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Ladies and Gentlemen,
I bid you a very warm welcome to the Federal Foreign Office.
German businesses, and in particular the Mittelstand, are doing better now than they’ve done for many years. Employment figures are at a record high and unemployment is falling. When Germany’s economy is thriving, that’s also good news for German foreign policy.
For Germany’s influence in the world has nothing to do with the size of our armed forces. Our influence in the world has to do with astute diplomacy, humanitarian engagement and, not least, economic strength.
It’s not only German companies’ products and services that are held in high regard abroad. Just about everywhere I go, our partners raise the subject of Germany’s dual system of vocational training.
The German system of dual vocational training is becoming a real export hit “Made in Germany”.
Many companies have for decades been exporting not only products but also vocational training: Siemens in North Carolina, Volkswagen in Brazil, Festo in China, to name but a few. Providing training on the ground underlines German companies’ strategy abroad: it is not just a matter of a quick profit, but of a long term, mutually beneficial partnership between equals.
Our dual system of vocational training ensures well trained workers and low youth unemployment. By combining practical work in companies and theory in the classroom, it makes it easier for young people to embark on working life.
In the US President Obama recently praised the German system because it prepares young people thoroughly for the specialist requirements of the world of work. The European Commission, too, has recommended that the top quality dual system of vocational training be extended.
And my Indian counterpart raised this subject with me once again at our intergovernmental consultations a couple of weeks ago. India’s population will soon be three times that of the entire European Union. Education and training for the younger generation is a strategic question for a country with that kind of demographic development.
A global shift is taking place. As a result of demographic developments, new centres of power are emerging in the world. Europe accounts for an ever smaller share of the world population.
China is now the world’s second largest economy. Brazil has overtaken Britain.
The new centres of power are demonstrating remarkable economic success and are rightly claiming a bigger say in international politics.
The German Government has clearly said that it aims to nurture old partnerships and establish new ones.
Germany needs to build networks with the world’s new powerhouses early on, or at the latest in time. Precisely because it thrives on exports, both openness and interconnectedness are essential to Germany. That’s not just political theory.
Take visa policy. We want a modern visa policy which allows people to meet, not one that ensures they’re kept apart.
Together with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research we have developed concepts designed to support dual vocational training abroad. In doing so, Germany is responding to requests from many partners. And we are helping to ensure a supply of skilled workers by encouraging companies to imitate successful models.
There’s a pilot project running in Thailand with three German firms. There are various cooperation projects with Russia and the US. And the Federal Government is in dialogue with Mexico, China and Viet Nam.
Eighty of our missions abroad will launch vocational training initiatives on the ground in cooperation with the chambers of commerce abroad. With its wealth of experience with dual vocational training, the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) is our natural partner.
We are working to open Germany up for trainees from non EU countries by liberalizing the rules on residence and work permits.
We want trainees to be treated in the same way as students.
Education is the most important resource in an era of globalization. Access to good education decides on whether a person can advance. The quality of a society’s education system decides whether it will rise or fall.
That’s why the German Government has very deliberately made education and training one of the key focuses of its work.
No previous German Government has invested so much in education.
Our country’s future will be decided not only by its education policy, but above all by whether or not Europe succeeds in holding its own as a community with a shared culture and common destiny in a changing world.
Germany is relatively big within Europe, but relatively small in the world as a whole.
Only if we Europeans work together can we successfully defend our values, our freedom and our lifestyle in this age of globalization.
Europe is more than a market and a currency. Europe is Germany’s future.