The reunification of Germany, symbolically started with the collapse of the Berlin Wall three decades ago and concluded on October 3, 1990, creating favourable conditions for the reunification of the continent. How does Europe look today through the eyes of a German Ambassador in a country that was on the “other side” of the Wall 30 years ago?
Through the eyes of this German Ambassador our Europe of today looks like a place that could do with a bit more of the determination and the energy of the people of those days, especially in the former GDR and in Eastern Europe, who fought for their future and the future of their children. In those days, the objective number one was individual freedom. Today, we have that freedom in Europe, but what we need is unity and the determination to fight for our common European values. Only united will we be able to effectively project our interest in a multipolar world and to secure our freedom.
I am really pleased to say that we recently experienced a bit of this kind of energy and determination in this country when a record number of Romanian voters participated in the European elections in May, an increase of 50% over the figures of the previous Europeans elections, with especially many young people participating!
As to the state of the reunification of the continent 30 years after the fall of the Wall, I would say that, first and foremost, it has been a success story over the years. Not just Germany was reunited, but Europe´s East-West divide was overcome to a very large extent. Not to perfection, not without flaws, yet peace and prosperity have been maintained and developed all over the continent. We sometimes tend to forget how things looked 30 years ago.
Still, definitely no time to rejoice, we entered a period of many new challenges with unfortunately far too many populist voices in virtually all our countries suggesting far too easy answers to the complicated problems ahead.
Yet none of those problems – and this would be my major point! – should be tougher to handle than the dismantling of the Wall and the Iron Curtain in those days.
So, if previous generations could do it, we should be able to do it, and to hold our continent together, especially since this so much in our common interest. I am pleased to see that many young Romanians seem to have understood this quite well.
So what´s up these days, how are you celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall here in Bucharest?
We decided to celebrate the jubilee together with the City of Leipzig where the “Monday demonstrations” in 1989 paved the way to the peaceful revolution. So, we organized a whole week of different events referring back to those days, and we hope people in Bucharest will like the outcome. We have invited witnesses of those days to share their experience with us on how they perceived the events of 1989, what their expectations were and how they assess what was achieved in hind-sight. There is a show by female visual artists from the Leipzig school, a German-Romanian writer´s talk, and we’re also throwing a great party with the popular Romanian-German band Zmei3. So, please feel free to join us at one of those events. [Details on the program on website / facebook of the German Embassy]
You’ll soon celebrate three years since the start of your mission here. How would you assess this lapse of time from the point of view of proposed projects versus achieved ones?
The last two and half years have been very intense. I managed to visit most parts of this beautiful country and I took my time to meet and discuss with citizens, with local authorities, pupils, students and representatives from the business sector. That way I got to know our partners well and learned my lessons about Romania. And I noted that no matter whom I talked to, one thing never changed: People deeply care about their profession and the well-being of their country. I particularly enjoyed discussing with Romanian students about the future of the EU and they proved to be anything but uninterested in politics. On the contrary, they conceive Romania as being deeply rooted in and committed to Europe and want to contribute to a better future.
So in a way I created my own “Leitmotiv” for our relations: Let´s try to work together, in all areas of our relations, from politics to culture and education, with the aim to get to know each other better and, at the same time, to strengthen the European clout.
I think it’s for others to decide how well we succeeded, but never ever did it seem to me that this was not the right track to follow.
How does the Romanian-German partnership look like today in comparison with the moment when you arrived in Bucharest in the spring of 2017?
When I arrived in Bucharest two and a half years ago, mass demonstrations for the rule of law and the fight against corruption were in full swing. I was impressed to see how committed Romanians of all age and background were to a Europe of common values – and indeed still are!
Our two countries have always shared a fundamentally European perspective which has helped us in fostering trust and cooperation when it came to setting a positive European agenda. Germany and Romania both consider Europe and the European Union to be a crucial cornerstone in a multipolar world. We both want a strong and united Europe. Its first EU-Council presidency put Romania in the fore-front of Europe for six months, and I think the country has managed this task remarkably well. It has proven to be a reliable partner when it comes to making Europe a stronger actor, and it has shown that compromise is not a weakness, but a necessity in every day European politics. In that respect, I would like to see rather more than less of Romanian compromise-brokering on major issues of common European concern.
Germany and Romania have written for years a successful story in the field of economic relations. In this respect, not only that the volume of bilateral trade has constantly increased. But year by year significant investments from Germany led to the creation of new, highly-qualified employment opportunities in Romania. In addition, German companies actively continue to support the Romanian authorities in their plans to reinvigorate the dual system of professional education. What’s next?
Romania and Germany have very strong economic ties, indeed. Germany is by far Romania’s most important trading partner, and German companies in Romania give work to about 250.000 employees. And there is still a lot of potential, especially in high-end branches of modern industrial production, for example in IT-excellence and technologies of the future like automotive driving.
German companies see themselves as long-term economic partners. They bring know-how to Romania and have supported the impressive transformation of the country over the last three decades. And Germany continues to be a partner of transformation for the new challenges ahead.
Yet, in order to play that role effectively, those companies need a reliable and transparent political framework. And they need better infrastructure, especially in the transport area, and more access to qualified work-force. All of this has increasingly become an impediment to the kind of growth we all wish for.
In Germany, we have very good experience with the dual system of vocational training. This is why German companies actively promote this system here in Romania as well. It gives young people the chance to earn their own money from very early on and to gain relevant experience by working in a company, while completing their formal education. So, it combines practice and theory in a win-win approach.
German firms have initiated dual vocational training projects here in the country, but to really make a difference, we need much more cooperation, including with Romanian companies. For that, a real change of mentality is required. Students and parents need to understand that dual education can really be the basis for a very good career in life.
The special ties between the two countries have always been based on a solid foundation represented by the German minority living in Romania, but also on the high number of Romanian citizens who live in Germany and who contribute to Germany’s economic evolution. What else can be built upon on this valuable cultural bridge linking the two societies?
The role of the German minority is deeply intertwined with Romania’s history, they are part of the DNA of this country. A 100 years ago, right after the foundation of the modern Romanian state, the German minority pleaded loyalty and support to the new state. In terms of cultural ties, the German minority presents a cornerstone of our relations. Their positive role for our bilateral relations has also been highlighted by the visit of Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sibiu in May 2019 where, in the aisles of the EU Summit, she took her time to meet and to discuss with members of the German minority from all regions of the country.
The very good news is that German schools and German language are in higher demand in Romania than ever before. Apparently, Romanian parents and students trust the system of German education. From our governmental end, we also try to do our homework by providing additional funds to employ teachers and to improve learning materials.
But let’s not forget – we also have thousands of very well-qualified Romanians who work in Germany. They have increasingly become an important factor in strengthening the human ties between our countries.
Photo: Deutsche Botschaft Bukarest, by Mihai Constantineanu