Interview of the German Ambassador Cord Meier-Klodt on Nine O'Clock

The 3rd October is a powerful reminder on how separation can be overcome, and walls can be torn down without violence by the sheer will of the people

The 100th anniversary of the modern Romanian state reminds us how strength can be gained from unity in diversity

By Gabriela Bogdan

Mr Ambassador Cord Meier-Klodt, you are already in the second year of your mandate in Romania. If you were to take stock of this period spent here, how would you sum-up this experience so far from the standpoint of the achievements and projects fulfilled?

The last 18 months have been quite interesting and challenging times – both for Romania and for Germany, for Europe as a whole and for myself as well! During this time, we witnessed three new governments in Romania and one federal election in Germany that changed the composition of the Bundestag significantly. And as you might know, according to a Chinese saying interesting times are wished only on one´s worst enemies.

But on a more serious note, it is a challenging, yet at the same tremendously rewarding task to dedicate your best efforts to keeping the unprecedented peace project, our European Union of common values, intact and operational. In doing so, it was extremely encouraging that these efforts were based on solid bilateral relations, on rich cultural traditions including the centuries old German heritage in the country, on a close political partnership and friend- ship, on remarkable economic ties and on common goals in Europe.

After having travelled extensively to the traditional “hotspots” of German activity in Transylvania and in the Banat during my first year, I dedicated this year´s focus to other parts of this diverse country: Iasi, Suceava, Targoviste, Craiova, Ploiesti, Braila, Galati and Constanta, to name just those. This followed a very simple logic: Cooperation should involve the entire country and aim at contributing towards overcoming divisions and bridging existing gaps in social and economic welfare between different parts of the country.

What is the field of bilateral cooperation that registered the most important progress since you took office?

The backbone of our excellent relations and the most striking success story is our economic cooperation: Bilateral trade between Germany and Romania has been growing steadily. This year the bilateral trade volume is very likely to exceed the mark of 30 billion Euros! So our bilateral trade alone accounts for more than one fifth of overall Romanian external trade. One of our companies operating in the country moved, in the course of one year, to second position on the overall list of Romania´s biggest exporters in 2017! Altogether, German-run companies in Romania offer work opportunity to about a quarter of a million people.

Another field of close bilateral cooperation is education: Around 200.000 Romanian children and students are learning German. Over 50 schools all over Romania qualify their students for a German language diploma, more than 80 courses at Romanian universities are being taught in German each semester. Since 2015, the German government has been providing special support to Romanian teachers who teach the German language at mother-tongue schools or as a foreign language. This year alone, we are able to sup- port over 700 school and kindergarten teachers with a total of 1,25 Million Euro – this is quite an incentive for the teachers to maintain this crucial part of our German heritage in the country.

How would you describe your cooperation and dialogue with Romanian authorities, on topics of major interest at the bilateral level, but also for a common Europe?

First of all, let me say that, in this day and age, we should always look at those two aspects as tightly inter-connected - our bilateral and our over-arching European interests! This is why we share a very close and open dialogue with our Romanian partners – both in the bilateral domain as well as at the European level, including in a trilateral political framework with our French partners.

Our major goal is to maintain and strengthen a united Europe, since this is the best way to enhance our sovereignty on relevant international and global issues. Romania already makes important contributions towards this goal: We highly value Romania’s support for security and stability on the Eastern flank of NATO, as well as Romania’s efforts to shape the Eastern Partnership of the EU.

At the same time, as good friends and partners, we do not shy away from voicing mutual expectations, nor from pointing to areas that require our special attention in order to further develop the enormous potential of our bilateral and European cooperation. This is what friends do, and this is what friends are for.

How does the political-diplomatic dialogue go on once Romania is preparing to take over the presidency of the EU Council in a very challenging period for Europe and for the international agenda?

Romania is taking over the presidency at a particularly challenging moment: Brexit,  the negotiations concerning the priorities of the next Multi-Annual Framework, and ongoing discussions on a joint EU migration policy will be some hard nuts to crack for all of us next year, and probably even beyond.

I, however, firmly believe in Romania´s potential to serve as a major facilitator, especially in bridging interests between Eastern and Western European partners. The recent summit of the Three Seas Initiative in Bucharest just demonstrated this potential very clearly. By focusing the initiative on tangible results and on real outcome –in the areas of transport, energy and digitalization – and by opening the format towards new participants, Romania helped to make this initiative more inclusive. On this new ground, Germany was happy to participate for the first time. I believe that Romania could and should play this role – the role of a mediator and facilitator on important issues in Europe

– even more often and especially during its EU Council presidency. Europe needs this more than ever before! This may however require to put domestic struggle aside, to overcome the polarization that Romania has witnessed over the last year and a half on issues of justice reform and the fight against corruption in order to focus full attention specifically on those European and international policy priorities.

Bilateral economic cooperation is very dynamic and the two governments, along- side the two countries’ private sectors, are closely collaborating to develop the joint agenda, by organizing economic missions and visits meant to make the collaboration opportunities known. What perspectives are there to attain the maximum potential of economic and trade relations? Economic and trade relations between Germany and Romania still have enormous potential. Romania has shown impressive growth rates during the last years and many German companies in the Romanian market have benefited from this development. Plus, it´s not just a matter of quantity, but also of quality. German companies in the country develop and produce state-of-the-art technology for the world market. This not only has the potential to lead to even higher figures in our bilateral exchange, it has also begun to profoundly change the image of Romania abroad.

   At the same time, it needs to be said that there have been growing concerns of late that this positive trend might not last. Lack of predictability on the overall political picture, fueled by some defamatory accusations on the role of foreign investors in general, have caused some of our companies to put investment decisions on hold or even to check on business opportunities elsewhere in the neighborhood. I would hope that full trust in the Romanian market can soon be re- established through sound government incentives and enhanced and open dialogue between government and business circles on reliable long-term economic policies.

How do German investors see the benefits and challenges of the Romanian economy? Over the course of the last year, I have visited many German production sites all over the country. And, in most cases, I encountered a truly positive spirit towards opportunities in Romania. Companies benefit from young, flexible and multilingual employees, good university education and long lasting industrial traditions. This motivates many German companies to increase their investment on research and development.

 At the same time, investors increasingly struggle with some new challenges that are, in a way, a consequence of Romania´s success- story over the last years. The most pressing issue is the scarcity of workforce: this applies to unskilled labor and specialists alike. As a consequence, several German companies have established a system of dual vocational training in order to train and educate their own employees, and we strongly support this endeavor. On 1st November, together with the German-Romanian Chamber of commerce and industry, we will be hosting a big conference on dual vocational training. The aim is to highlight the many benefits of this type of education, with the hope to quickly moving from promising pilot projects to a tight network of such schools in the entire country.

What is your message for the German community in Romania on the occasion of National Day celebrations?

The 3rd October is a powerful reminder for all of us on how, literally speaking, separation can be overcome and walls can be torn down without violence by the sheer will of the people. At the same time, the “Centenarul” that we celebrate in Romania this year – the 100th anniversary of the mod- ern Romanian state – reminds us how strength can be gained from unity in diversity. I think it is important to remember these lessons, especially at times when nationalism and populism are gaining momentum in Europe again – including in my own country. We must redouble our efforts to overcome the growing polarization in our societies, in Romania as well as in Germany.

Or, as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas put it when addressing Romania´s Ambassadors at their annual conference on 27 August as the guest of honour: To all those that have lately been shouting “Me first” on our continent and beyond, our answer should be “Europe United”. This is a nice message of unity on Germany´s National Day, addressed to the German community in Romania, but not only!

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