Willkommen auf den Seiten des Auswärtigen Amts
Arrival in Berlin
B: Walking to our accommodation in the Tegel woods, we were warned about wild boar. To quote Johanna: “I was once chased by one. They are very dangerous as they can have tusks and are also quite large. I escaped into a nearby building.” To all of the British participants’ sadness, not a single wild boar materialised throughout our short sojourn leaving us wondering whether it was simply a ruse to make sure we were super attentive at all times… Wild boar aside, the German Diplomatic Academy has a lovely location on the outskirts of Berlin in the woods by a lake. Their new diplomats spend a year here undertaking training before taking up their first roles in the Federal Foreign Office. They have accommodation on site and this breeds a strong camaraderie - take note FCO Permanent Under Secretary...
The Evolution of German-British Texting Diplomacy
I: “If we do not act now, future generations will suffer from climate change. And that would be our collective failure!” What our program announced as a simple climate change simulation where joint German-British teams had to represent different countries quickly turned out to be a serious debate about international rights and duties. Together with my British co-negotiator Rohan I represented the South African delegation. And although we had not met before, Rohan and I defined our negotiation strategy so quickly and effectively that we could have easily been mistaken as colleagues who had already been working together for many years.
Via simple communication that I would describe as “texting diplomacy” we managed to make decisions very quickly after going through an interesting three-staged communication phase: First, we exchanged rather polite phrases. Then, we began to omit formality until we, at the end, started sending monosyllabic texts. What were my key takeaways from this simulation? Firstly, it was encouraging to witness everyone’s strong interest in reaching a compromise on climate change policies in order to prevent the worst from happening. We were all aware of what would be at stake if we could not reach an agreement. Secondly, the negotiation simulation underlined the importance of incentivizing compliance with what has been agreed upon. Thirdly, it showed the formal power of the chairs who can highly influence the decision-making process.
B: The evening was rounded off by a reception at the British Embassy. We were addressed by the FCO Europe Director, and by the Deputy Head of Mission. Over canapes and wine, we learnt more about the Embassy’s bilateral work and the Europe Director’s assessment of the health of the UK-Germany relationship during this EU Exit negotiation phase, and beyond (her assessment is that the relationship is in excellent health).
B: Unsurprisingly, Brexit was a theme that permeated the training. When I joined the FCO in November 2015, we had a reception hosted by the German Ambassador at his residence. Towards the end of the evening, the wizened DA, who until that point had spoken fairly dispassionately, grew visibly emotional when he spoke to us about Brexit. He said that while it was of course a decision for the British people, we must walk through the battlefields of Europe and only then would we understand why Brexit would be so painful for Germany. Two years on, that pain is evident. As German interlocutors pointed out, the EU is far more than the sum of its parts to them: it’s the most reliable way of ensuring no repeat of the bloody conflicts of the 20th century. Beyond this, the EU has particular appeal to Germany; it means a second chance at being able to ‘play with everyone else again’ in Europe. We reflected that for the majority in the UK who voted for Brexit, the EU is not even the sum of its parts. Despite this, what was clear from our German colleagues was that they wanted to do more with us, not less. Nobody was under any illusions that we may have to work harder to achieve this, but across swathes of foreign policy areas our points of view are remarkably aligned. Brexit is obviously viewed as a bad thing by Germany, but if we can deliver on our aspirations to do even more together then that will be a good thing.
I: Talking about Brexit and our future bilateral relations was an important but also delicate component of our joint program. In the view of the young German diplomats, there are considerably more shared values and interests than there are differences: We both live in democratic systems based on the rule of law and our two countries have strong economic ties and a lot of shared foreign policy interests as NATO members. Given this context, Brexit has become a divisive issue between Germany and the UK. Although it is no secret that we, young German diplomats, do not consider Brexit a good thing, working on good bilateral relations remains one of our main interests. For this reason, we felt privileged to be given three days of insightful talks and profound discussions with our smart and funny British counterparts. It is essential to establish and keep good professional relations with each other based on mutual respect, especially in these critical times. But be aware, dear German and British colleagues! As one of our British speakers told us from his own personal experience: If you take our bilateral relations too seriously, you may even end up getting married to a German diplomat.
Presidents and Palaces
B: We were in Germany at a momentous time: the formation of the new government. We had two sightings of Merkel: once when we visited the Bundestag and another when we visited the Presidential Palace, Bellevue. Here I must convey our thanks to our German hosts for delivering the apex of the training: a meeting with the Federal President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Steinmeier was previously the Foreign Minister of Germany and so while nominally apolitical, there is an expectation that he will perhaps be more activist than previous Presidents. After the photo, we all had a tour of the beautiful, understated Presidential Palace.
B: We may have been blessed with Steinmeier; we were not blessed with good weather. One afternoon our hosts had organised a number of city tours for us. I am ashamed to say that out of the 5 of us in my group that were British, only one had an umbrella. Our tour guides, Yildiz and Laura had put together an excellent programme for our tour of Charlottenburg (and thoughtfully procured some extra umbrellas for us - ever the good hosts), we soldiered on for about an hour before cutting our losses and heading to dinner. We ended the evening at Monkey Bar, with fabulous views of the city.
It was a fabulous 3 days. For the British participants, it had kindled not just a better understanding of German foreign policy, but also an affinity with Germany and an urge to do more with our German counterparts, including on our overseas postings. And I daresay some of us are planning return trips to Berlin to further strengthen those bilateral ties.
I: Hosting our British guests was a great pleasure and confirmed what we had already anticipated: working with our British counterparts is enriching on so many levels. Not only did we learn a lot about the UK’s approach in various foreign policy areas, but we also enjoyed our British counterparts’ curiosity, candor, and professionalism. Therefore, we hope to see them soon, either in Berlin or London or somewhere else around the globe. Danke für euer Kommen und auf Wiedersehen!