Over the last 12 months Germany and the European Union as a whole have faced tremendous foreign, humanitarian and security policy challenges. Some voices in the public debate considered the refugee crisis to be the largest challenge Germany has faced since the reunification of our country 26 years ago in 1990.
It is no secret that Germany and Romania were not on the same side when initial statements were issued on how to tackle the challenge of more and more refugees coming to Europe from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other civil-war countries and countries affected by violent unrest.
But especially during those days in the late summer of 2015, I actually realized how resilient the network of our close bilateral relations has become. Although we continue to see things from somewhat different angles when it comes to the ticklish question of distribution of refugees and of burden-sharing in Europe , our partnership was always based on openness and sincerity, which allowed us to discuss our different views in an atmosphere that led to much better mutual understanding. We greatly appreciate that Romania has fully accepted the outcome of a democratic decision-making process within the European Union, and has since then taken an active stance during its challenging and difficult implementation.
And so it is little wonder that our bilateral relations have been marked by very important developments and bilateral visits, also in 2016.
The most prominent event was of course the visit by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, President Joachim Gauck, to Romania in June 2016. During his three-day state visit, he not only travelled to Bucharest, as the country’s capital, where he held a series of official meetings, but also had the opportunity to visit Sibiu, Romania’s European Capital of Culture in 2007. Together with President Klaus Johannis, H.E. Gauck visited the fortified church in Cisnadie, which is only one of the more than 160 fortified churches that still exist in Transylvania. These monuments are seen by many Romanians and international tourists as representing the cultural heritage that is still linked to the rich history of the German minority in Romania.
The visit to Cisnadie by both Heads of State also emphasised the active role they play in preserving and maintaining this religious and cultural heritage. Only in 2015 the two presidents took on shared patronage of the newly-established Fortified Churches Foundation.
I cannot talk about new initiatives in our bilateral relations without mentioning the establishment of the Romanian-German Forum for Bilateral Cooperation – a civil-society initiative that was inaugurated this year to contribute to intensifying the relations between our two nations and societies. The foundation of this new platform for cultural, scientific, economic and political contacts between our countries follows the model of the German-Romanian Forum, which has just celebrated its 16th anniversary. For me, it was a very moving moment when both forums met during the “Haferland Week Festival” in August 2016 and demonstrated very visibly how close the relations between our societies are.
But it is not only in cultural relations and civil society that co-operation and coordination has been intensified this year.
Also on the political level, we have been cooperating on important issues such as countering anti-Semitism and antiziganism, or fighting transnational threats and challenges. Many of these topics are linked to Germany’s OSCE Chairmanship this year, which is very much supported by Romania. Romania has accepted to hold the presidency of the OSCE Security Committee, one of three permanent committees preparing the OSCE’s daily work, as well as the OSCE Ministerial Councils, the next meeting of which will be in Hamburg in December 2016.
Within the framework of Germany’s OSCE Chairmanship in 2016, I would like to underline our very close cooperation with Romania when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism: Romania as the current Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and Germany as OSCE Chair have started a joint initiative to introduce a working definition of “anti-Semitism” in both organisations, with the aim of strengthening our fight against anti-Semitic crimes even more in the years to come.
Finally, the success story our two countries are writing in the field of economic cooperation continues. Once more we increased the volume of bilateral trade. And once more, investments from Germany led to the creation of new, highly-qualified employment opportunities in Romania, in sectors as diverse as the aeronautic industry, logistics and market analysis. Furthermore, under the aegis of the German-Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, German companies continue to support the Romanian authorities in their plans to reinvigorate the dual system of professional education in Romania, with the aim of opening and maintaining sound professional career paths for young people.
Looking back at the 27 years that have passed since the fall of communism in both our countries in 1989 and the 26 years since the reunification of Germany, I am very confident that the Romanian-German partnership still has much potential for ever closer relations, as bilateral partners and friends within the European Union.