Interview with Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier published in Romanian on the Romanian news portal hotnews.ro on 8 March 2015.
What’s the purpose of your visit to Romania shortly after the visit to Germany by President Johannis and which meetings are on your schedule?
I will be visiting a partner with whom Germany has close historical and cultural as well as political ties. A key aim of my talks in Bucharest with the President, the Prime Minister and my opposite number will be to develop ideas and initiatives together on where Germany and Romania can work even closer together. I also want to highlight the growing economic links and the traditionally strong interpersonal ties between our two countries. This is illustrated firstly by the fact that a major German logistics company is opening an important new base in Bucharest during my visit. And secondly, I’m looking forward to visiting Sibiu. During my first term of office, I celebrated New Year 2006/2007 in Sibiu when Romania joined the European Union. In Sibiu, I’d like to pay tribute to the special role which the German minority, with its almost 900‑year history, continues to play as a link between Germany and Romania. As the body which represents the interests of the German minority, the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania, whose 25th anniversary we’re honouring in a ceremony, made a valuable contribution towards the democratic transformation process in Romania after 1989.
The election of Klaus Johannis as the new Romanian President seems to have injected fresh impetus into German-Romanian relations. What role do you see for Romania within the context of German foreign policy?
We’re cooperating with Romania in a spirit of mutual trust on both the European and the international stage. Romania deserves respect and recognition for what it has achieved during the last 25 years. As partners in the European Union, we jointly face the task of credibly strengthening and protecting our European values of democracy and the rule of law internally. In an international context, both our countries are concerned about the changed security situation in our immediate neighbourhood. This is not only a common theme in the EU but also shapes our cooperation and solidarity in NATO. I therefore welcome Romania’s announcement that it intends to step up its commitment within NATO even more. Germany, too, is very much involved in the Alliance’s reassurance and adaptation measures. We’re prepared to contribute to the NATO Force Integration Units to be set up in NATO’s eastern region and to the Multinational Divisional Headquarters in Romania.
Germany is investing heavily in Romania’s economy. How do you assess the interest of German companies in new investments in Romania or in partnerships with Romanian businesses?
The long-standing and strong presence of German investors in Romania shows how much interest there is. Romania still has great potential as a location for business. German companies find motivated and well-trained labour here and there are some locations with a long industrial tradition. However, when it comes to investment, we mustn’t forget that there’s a lot of competition in Europe. If Romania wants to attract new investors and develop more sophisticated business sectors, it will have to continue working on its competitiveness. I’ve heard from our contacts with business people that the development of infrastructure, and even more so legal certainty, fair public tenders and efficient administration would be considerable pluses in Romania’s favour when it comes to future decisions on investment.
As for the German minority in Romania, is the German Government intending to introduce new support programmes?
The German minority in Romania is a key historical, cultural and linguistic link between our two countries and societies. The fact that today there are more than 70 German-language study programmes at Romanian universities shows how deeply anchored the German language and education tradition continue to be in Romania. The German Government has regular consultations with the institutions and representatives of the German minority in Romania and supports their activities. For example, we intend to help maintain the German-language school education system in Romania, which enjoys nationwide recognition, by funding a programme which supports teachers at the German minority’s schools in Romania. Of course, all of this and other activities are being carried out in close coordination with the Romanian Government. Relations between the German minority and the wider society in Romania seem to work. It would be desirable, looking at the internal conflicts within many other societies, if the situation was similar in other countries.
The Republic of Moldova is extremely important to Romania. What’s Germany’s position on the prolonged Transdniestria conflict? Do you believe that Moldova can realistically aim to join the EU as long as Transdniestria is part of it?
Moldova has placed its relations with the European Union on a new footing with the signing of the EU Association Agreement. This is a good basis for Moldovan-European relations – although this is not about EU membership but, rather, about offering Chisinau greater cooperation with the EU and assistance with modernising Moldova. We want to do all we can to support Moldova as it carries out reforms. Naturally, the same applies to dealing with the difficult conflict in Transdniestria. Germany has long since been working to bring forward the 5+2 peace process and will continue this commitment.
The situation in Ukraine is the most serious conflict on our continent. Is Germany satisfied with the level of compliance with the Minsk Protocol by its signatories – or should the sanctions against Russia be stepped up now?
With the package of measures agreed on in Minsk on 12 February, we succeeded in reaching agreement on quite concrete steps towards implementing the Minsk Protocol of September 2014. However, it’s also clear that ultimately, it’s not what’s on paper that counts but what has actually been put into practice. The situation at the front has quietened down considerably and both sides – the Ukrainian army and the separatists – have finally started withdrawing heavy weapons. All of this is not enough by far, but at least we can now see some movement in the right direction. I hope it’ll be possible to build on this so that further progress can be made on other points in the Minsk Protocol. There’s no doubt that a difficult road lies ahead and that we can’t rule out any setbacks. However, it would be a mistake to believe that sanctions or even weapons supplies would solve the Ukraine conflict.