Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the German-Libyan Business Forum, Benghazi (Libya), 14 November 2006

14.11.2006 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks for this invitation to the German-Libyan Business Forum, which is finally achieving the significance it should: Libya is a country in transition. The people here have an excellent chance of being among the winners in the political and economic changes of the coming decades. I get the impression that the people here want to grasp this opportunity. Also, we in Germany have noticed that the government is supporting this development in many areas. In many other countries under similar circumstances, this is not the case.

In recent years, Libya has opened itself up to the outside world more and more. Every second Libyan has a mobile phone; satellite dishes are widespread. Access to the internet is to a large extent free. Exit visas have been scrapped – anyone who can afford it can travel freely. The younger generation is free of illiteracy. And every child is to receive a laptop by June 2008.

Why do I begin a speech to a business conference with this list? I do it because I feel that it shows the potential of this country more accurately than any economic data. Libya is a country with a future. It is already in first place on the UN Human Development Index in Africa. We would like to encourage Libya to more forward on the path to openness and reform. It is for this reason that Libya and Germany should cooperate even more closely for their mutual benefit.

My trip through North Africa does not only have bilateral motives, however. I am visiting the region because the Federal Government will take over the presidency of the EU on 1 January. For Europe, the whole Mediterranean area is a key region – because of its geographical proximity, because of our close historical and cultural ties, but also as a bridge between the Islamic and Western worlds. The region's significance for our energy supplies is also constantly increasing. Libya and its neighbours are altogether important partners for the EU in our efforts towards stability, peace and prosperity in the Near and Middle East as well as in Africa. Our aim is to extend the peace, stability and prosperity which we have already achieved in most of Europe to the entire Mediterranean region.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership – also known as the Barcelona Process – has provided the framework for cooperation between the EU and all the countries of the Mediterranean for more than ten years. Germany has always been keen to foster this partnership. This European policy towards our southern neighbours is one which we wish to develop actively during our presidency of the EU Council in the coming six months.

Both sides have plenty of work to do as far as political cooperation is concerned. The fight against terrorism is on the agenda along with the development of a common strategy to control migration. Next week already, the European Union and the African states will meet for the Conference on Migration and Development to which Libya has generously invited them. The refugee situation in North Africa shows that we can only solve migration-related problems by working together. That is why I consider it essential to deepen the dialogue the EU is fostering between countries of origin, transit and destination. I hope that the Conference will provide fresh impetus for closer collaboration between the EU and Africa on the subject of migration. Germany will actively pursue this issue during its presidency of the EU Council.

However, we want to discuss closer cooperation not just on migration, but also in the areas of justice, security, education and environmental protection. We wish to further inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and to get citizens involved in the process. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is an excellent platform for this. Within this framework, the EU, Arab states, Israel and the Palestinians gather around one table. I hope that Libya can soon decide to join this forum, for the simple reason that it has a significant role to play in the process of dialogue and rapprochement. Having given up the development of weapons of mass destruction and renounced all forms of terrorism, Libya has brought an end to a long period of isolation and started out on the road back into the international community. There are other states which have not yet managed to make such a courageous and farsighted decision. I wish these states would take Libya as their example.

Chancellor Schröder's visit in October 2004 sent a signal for the relaunch of relations between our two countries. It is now time to look to the future and use every opportunity to further the development of our political, economic and cultural relations. My visit is intended to help strengthen the trust that has grown between us. We must overcome the aftermath of those years of isolation and chart the course for a solid partnership between Libya and Europe.

Libya's collaboration in managing regional crises – particularly in Africa – is increasingly vital. The successful mediation of several kidnapping cases has already proved the constructive role Libya can play. I should like to express my sincere thanks to the Libyan government for its efforts in this field.

The integration of Libya into the world economy is a central factor in the country's further development. The diversification and modernization required by this process have already begun. Libya has left the state-controlled economy behind and is on the road towards a western-style market economy. We see this development optimistically. We are also aware, however, that such a transition takes time, creates its own problems and calls for international assistance. Closer cooperation with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, along with the envisaged membership of the World Trade Organization, are important steps along this road.

What Libya needs above all, however, is to work with private foreign partners who can satisfy its high investment needs, not only in the oil and gas industry but also in all areas of infrastructure.

German companies have at their disposal outstanding expertise in all branches of the energy sector and in the area of infrastructure. They are ready to commit themselves and to contribute with the quality of German products to your country's further progress.

I am accompanied by the CEOs and board members of several leading German firms. You may take this as a sign that Germany's politicians and business community wish to work together to advance cooperation between our two countries. The number of people taking part in this forum clearly shows the commitment on the Libyan and the German side. The potential for trade and economic cooperation is far from exhausted.

The Federal Government supports the enhanced involvement of German companies in Libya by means of state support mechanisms. For the last two years, German companies have again had access to Hermes guarantees for their projects in Libya. The Federal Government promotes participation in the International Trade Fair in Tripoli. An agreement on the encouragement and reciprocal protection of investments has already been signed and is about to be ratified. A double taxation agreement is being negotiated – I hope it can soon be concluded. In the coming year, we will open an Economic Office together with the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce. I hope that we can hereby improve both the legal safeguards for investors and advisory services to all German companies, so that even more of them invest in Libya.

At present, German entrepreneurs are focussing on the energy sector. For this reason, I would like to look more closely at cooperation in this area. The companies Wintershall and RWE Dea are already present on the ground, exploring and producing oil, and could deepen their involvement still further. At the same time, excellent German companies are ready and willing to deliver installations and equipment for the exploitation and processing of gas and oil – right up to power plants capable of providing for the growing energy needs.

However, we are not just interested in fossil fuels. Libya is also an ideal location for the use of renewable energy sources. Particularly in the exploitation of solar energy, I see considerable investment opportunities. State-of-the-art technology for efficient and environmentally friendly electricity production is available in Germany. No economy can grow steadily without reliable systems of electricity production and distribution. All available resources must be harnessed for this purpose.

I wish you a successful German-Libyan Business forum. I hope that together we will use the opportunity to make tangible progress on our projects. That is the aim of my discussions this afternoon.

I would like to thank the forum organizers, particularly the North Africa Middle East Initiative of German Business and the Africa Association, for their efforts. My special thanks go to our Libyan hosts for their friendly welcome and generous hospitality. Let us get to work for the good of people in Libya and Germany!

Thank you very much.

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