Last year Germany marked 20 years of reunification. As the nation celebrates the beginning of the third decade of the historic event, please share with us the key achievements of Germany as an unified nation.
The events in 1989-90 are a milestone in German history. They brought freedom to 17mn Germans in the eastern part of the country, free elections, freedom of expression, information and media, the end of censorship, torture and totalitarian rule, the freedom of movement, reunification not only of the country but also of many divided families, an economic, monetary and social union, a shared parliament through elections and unity as one country.
As a result of the so-called ‘2+4 treaty’ (two Germanys and the four powers which occupied Germany at the end of World War II in Europe: France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States of America) which came into force in March 1991 after ratification by all contracting parties, the victorious powers of WWII relinquished their rights and responsibilities: Germany regained its full sovereignty. It also led to the final agreement on Germany’s borders, Germany’s foregoing of NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) weapons and the reduction of German troops. Russian troops and troops of the Western Allies stationed in Germany left in 1994.
The exceptional character of this treaty as a legal framework for Germany’s unification is highlighted by the fact that it was recognised by UNESCO as a world document in 2011.
The economic, social and monetary unity was only achieved through a huge burden on the population. Productivity in the eastern part of the country was only one-third of that in the West. The problem of antiquated technology, ailing infrastructure and insolvency of many businesses when exposed to the market economy had to be solved.
Through the so-called Solidarity Pact I (1993 to 2004) a new solidarity tax was imposed on the population which aimed at raising the East German economy to the level of that in the West by injecting €€94.5bn over the course of ten years as financial equalisation. Through the Solidarity Pact II (2005 to 2019) further €156.5bn have been allocated to reduce the burden caused by the former division of the country. This means that every German tax payer is still contributing to the prosperity and the development of the once divided country.
When Muscat Daily spoke to you last year, you had stressed that the reunification of Germany wouldn’t have been such a success without the formation of the European Union (EU). Now we are witnessing EU facing huge economic challenges and Germany playing an important role in resolving the issues arising out of the situation. What is the road ahead for Germany and the EU as an economic bloc amid the current financial crisis?
Germany is one of the founding members of the European Union. The support of the European idea is an indispensable part of our politics and of our identity. The EU is a community based on solidarity. In light of the exceptionally difficult situation we are facing at present, and the nervousness of the financial markets, Germany and its partners act with great responsibility and seriousness.
The Bundestag - Germany’s parliament - passed on September 29 a crucial vote on more guarantees for the expanded European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). The Bundestag increased the German liability in an euro bailout to €211bn (up from €123bn). This was not an easy task. This decision is an important contribution to solving the debt crisis and to stabilising the Euro. It is also a strong assurance to our European partners that they can count on Germany. Of course, there is a need to reshape Europe into a union of stability. European solidarity and fiscal solidarity must go hand in hand.
How do you plan to celebrate the Burgerfest in Oman? Are there special events lined up for the German expatriates here?
This year’s official celebration in Germany will take place in the city of Bonn in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia under the heading ‘Freedom, Unity, Joy’. Every year the celebration of the ‘Day of Unity’ takes place in a different federal state which underlines the federal character of the Federal Republic of Germany. Our Head of State, Federal President Christian Wulff will be present as well as members of government, parliament and dignitaries, among them the ambassadors accredited to Germany, representatives from the economic and cultural world, people who witnessed the peaceful revolution and who took part in it.
Also, citizens and associations will participate in the official celebrations, among them many who volunteer for building bridges between the eastern and western parts of our country.
In Muscat, we will celebrate as every year with a reception for the German community and our Omani and other foreign friends.
Would you like to give a special message to German expatriates and also to the people of Oman on the occasion?
I would like to greet the German community on this occasion which has been steadily growing in number over the past two years. I wish them all well. This day is a source of joy for all of us. To the people of Oman, I would like to extend our thanks for their hospitality and friendship.
How have you seen the German-Omani relationship evolving in the last few years? Which are the new areas of cooperation?
German-Omani relations have continued to flourish over the past few years. This year we had two important visits of members of the German government to the sultanate.
The then Minister of Health, Dr Philipp Rösler (who recently became Minister of Economies and Technology) paid a visit to Oman in the beginning of the year and signed a memorandum of understanding with his Omani counterpart, H E Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Obaid al Saeedi, on strengthening our cooperation in the field of health.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visited the sultanate in May. I just bid farewell to 140 Omani students who will leave for Germany in a few days. In the framework of a special programme by the Omani government to increase the number of Omani students to study abroad, the group will start university studies in Germany. This is a major boost for the cultural exchange between our two countries as it brings up the number of Omani students in Germany to well over 200.
In 2012, Oman and Germany will celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations.
Germany has always been one of Oman’s key economic partners. What are the latest trade figures between both countries?
In 2010, the total volume of trade between Germany and Oman accumulated to €€564mn, out of which €€546mn were exports from Germany to Oman and €18mn vice versa.
Germany is the fifth largest trading partner of the sultanate. It has been a reliable trading partner for Oman during the last four decades. German companies are known to provide cutting edge technology and top quality expertise - not only in Oman but all over the world.
With their custom-tailored solutions and sustainability-oriented approach they enjoy an excellent reputation in the sultanate.
You had expressed hope for a growth in the tourism sector. Have the trends lived up to your expectations?
For the last two years Oman Air has been operating direct flights between Muscat and Frankfurt and Munich. In addition to the already existing daily flights by our national carrier Lufthansa and other carriers from Germany to Muscat with short stop-overs, this has more than doubled the flight-arrivals of passengers from Germany. The recent decision to select Muscat as the Arab Tourism Capital 2012 as well as major tourism development projects in various parts of the country will further boost the number of foreign visitors in Oman.
The stability of the sultanate and the hospitality of its people make Oman a prime destination for German tourists in the region. And, let me add that, the interest of young Omanis in studying German and in Germany will further develop our ties in this sector.
Which are the new potential sectors identified for bilateral trade and investment?
As you know, Germany as one of the major industrial nations has just laid the legal foundation for a turn-around in its supply of energy. New and renewable energy will play a significant role by the end of the decade. It is obvious that this process will only be possible with the backbone of Germany’s knowledge and leading technology in this sector.
Oman, on the other hand, has a huge potential to use renewable energy, in particular solar and wind power. Thus, I can foresee a close cooperation in this area which will benefit both of our nations.
Other sectors will be water and waste management, environmental technology, transport and logistics in particular with regard to the upcoming railway-project. Based on the already mentioned memorandum of understanding our bilateral cooperation in health issues will be an interesting area of closer cooperation.
Having in mind the demographic situation in the sultanate and given our expertise in this field I estimate a big potential for cooperation in professional training.