Mr. Ambassador, this is the first time you are celebrating the Day of German Unity in Romania, at the end of nine months since you were posted in Bucharest. What are your first impressions after almost one year of mandate here, what is this period’s balance sheet? How do you find Romania after these months in office?
From the day I handed over my credentials to the President till now, I have thanked my fairy godmother for waving her magic wand and sending me to such an interesting posting, especially for a German diplomat. Let me name just a few of the fascinating facets of this job: Strengthening and developing further our economic ties as Romania´s biggest trading partner and major investor in modern, state-of the-art high tech production segments; building upon the centuries-old traditions of the German autochthonous minority who founded the German mother-tongue schools that are now in high demand by Romanian parents for their children all over the country, and dedicating our trusted political partnership to securing our joint European future.
I clearly perceive the overall balance-sheet of these endeavours as very positive, but there certainly have also been some challenges, and there still are. In any event, there is never a dull moment in this rich and beautiful country, so full of opportunities.
You started your mission as German Ambassador to Bucharest during a period in which European diplomacy faces great challenges, but also during an anniversary year in which the two countries celebrate 25 years since the signing of the Friendship Treaty. How would you describe your cooperation and dialogue with Romanian authorities on topics of major interest for the bilateral plane but also for common Europe?
This is indeed a very special year in our bilateral relations: We are celebrating 50 years of German-Romanian diplomatic ties, 25 years of the German-Romanian Friendship Treaty, and 10 years of Romanian EU Membership – a membership that Germany actively supported.
All through the year we have shown through many different activities organized by the Embassy and many of our trusted partner organisations how incredibly intense our bilateral relations are today in the areas of politics, business, culture and education, especially German language teaching, and much more.
On the European stage, I still see many opportunities for Romania to make her voice heard even more by actively shaping key questions that define our common European future. And we wish to be a partner in this. We also support the Romanian government in its effort to continue the successful reform course of the past years, to strengthen the rule of law and to effectively fight corruption. Official and business partners alike count on a message of continuity, predictability and transparency that builds on trust and shies away from steps that could jeopardize it.
When you arrived in Bucharest you travelled much throughout the country. What impressed you the most, what experience had the most pleasant impact?
During my first months in office, I have travelled quite extensively throughout the country. Of course, I have visited the “strongholds” of German minority traditions in Transylvania, in the Banat or in Bucovina, especially since Sibiu, Cluj, Brasov and Timisoara are also centres of German economic engagement in the country. But I have also placed special emphasis on getting to know other parts of Romania like Iaşi and Constanta.
What has always impressed me very much wherever I went was Romania’s rich diversity: the varied geography of the regions, but also the multi-faceted cultural, architectural and artistic heritage and the diversity of its people. This multilingual and multicultural character of Romania, this truly “European spirit” that developed over so many centuries, seems to me one of this country’s particularly precious gems. And I would like to contribute to polishing it and keeping it shiny and brilliant. No better occasion to exhibit this gem to an international public, I believe, than during next year´s centenary celebrations of Romania´s great unification.
Germany is Romania’s main trade partner, while at the same time holding an important place in the standings of foreign investors in Romania. How do you intend to contribute to continuing the development of economic and trade relations? Which are, in your opinion, the main sectors in the economic field that have growth potential?
When you visit the production sites of German businesses in Romania, as I have done quite frequently in the last couple of months, you can see the extent of the mutual benefits arising from this cooperation. A major focus of German investments lies in the automotive sector, but energy companies and large retail chains also make a very significant contribution to Romania’s GDP and employment. Most importantly, these investments often go beyond production: Several German companies have set up research and development units in Romania, while others have invested in IT-development. This shows that Romania is ready to take further steps in the value chain towards a more sophisticated production and the development of high technology.
While the country has, in the past years, offered many opportunities to investors, such as qualified and highly motivated workers, the growing scarcity of skilled labour is becoming more and more of an impediment to further growth, especially in very successful regions where competition is high. German companies have therefore dedicated a lot of effort towards developing vocational training, especially dual practical and theoretical vocational training, which has been one of Germany’s most efficient keys to long-lasting, sustainable economic success.
The German minority in Romania has always represented a connecting bridge between the two countries, a source of traditions and cultural exchanges in which bilateral relations always found a strong foundation for consolidation. What is the follow-up to the 20th session of the Mixed Romanian-German Government Commission on the issues of ethnic Germans in Romania, which took place in April in Bucharest?
The German minority and its cultural heritage still play a crucial role in the country: One important example is the enormous popularity of German schools, as previously mentioned. This does not only have to do with a desire to learn the language, but also with the values, norms and traditions that are being sought after. Up to 200,000 pupils learning German in Romania are excellent proof of this.
To support German language teachers, the German Government has provided an additional 1.25 million Euros this year, continuing and actually increasing our funding from previous years. This initiative, of course, is only one aspect of the manifold partnerships between the schools and universities of our two countries.
Germany will also continue to support the German minority with funding that reaches around 2.2 million Euros this year: We support foundations such as Banatia and Saxonia, which do not only work to keep the German minorities’ cultural traditions alive, but also organize programs to support economic development in regions home to the German minority. This year alone, the foundations have granted loans worth more than 500,000 Euros to companies based in these areas. Over the years, more than 2,600 companies have received support of this kind.
With the Brexit dossier on the table, the European Union faces a two-year period full of challenges, a lapse of time in which it must show unity, now more than ever. From this standpoint, Romania’s presidency of the European Council is not expected to be simple at all. What priorities does Germany have for Brexit and how is the dialogue between the Romanian and German diplomacies foreseen in view of preparing the EU’s post-Brexit Summit in Sibiu, in March 2019?
I agree that these aren´t easy times for Europe – but times in which Europe has shown its resilience and its willingness to fight. I am especially thinking about the right wing parties that have gained strength in the Netherlands, France and even Germany, but that are kept in check by our democratic systems and engaged citizens.
Brexit is a real challenge to all of us in Europe and managing it will be damage control rather than anything else. There might, however, be one positive side effect: Brexit has demonstrated very clearly to people of other EU member states what is at stake when a member decides to quit the Union. We are learning the hard way that additional effort is needed to defend and safeguard the joint European values that our fathers and forefathers fought for. But we are learning!
Having grown up in post-war Germany, I was raised with the conviction that Germany only became what it is today through the process of European and transatlantic integration. This comprehension has been lost or at least become much weaker among a lot of younger people. What has been achieved over decades is being taken for granted. So if Brexit serves as a wake-up call in this sense, I will not complain.
In any event, Germany will continue to work closely with its European allies – among them Romania in particular – in order to stabilize Europe in such a critical moment. This means a larger responsibility for everyone: After Brexit, Romania will actually be the sixth-largest country in the EU! During its EU Council presidency in 2019, Romania will have to deal with many important issues of the European Commission, and Germany will continue to support Romania in this important endeavour.
Copyright: German Embassy Bucharest