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Ladies and gentlemen,
A very warm welcome to you all! After the Business Forum was so well received last year, I am happy to see that it is getting even more attention this year. I am very, very pleased by this. This shows that the members of the Foreign Service – the representatives of the Federal Republic of Germany on the diplomatic stage – you met here last time have kept their word and have been working to promote your interests all over the world. We believe that this orientation is important for German foreign policy.
I know that some people in Germany are still somewhat sceptical about this. Diplomacy as the handmaiden of business: can that work? Is foreign policy being poured into an economic mould, as it were? In my opinion, that is not the right way of looking at it. I think that especially small and medium-sized companies, but large companies as well, can benefit from diplomatic support for their business. Diplomacy can open doors and help solve problems. This is in the interest of our entire country. Foreign policy and foreign economic policy – those are not contradictory; they belong together. In other countries it is completely natural that those representing the country abroad try to assist companies with business deals. This must become natural for us, too.
I would like to extend a warm welcome to Peter Löscher, President and Chief Executive Officer of Siemens AG and Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business. We have already had a very interesting initial discussion and, naturally, over the course of previous months and years we have discussed the region many times. On behalf of all those present here, it is my great pleasure to welcome you as our special guest speaker from the business community. This shows that we Germans are so-called global players not just as a country but also through many of our companies – on behalf of everyone here, welcome Mr Löscher.
I would also like to thank those who have made it possible for the Business Forum to take place and be financed on such a large scale, not only by attending but by providing concrete support. I want to mention that explicitly with an open heart. I especially want to thank the Metro AG and all the cooperation partners for their generous support of this conference.
Everyone can imagine that preparing such a conference, which does not consist only of this opening event, but of many other forums and opportunities for discussions, represents an immense effort. I am truly happy that we have this support.
For the first time, I can also welcome to the Ambassadors Conference Dirk Niebel, the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, and, I may add, my good friend. Welcome Minister Niebel.
For those of you, ladies and gentleman, who were already here last time, this is nothing new: last year, the Federal Economics Minister was here as a guest. This tradition has been continued today by the invitation extended to Minister Niebel. I think it is important for the Federal Government’s various ministries to pull together, especially when it comes to the economy and opening up markets and opportunities for our country in the interest of our prosperity and jobs. It is crucial that we maintain a consistent, shared position.
We have come together at a time when the German economy is doing well. That is by no means a matter of course. When this Federal Government first took office in the fall of 2009, we had set ourselves the ambitious goal of recovering the ground lost in the two previous years of recession by around 2013. Now it looks as if we will be able to achieve this goal not in 2013, but already in 2011. That is above all your success, guests from the business sector. It is the success of those who do business internationally and ensure that the recovery of the last two years brings prosperity for everyone again.
When I look around in many European countries, that is not a matter of course. Rather, many other countries in Europe and worldwide are envious of our success story. I think that many factors contribute to this. First of all, that we are a country with an international network. When you do not have substantial raw materials yourself, you need raw materials such as creativity, a cosmopolitan mindset, and international ties. We are a country that knows this. Our great advantage in the era of globalization is that our country is internationally connected. Who knows whether our economic orientation would be like this if we were a country rich in raw materials. Perhaps our economic structure would have relied too heavily on these resources. But as a country poor in raw materials we have become who we are today by using our connections, creativity, inventiveness, and industriousness. Also through quality and innovation in new export markets.
Through difficult changes, you, ladies and gentlemen and guests from the business community, have brought the German economy to the fore once again. Even with the success in exports, it is especially good to see that the recovery is now on sound footing in the domestic economy.
We are a country that is organized around small and middle sized companies to a large degree. That has been sniggered at often enough. Often enough, the question has been asked if that can work in a period of globalization in which larger and larger heavy-weights are necessary – we have those, too, as our guest speaker today proves. In the end we see that the German economy’s orientation towards small and middle sized companies is not a disadvantage, but a great advantage for our national economy. These complement each other very well. That is the reason “Made in Germany” enjoys such a good reputation all over the world.
The good figures are good news for entrepreneurs. But also good news for workers and unions. It is also good news for German foreign policy when Germany regains its economic strength. It is not only internationally strong on account of its good diplomats. It is strong because a strong German economy stands behind German foreign policy. Our country’s authority in the world is not due first and foremost to our disposing of especially strong armies or our military orientation, but rather that we are especially strong in one area: our economy. For that reason the time must come to an end when involving business is subject to initial suspicion. It is right to deconstruct this dichotomy. There is no contradiction. It is in Germany’s basic interest to do business actively all over the world. Those who do so should receive recognition and not critical scrutiny.
I remember a time when many companies were investing in Asian markets for the first time. The discussions as to whether jobs would be lost to foreign countries are still fresh in all our minds. Today we see, ladies and gentlemen, that investments by German companies in foreign countries have not led to jobs being moved abroad. The opposite is true: innumerable jobs in Germany have been created and secured. So what was originally seen with concern has now proven to be a stroke of good fortune. We recognized the changed conditions in the world in time. As an exporting country poor in raw materials, we can only be successful if we accept that our world is going through a period of upheaval and adjust to this fact politically and also economically. Our economic strength opens possibilities for political influence. Especially also in the foreign-policy field.
We want to use this influence abroad to help shape globalization. All over the world, we want to create framework conditions that encourage economic dynamism, not discourage it.
Take our involvement in North Africa. Germany supports the people there on their path to freedom, democracy, and economic development, because whether the changes in these countries can take hold also depends on whether they lead to appreciably more freedom and opportunities for personal prosperity.
The people in northern Africa did not take to the streets only to demand more democracy and political freedom, but also, ladies and gentlemen, because they rightly demand more personal opportunities.
That is something that concerns everyone here. The process of democratic transformation in northern Africa will only be successful if the economies in these countries are successful. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, if democracy does not produce a dividend for the people there – a democracy dividend in the sense of improving the personal opportunities of the families, the fates of the citizens in the region – then there is a danger that something very unpleasant might evolve from the fragile situation there.
Then there is the danger that fundamentalism might spread instead of democracy. And for that reason we have a common interest. You have an economic interest; we, as citizens, all have a political interest that democracy succeed in the transformation process in the region of North Africa. It will succeed through political support. But it will only succeed, if you are willing to invest and if you recognize that the regions are undergoing transformation. This is an opportunity. I would emphatically ask you to see it as such. And that means that we Europeans must learn our lesson from this. Whoever speaks of the transformation process succeeding in this region of North Africa, must also be ready to develop markets. But whoever does so must also be willing to open our own markets to the products of this region looking to find an outlet here. It is this connection between political transformation and economic development that I want to emphasize.
We have been offering our assistance to Tunisia and Egypt already since the beginning of the year within the framework of our transformation partnerships. In 2012 and 2013 alone we will make 100 million euro available to support democratization and the strengthening of civil society. We are working to see that products from these countries have easier access to EU markets. We want to promote professional qualifications and entrepreneurship in these countries.
I would therefore now like to thank the German business sector for their important involvement there. In Cairo, for example, an employment pact was just announced that is intended to bring jobs for 5000 Egyptian youth. With the dual system of vocational training, German employers have a successful model that is in demand worldwide. Yes, we have marvellous universities. Yes, we have excellent academic training in Germany. Still, some people underestimate what really makes a good impression internationally: our vocational training, our dual system of vocational training. It has become a real export hit.
Also in Tunisia, the Embassy, the GIZ, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Goethe-Institut have initiated many good things in cooperation with German companies. I thank all those involved for their efforts.
We also want to help the people in Libya rebuild their country and support them in building up democratic structures.
Building up institutions and good governance are the keys to democratization and help the local citizens. Good governance strengthens the reliability of a country and thus also creates the framework necessary for new investments, because people only invest in places where there is reliability through good governance.
Political action encompasses far more than what governments do. When politics and business work hand in hand, we can achieve more for the local people and for our own country. Internationally, Germany is much sought-after as a partner. Especially because the German companies have such an excellent reputation. We are reliable. That is the reputation Germans have – in politics and in business. We do not enter countries to make short-term investments and extract profits. German business philosophy and German political philosophy is to be involved in countries in the long run, to form partnerships on equal terms. That is why we have such a good international reputation in this area. We want to help create conditions that allow self-sustaining economies to develop.
For that reason the Business Forum at the Ambassadors Conference has been important to me from the beginning: I believe that the heads of our 229 missions abroad really are ready to advise and assist you. The amount of positive feedback reinforces my own opinion of this, but I also know the critical objections to this – and those are being dealt with – but I think that given our networks in host countries our missions abroad can help remove some obstacles or prevent them from coming up in the first place. The necessity of supporting business politically has not diminished, but rather increased in importance. In terms of external economic promotion, we are paying special attention to the small and medium sized companies as the backbone of the German economy. But also other companies with their own offices all over the world can count on us when they need us.
On the other hand, if a large company has an international network of its own, it also has the possibility of maintaining offices, of exerting political influence itself, and finding the right points of contact on its own. A small or middle sized company on the other hand needs the structure and connections of our missions abroad, because on account of its size it cannot afford offices all over the world and still remain competitive. That is why our foreign policy strategy is especially geared towards small and medium sized companies, without underestimating the role and task of the big companies.
As an exporting country, Germany depends on its openness and connections.
That is not just theoretical politics; that is the resulting practical implementation. I am thinking, for example, and I want to mention this here openly, of our visa policy. I know that, here in Germany, supporting the idea that our visa policy towards certain countries must be liberalized is met with some reservations at first. Does that put security at risk? Would we be in danger of uncontrolled immigration as the result of such a liberalized visa policy?
I believe we must rethink this. We do not need a visa policy that scares people away or a prohibitive policy. We need a visa policy that understands that our prosperity derives from our openness. We must therefore tear down the barriers and ensure that business people and students come to Germany. We should invite them to come, ladies and gentlemen.
For me that is a central task that we have implemented in this past year. I am thinking of several Balkan countries, for which we eliminated the visa requirements. We are working on steps towards liberalizing the visa policy for Russia and Ukraine. Especially business travellers profit from our increased issuing of multi-year visas and other simplified procedures. We have introduced cashless payments of fees and are working on other improvements towards a more customer-friendly visa procedure.
I still clearly remember a meeting that happened when I had just assumed the office of Federal Foreign Minister. I was on my first trip to the Gulf States and had a private discussion with the representative of a country that I will not mention now. He told me of a family member, addressed as Royal Highness. He told me of the odyssey undertaken in the desperate quest to visit business partners of many years in German for a meeting. He told me of the very important question asked as to whether this member of the family, a Royal Highness, had sufficient funds to guarantee that the German tax-payer would definitely not have to fund the return trip. For this family member I can assure you the only question was whether to take a commercial flight or one or two planes of his own. And that, ladies and gentlemen, I must say belongs in the past. We are missing out on business opportunities if we close up and isolate ourselves. We should rather open up and be happy when investments are made here.
Because Germany depends on international ties, we must see the world as it is and not as it was. And that is my last point, ladies and gentlemen, before I make my closing remarks.
It used to be that the emerging economies were dependent on economic trends in the industrialized countries. Today, economic tendencies in the industrialized countries depend on the dynamics of the emerging economies. That is not a world turned up-side down. That is our world. That is the world we live in, even if we do not really like it yet.
This especially holds true for Asia, which has been developing dynamically for years. The development of our foreign trade profits much from growing markets in this region of the world. That German companies are successful in Asia and particularly in China is demonstrated by a company like Siemens.
These changes can also be felt in the booming, pulsating megacities of the societies seeking to make progress. Everyone is talking about the BRICS countries. Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.
But a number countries have started to emerge that also lay claim to having a spot in the top league soon. Whoever thinks that that is impossible should recall where China stood a little more that 30 years ago after the decision by the Communist Party to open up in 1979.
These countries who are our competitors and partners on a level playing field in the world economy were traditional developing countries when we were young. This is completely different now. It is a big mistake to think that this process is over following the rise of these countries. That is why it is right for us to keep our eyes open with respect to other countries. Viet Nam for example. Colombia, to mention a country in an underestimated continent underestimated even by Germany. Many other countries in transition and upheaval, including also in our immediate neighbourhood, Turkey.
On this point, ladies and gentlemen, we will have to change our way of thinking. The economic rise of these countries means that they are also a political force without which we cannot negotiate and agree global solutions. Our calling card is trust; trust is the German calling card. And it is first and foremost you who print the German calling card for the world. It is presented and represented by German business and the impression of Germany it leaves behind. One of the nicest experiences on trips abroad is seeing how often the host countries praise Germany, and German companies in particular, for reliability, for seeking partnerships and not short-term profit.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is also because you embody values for example health insurance for employees, for example environmental protection standards on issues that are at least as important for quality of life as the job itself.
German companies not only create jobs, they also create excellent working conditions in the host countries. That is also a wonderful calling card for Germany.
We know that we have to change our way of thinking. In a world with 7 billion people we can only solve the political and global problems with these new heavy-weights and centres of power.
Dirk Niebel will speak about an inter-ministry concept for energy and raw material partnerships, so I will not say more about these important areas.
Finally, let me say again that we should not forget that our success depends significantly on having embedded ourselves in Europe.
I know that there is much critical discussion at the moment when it comes to Europe. And this is no surprise given the crises we are currently having to deal with. But I think we should never forget what we have in Europe. Whoever talks about the price of a thing without mentioning its value, says and sees too little. And therefore we should always bear in mind that Europe means more to us than just the peace policy issue it was, is, and will remain. We must bear in mind that our European single market, our European cooperation is an essential prerequisite for our economic success in times of upheaval, times of demographic shifts, and times of a new global political architecture. We must support and also protect Europe, when it is threatened by renationalizing tendencies.
Ladies and gentlemen, Europe needs advocates, especially when it is called into question. Now, as I close, I want to encourage you to be advocates. You, above all, know how important Europe is not only as a market, but as a centre of power, our centre of power, to hold our own in a world of upheaval.
Thank you for your attention and I wish happiness and health to you all. Because everyone knows how I think politically, I allow myself to add: I explicitly wish you good business! Thank you very much.