable to accept money in return for their vote or the percentage of participants who plan to participate in the next election. On a more macro level – and if close to all people in a rural area have been reached – the rise of voter participation could be a good indicator. If a development actor, as a second example, seeks to raise the participation of citizens in political decision making on a communal level, one possibility would be introducing discussion forums or open councils to the mayor and his team. The number of forums or open councils offered to citizens by the mayor posterior to the programme activities would be a good indicator for a change in the mayor’s attitude and for a successful project.

How do you assess the potentials of international development cooperation with regards to the rule of law-dialogue in Southeast Asia and selected cooperation countries (for example Thailand and Indonesia)?

The results of the recent ASEM meeting in Kuala Lumpur on 27 April 2015 in regard to rule of law and democracy is promising. In the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on a people-oriented, people-centered ASEAN the head of states reaffirm to “continue to promote the principles of democracy, rule of law and good governance, social justice, as well as to promote and protect human rights and respect for fundamental freedoms (…)”.

However, as Southeast Asia is characterized by heterogeneity, which rejoices in a multiplicity of ethnicities, cultures and religions, a generalized statement for the region on the potential of development cooperation regarding rule of law would be misleading.

Thailand, for example, has had a comparatively long history of self- determined politics and has an advanced educational system. The principles of democracy are generally understood. The preconditions for a rule of law-dialogue are therefore generally good. The latest political and juridical events before and after the takeover of power by the military have increased the need for stabilizing reforms in the sector of rule of law and human rights protection.

I am convinced that the majority of people worldwide would like to live in a country where they have the possibility to participate in political processes and where rule of law is granted to each and every citizen. Against this backdrop, HSF is keen to share Europe’s, Germany’s and our Bavarian experiences in the field of rule of law and further strengthen the bilateral relations between our beautiful countries.

Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Bühler.

The interview was conducted by Dr. Duc Quang Ly, Project Manager CPG