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“Romanian-German relations appear to me like fine tapestry”




Interview with H.E. Mr. Werner Hans Lauk, Ambassador of Germany to Bucharest

You have begun your term as German ambassador to Bucharest in July and already met the German community in Romania at the beginning of this month. Are the Germans living in Romania happy here?
The German “expat-community” you refer to is constantly growing. Thousands of German citizens are living in Romania at the moment. These Germans came here in the last twenty years for professional reasons or to study or they just fell in love in or with Romania. One very exceptional positive experience for Germans in Romania: You find a very favorable environment when it comes to your mother tongue. Due to the presence of the German minority, the German-speaking school system is very well developed: In Romania we have a large number of German schools, in which over 20,000 pupils are taught in all subjects in German language and furthermore, there are approximately 70 German-language lines of study in universities all over Romania. In total, over 19,000 German companies are present in Romania, in many cases with an active expat-community. And of course: with the German Embassy in Bucharest, and the German Consulates in Hermannstadt / Sibiu and Temeswar / Timisoara, German citizens find their state and their government visibly represented in Romania.
You mentioned the German minority: What role does the German minority in Romania play regarding the relations between Romania and Germany?
We have had strong ties between Germany and Romania for centuries – not at least thanks to the immigration of the German speaking immigrants which started over 850 years ago: The Transylvanian Saxons (since the 12th century) and the Banat Swabians (since 18th century) have served as a bridge between our countries. German groups have had a major and very proactive role in Romania’s history throughout the centuries. Their interaction with and participation within Romania’s political, economic and cultural life has been very vivid. Also today, the presence of the German minority gives a special character to our bilateral relations: The German minority in Romania is a very lively bridge between our two countries and an active cultural intermediate. It is our impression, that the German minority is very pleased with regards to the well-defined and exceptionally well-functioning minority protection system in Romania, and the German government acknowledges the great efforts made by Romania in this respect.
You have recently stated that the economic potential of Romania must be presented in Germany. Are there any actions by the German Embassy in this respect?
I am indeed firmly convinced that Romania’s economic potential has not yet been made visible in its full extent in Germany. The Embassy reports to Berlin what we see and experience – including economic developments in Romania. Secondly we frequently welcome official visitors from Germany. In many cases we can assist them meeting important contacts and learning more about the situation in Romania. Furthermore, in the last twenty years a number of periodical forums for exchange between Romania and Germany were established. In these bilateral commissions, which take place between Romania and Germany, or between Romania and a number of German “Lander” both sides can inform each other in a very efficient manner. For example, the bilateral commission between Romania and the “Land” I am from, Baden-Württemberg, is scheduled for this fall.
All of these actions are mainly about people-to-people-contacts – therefore my door as Germany’s Ambassador to Romania will always be open for those who wish to strengthen the economic relations between Romania and Germany and who need support, recommendations or just information to achieve this aim.
Germany holds the first place when it comes to imports and exports to Romania and is a significant investor in our country. Did the financial crisis affect the economic relations between the two countries?
The financial and economic crisis of the last years has affected all economic spheres in Europe. Therefore, we saw declining figures in the German-Romanian economic relations for a while too. But the relations have recovered rather swiftly in a very positive way. Romania in general has achieved a lot in improving its macroeconomic conditions in recent years. Particularly compared to other countries in the region and in the EU Romania has mastered many economic and financial challenges of the past years quite well. From my point of view, these achievements should create more confidence in Romania’s economic development. Sometimes I think that the crisis is still affecting people’s mindsets too much. Perhaps Romanians should have more confidence in the possibilities of their country’s economy.
Do you think there is room for more German investments in Romania?
Of course, I see potential for a further intensification of German investments in Romania. Recently we have already seen some major new investments. In addition, we notice that German companies, which are already active in Romania, expand their business. I think this is a very good sign for the bilateral business-relations as it is a proof that the German investors in Romania act in a sustainable way and believe in Romania as a business location.
But, it is also true that Romania, as well as other business locations, must constantly improve its conditions for investors, particularly in the field of infrastructure. Furthermore, remaining bureaucratic obstacles to business development should be tackled. Investors, from Germany, Romania or elsewhere, need predictability and reliability for sustainable investments.
German companies present in Romania are looking to promote the dual education system. How do you see this initiative and what more can you tell us about it?
Most German investors in Romania need a highly skilled workforce for their businesses. In particular the many German manufacturers in Romania need employees with practical knowledge and technical expertise in very specific fields. That is something you cannot always acquire in a university.
To fill this gap, German companies are cooperating with Romanian authorities to implement professional vocational training schools. These schools train their students in a combination of school-based learning and practical experience on the job. For example such a school was opened in 2012 in Brasov, as a result of the cooperation between several German companies and the Brasov County School Inspectorate. 135 young people are about to graduate in a two-year professional education program, with a specialization in electrical and mechanical operation of machine tools. In the first year of training, the trainees spend 60 percent of the time in the factories, in the second year 75 percent, the rest in school. For the companies involved, the project is a success: in about one year they will be able to take advantage of their first skilled workers. For Brasov it is a success: the city will enjoy a reduction in youth unemployment. It is a win-win situation. Therefore we hope that this will be a model for similar other projects.
I absolutely appreciate these initiatives. The dual education system has proved to be a decesive and most valuable asset for the German economy and its success as a leading industrial country.
Furthermore there are studies done at European level showing that graduates of vocational education and training systems are more successful in finding employment. Professional vocational education and training can therefore be regarded as an engine of innovation and growth. In Germany the graduates of these vocational training schools are highly regarded specialists and earn a very good income.
I am sure Romania will benefit from establishing this sort of professional training system, thus offering its students the opportunity to acquire important qualifications, increase its overall competitiveness and reduce youth unemployment. The value-added of the dual education system is also seen by our Romanian counterparts and partners and I am more than happy to continue and to deepen the Romanian-German cooperation in this field.
What should Romania expect from Berlin in view of Schengen accession?
As far as Schengen is concerned, the Federal Government continues to support Romania´s efforts to achieve full membership in the Schengen area. The upcoming report of the European Commission in the framework of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) – expected in December- will give an assessment of the progress Romania has made in areas relevant to full Schengen membership. This assessment will help us and our European partners in taking a decision whether the time has come to take further steps forward.
How would you describe the bilateral relations between Romania and Germany as a whole?
Romanian-German relations appear to me like fine tapestry, a fabric combining a multitude of colours and materials. The colours are provided by the different fields of our cooperation – in the political realm as well as economical and cultural, from bilateral to European topics to cooperation in regional and global fora such as the UN, NATO, the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
The extraordinary variety of actors and stakeholders accounts for the special texture of our relations: There are politicians, diplomats and civil servants shaping our relations as well as businesspeople, teachers, pupils, students, scientists, local administrations, writers and musicians, non-governmental organizations, members of the German minority in Romania and Romanians living in Germany. In my view, the fact that the cooperation between Germany and Romania engages so many people with different backgrounds also in the non-state sector makes our relations especially resilient and fruitful.
One example where different actors from Romania and Germany have identified a common interest and a project to pursue in the next years is the project to promote dual professional vocational training and education I outlined above.
Other examples include the dozens of city partnerships between German and Romanian cities, or the close ties between the German minority here in Romania and the federal German government or Lander such as Bayern and Baden-Württemberg. In the cultural domain, we are grateful for the support provided by the Romanian state to German-language cultural and educational institutions such as schools and German-language lines of study in different universities. We also appreciate the interest Romanians all over the country show in these institutions: today the majority of students in German-Language schools come from a non-German background.
It is easy to see that, engaged as they are, our two governments alone could not create and maintain the vibrancy we see in these relations – this is provided in very large part by the people of both countries.

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