Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper to students at Yerevan State University

17.04.2012 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year Armenia and Germany are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. That is an occasion for great happiness, one specially honoured by Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle when he visited Yerevan last month. My visit to Yerevan comes in this context as well.

Germany was one of the first countries to recognize Armenia’s independence in early 1992. Since then, we have been close partners with Armenia on its path forward. Although, seen against the broad sweep of history, Armenia has only been on this path for a short period of time, its accomplishments are considerable. Still, much remains to be done. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German reunification in 1990, we Germans also know how difficult the process of building up a country is. I am pleased to see how close and intense our relations have become. To give just one example, I think our cooperation is exemplary in the area of promoting justice and the rule of law, which we hold to be of great significance in Armenia’s process of growing closer to the EU, a process we see as especially important since it became a partner country in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership in 2009.

Two years ago, the EU began association negotiations with Armenia. Their successful conclusion will be a milestone in relations between the EU and Armenia, and I am pleased that 24 of the 27 chapters have already been closed. A little more than a month ago, the path was cleared to begin negotiations on a deeper, comprehensive free-trade agreement with the EU. This is another important signal and I encourage Armenia to continue down this path. Especially you, the young generation, will profit enormously from this. It is clear that we do not only share a common past in many ways, but also a common future.

Getting closer to Europe does not only entail economic reforms. Europe is much more than a common market; it is a community of values to which we are all committed. This community of values has many aspects: democracy, the rule of law, freedom, and the protection of human rights. In the course of growing closer to the EU, we expect our partners to subscribe to these values. With this in mind, I think the upcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia on 6 May are extremely important. Especially given the events in March 2008, I welcome the promise of the President to guarantee free and fair elections. This also applies to the Armenian government’s inviting the OSCE to send an election observation mission. Free and pluralistic reporting by the press will also be very important.

The process of European integration was anything but linear: it was painful and full of set backs. One principal consideration – arising from the horrific experience of two world wars on the European continent – is at the core of this process: thinking only in terms of the nation-state must be overcome and borders transcended. Making national borders less relevant was one crucial aspect. This was achieved through free movement of people, free trade in goods, and also through common institutions and a common currency.

At the same time, Europe is also a peace project. Reconciliation thus stood at the beginning of European integration. Think of the traditional enmity between Germany and France until the middle of the last century. Through an intensive and honest process of reconciliation, we have arrived at the point where we can today speak of a German-French motor for integration. The same is true for German-Polish reconciliation, which, given our fraught joint history, was no less difficult. At the end of last month, newly elected Federal President Joachim Gauck thus went to Warsaw on his first trip abroad. It was a highly symbolic signal.

I would hope that the countries in this region would be encouraged by this to pursue the path of mediation and reconciliation. I think also here of the rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. It saddens me to see that the Zurich Protocols of 2009, which met with great expectations, still have not been ratified. I encourage both sides not to let up in their efforts to achieve reconciliation and to come to terms with their common history by working through it. The German Government will provide support for this course to the best of its ability.

The unresolved conflicts in the Southern Caucasus are not only a danger for peace and stability in the region. They are obstacles in the path to developing prosperity in all three countries. The German Government thus supports the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to find a peaceful solution to the conflict over Nagorny Karabakh, but is concerned both by the lack of progress on the issue and the recurring incidents along the contact line. It is time to take courageous steps towards conflict resolution and confidence building. You, the young generation, are important bridge-builders in this process.

Building bridges and bringing people together, above all young people, that is very important to me and it is also an important aspect of our cultural relations and education policy. That is the cultural dimension of German foreign policy and one of its cornerstones.

Germany’s cultural relations and education policy is based on reciprocity, on exchange and cooperation. It is designed to help peoples and cultures meet and get to know each other, so that understanding and respect for the other may grow on both sides.

For a country poor in natural resources as Germany is, education is an important factor and culture is a significant export. However, this is also true for all other countries: education is crucial to a society’s long-term success. Scientific comparisons show that the differences in the quality of education can be the root of the differences in GDP of industrialized countries. An investment in education is thus an investment in the future. Anyone who wants to survive in the global competition for the highest innovation potential has to offer the best opportunities to the smartest minds with the most creative ideas. That is the challenge faced by all countries today.

We are thus working to create a cross-border European higher education area, for example. The Bologna Process laid down European standards to meet the challenges of international competition. By implementing the Bologna Process we are overcoming obstacles to mobility that grow out of the national differences in the university system. We are working to make international networking among universities and research institutes easier and stronger.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) supports this process in many ways. In 2011, for example, it made it possible for over 285 Armenians to study in Germany. We want even more of you to come to Germany to study and get to know our country.

But we also want to know more about Armenia. The Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg thus established a chair in Armenian studies in 2010. The university also has an institute for Armenian studies unique to Germany in the Mesrop Center, which was founded in 1998. We have great respect for Armenia’s rich cultural heritage, which has been influential far beyond the country’s borders.

Students and instructors in both Germany and Armenia profit from our academic cooperation. Our programmes do not concentrate solely on higher education: with the initiative “Schools: Partners for the Future” – or PASCH for short –, we connect schools in which German is taught worldwide. Four schools in Armenia now belong to this network. They receive support and material from Germany for their German courses; continuing education programmes and language courses are on offer for teachers and pupils.

The Goethe-Institut’s new language learning centre in Yerevan is another place to receive information about the German language and German culture. It offers German language instruction and facilitates networking with Germany. Germany has always profited from cultural exchange with other countries, and thus values global education partnerships highly, aiming to develop the educational programmes of the future together. For we need to apply shared knowledge to find joint solutions in order to meet the global challenges of today.

Former Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher once said: “Given our historical background, German cultural relations policy can only be understood as part of a world-wide policy of peace, striving for partnerships among equals.” That is still true in today’s globalized world. Our world has become smaller. Crises in parts of the world considered distant can affect us directly. New, global challenges such as climate change, international terrorism, or crises on the international financial markets can only be met if we work together. To do so we must take part in a global discussion. Mutual trust is important for this. Trust does not appear overnight. It grows slowly through knowledge and positive experiences. The goal of German cultural relations and education policy is to bring about both. Direct contacts with people in other countries are established, helping to overcome what separates us. This way, the development of stable international ties based on trust is advanced. This is an important contribution to world peace and to strengthening democracy and the rule of law.

One special thing about German cultural relations policy is its structure. This structure gives participating organizations a high degree of autonomy and values their independence. The Goethe-Institut and the German Academic Exchange Service are thus state-funded, but not run by the state. They do their work independently and autonomously. This is due to our conviction that politics should not influence culture. The task of politics is rather to create the conditions necessary for cultural diversity to develop.

Education is a specific priority of the German Government. This priority expresses itself not only in the budget, but also in the emphasis and weight placed on education at home and abroad. This is the key issue for us both nationally and internationally. It is up to us to ensure education and vocational training, as well as research and science, receive the appropriate backing and necessary support worldwide. Education gives people wings. This usefulness of education, science, and vocational training should not be underestimated.

Part of a comprehensive education is a knowledge of foreign languages. Today, English is a requirement for almost every profession and so wide-spread that a knowledge of English usually does not give graduates a competitive advantage any more. A second, or even third, language however, helps graduates set themselves apart from the crowd and represents a further qualification that simultaneously grants them access to other countries and an understanding of their cultures. As regards Germany, those of you who are already learning German know what I mean. I can only encourage the rest of you to take advantage of the various opportunities to learn German. It will only be to your advantage.

Education is the most important resource in an era of globalization. It is the key to professional success and can open doors even outside of the professional sphere. I say this to you because you are young students. You are the ones, who can help shape the future of your country. You should take advantage of this opportunity. With what German cultural relations and education policy has to offer, we want to continue to support you on this path as best we can.

Thank you.

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