An interview by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Published in Sri Lankan newspaper Daily FT on 22 September 2015.
Sri Lanka’s government is making fresh efforts towards reconciliation through increased engagement with the international community including United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). At this point what would you see as the key concerns for Sri Lanka and how can it continue to improve its international image?
Germany and the international community welcome that Sri Lanka has taken several important steps towards reconciliation in recent months. Government officials and in particular Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, have emphasized the strong political will to achieve reconciliation.
However, major challenges lie ahead. Sri Lanka needs to address the issue of political and historical accountability – a difficult and complex task that requires a consultative process with multiple stakeholders. Other urgent issues such as resettlement and livelihood development also need to be addressed. Government policy can promote national integration and thus further improve Sri Lanka’s international standing.
How can the global community including Germany assist the Sri Lankan government to have an internationally credible reconciliation process?
Germany has been active for many years, for example with trainings for civil servants, teachers and policemen. As Media play a crucial role in the reconciliation process we are co-financing a training workshop for journalists next month that will give an insight in conflict sensitive reporting.
The international community and the UN have offered technical support and assistance to ensure that international standards are respected and a domestic mechanism can be credible and trustworthy in view of the affected communities. Together with our international partners we have encouraged the Sri Lankan government through UNHRC resolutions to undertake a credible reconciliation process. With the help of the international community significant progress has already been made in demining, resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation since 2009.
What lessons can Sri Lanka learn from Germany’s post-war journey? Economically and socially.
Every country and region has to find its own way towards reconciliation and common national identity. Therefore I am cautious with historical comparisons, parallels and suggestions. We can only talk about our experiences in Germany and see what might be of interest to you in Sri Lanka.
Very soon, on 3rd October we are going to celebrate 25th anniversary of the German reunification. Before and shortly after the reunification in 1990, expectations in East and West Germany were very high. Many thought that it would be possible to achieve equal living conditions within a few years. Reality has taught us the lesson that the situation was more difficult. Germany’s economic and social reintegration has been longer and more arduous than anticipated at the moment of euphoria after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although not all expectations could be met, our society has achieved a lot – including a broadly accepted reconciliation process that required political determination.
Sri Lanka’s post-war journey towards establishing a vibrant democracy will also need political determination and time. We are already noticing positive signs such as the naming of the first Tamil Opposition Leader in more than three decades and the removal of the checkpoint at Omanthai.
Sri Lanka is working to regain GSP+ to boost its exports. How can the German government assist this endeavor? What can be done by both sides?
Germany will actively support Sri Lanka’s moves towards regaining the GSP+ facility. However, it is not possible to comply overnight with the requirements for EU's “Generalised Scheme of Preferences” (GSP) allowing developing country exporters to pay less or no duties on their exports to the EU. We encourage Sri Lanka to strive towards achieving the universal conditions, given the immense benefits to Sri Lankan economy. I am convinced that the Sri Lankan government will do its utmost to implement the necessary steps. GSP+ could give a significant additional boost to the exports from Sri Lanka to the EU.
How can Germany support overall economic development in Sri Lanka? How does Germany see its relationship with Sri Lanka growing in the coming years?
Germany has been supporting Sri Lanka’s economic and social development for more than 60 years. Today we are above all actively promoting vocational training and SME development. We anticipate new perspectives for further expanding the bilateral economic relations and we encourage German companies to explore direct foreign investments and other business opportunities in Sri Lanka.
I am confident that the Sri Lankan Government is intent on doing more to create an environment conducive for investment in order to attract more foreign investment. Securing a level playing field, promoting transparent regulatory policies and streamlining administrative procedures for FDI are important elements in this endeavor.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka for the first time ever and to discuss all those issues with my counterpart Mangala Samaraweera, whom I will meet for the third time in seven months and other representatives of the Sri Lankan state, society and economy. I am convinced that our countries have all that it takes to foster a good, profound and trustful cooperation in the times to come. I look forward to further intensifying all aspects of our bilateral relationship.
Interviewer: Uditha Jayasinghe