German Ambassador in Baku, Mr. Wolgang Manig, in an interview with Azeri Observer speaks about the main priorities of his country during the upcoming EU presidency, excellent trade opportunities between Azerbaijan and Germany as well as Europe, and the promising areas of cooperation during the period of the fourth industrial revolution. He also shares his view on the prospects of development of cultural ties between our countries and the rising popularity in learning the German language and education among the Azerbaijani youth.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: Germany is assuming the EU presidency in the second half of 2020. What will be your country’s priorities for the upcoming Presidency, in particular with respect to the South Caucasus and Azerbaijan?
Answer: The chair of the European Union rotates every six months. Until 2009, each presidency presented its program and its ambitions for the upcoming semester. However, in order for Europe to retain its strength, the Union must be able to act with determination. Therefore, it is not enough to start from the beginning every six months . In order to create strength and resolution, Germany and the following chairs, Portugal and Slovenia will act together in a triple-presidency. All three upcoming chairs will closely coordinate their programs and will perform their chairmanship collectively in the next few months. Central topics are already emerging. Future relations between the EU and China rank among one of the most important issues. Europe must not become a pawn in the hands of other powers’ policies. Therefore, while we will deepen our engagement with China to promote common global interests, the EU will also, based on clearly defined principles and interests, robustly seek more balanced and reciprocal conditions governing its economic and political relationship with China. Secondly, the Western Balkans require the close attention of Europe – our neighbors’ efforts to stabilize, develop, foster democracy and freedom, and finally set a path to economic growth, should be honored by the EU by making good on its commitment to these states to eventually become members of the Union.
Thirdly, for Europe to maintain its prosperity and leading global role, considerable investment in the digitizing economy and industry 4.0 model will be required. The triple-presidency will attach attention to the multiannual financial framework to adapt to changing economic and technological realities to make Europe fit for the future. As far as the South Caucasus and particularly Azerbaijan is concerned, the triple-presidency is determined to create an environment, which will contribute to stability and peace. Our preferred instrument remains the Eastern Partnership. The summit in Zagreb in spring 2020 will take stock of the goals achieved and open the fields to additional activities. We will invite the three governments of the South Caucasus to cooperate closely in the Eastern Partnership. Currently, there is still room for improvement, as we strive for transparency, political and economic participation of the wider parts of society.
Q.: Do you expect any high level visits from Germany to Azerbaijan and vice-versa in near future?
A.: The exchange of visitors between Germany and Azerbaijan is impressive. The quality of cordial relations, however, is not defined by the frequency of high-ranking visitors. What is more important is the establishment of a closely connected chain of communication among the central, regional and even municipal governments. Nevertheless, we are looking forward to hosting H.E. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov, at the Munich Security Conference early next year.
Q.: Azerbaijan is the biggest trade partner of Germany in the South Caucasus. Do you see prospects to increase our trade turnover further?
A.: Azerbaijan offers excellent trade opportunities. Together with the Azerbaijan-German Chamber of Commerce (AHK), our Embassy permanently explores possibilities to further improve business relations. I am convinced that following the conclusion of a new agreement between Azerbaijan and the European Union, with a comprehensive trade chapter, the trade turnover of Azerbaijan not only with Germany, but also with Europe as a whole, will increase considerably.
Q.: Azerbaijan is working on the diversification of its economy and is interested in the development of the non-oil sector. What Azerbaijani non-oil products could be in demand in the German market?
A.: I welcome the modernization of the Azerbaijan economy. It is necessary to create a resilient economy against the volatility of the oil price and future oil demand. The creation of jobs in the oil and gas sector is also increasingly limited in times of industry 4.0.
Diversification therefore opens the way for new fields of economic activities. Germany – both by German development agency GIZ and the Azerbaijan-German Chamber of Commerce – supports vocational training and sustainable economic development in Azerbaijan as a precondition for strengthening the non-oil sector. With the twinning-projects of the Eastern Partnership of the EU, Germany is one of the most active partners in this particular field of EU-Azerbaijan cooperation. I will explain why the simple export of goods from Azerbaijan to Germany is not the core of the issue. Germany expects an excellent cooperation in agriculture, in the health sector, in the field of renewable energy, in logistics, and in tourism. A digitalized agro industry can compete with the world market. German expertise in highly sophisticated health technology can assist Azerbaijan in creating an attractive regional health hub, which can offer treatment to patients of the greater Middle East and Central Asian region.
The use of renewable energy in Azerbaijan leaves certain quantities of oil and gas for export and for the refining of oil products in petrochemical installations, thus improving the added value remaining in Azerbaijan. Already today, Germany is actively modernizing Azerbaijani ports, in the framework of the OSCE 2nd dimension. The “Green Port Project” is the cornerstone of a sustainable transport corridor parallel to existing links. Finally, Azerbaijan offers breath-taking landscapes, a rich culture and a broad variety of activities for foreign visitors. I would like to invite Azerbaijan, notwithstanding from a reciprocal decision of the Schengen States, to lift the visa requirement for visitors from Europe. The current system, comprising the e-Visa and application forms is not a technical but a psychological threshold, which restricts tourists from Germany.
Q.: Do you see any new opportunities for investment cooperation between our countries?
A.: I am closely observing the efforts of the government of Azerbaijan to modernize the economic framework conditions. I have learnt with great interest that H.E. President Aliyev issued a decree promulgating the cooperation with the International Finance Corporation – a member of the World Bank family – to elaborate a Foreign Direct Investment Strategy, including the necessary legislation. I am convinced that German investors will look for investment opportunities in Azerbaijan as soon as the framework conditions are convenient. The structure of the German economy is defined by small and medium-sized (SMEs) family enterprises. They cannot afford to run into risks – it will always take some time until German SMEs arrive at an investment decision. However they will adhere to any decision.
Q.: In September 2019 Baku hosted German-Azerbaijani Business Forum. Have any trade or investment agreements been signed on the results of this forum?
A.: The private sector decides on investment and trade in Germany. Therefore, this Embassy is not always informed regarding business relations between companies. However, I am aware of some investment intentions, as well as positive reactions from German companies, particularly in the agro-technical sector, as a result of a recent business exploration visit, organized by the Azerbaijan-German Chamber of Commerce.
Q.: Germany is one of the most popular destinations among Azerbaijani migrants. Do you see it as a problem or as a way of enhancement of contacts between our countries?
A.: I am dedicated to foster the people-to-people contacts between Azerbaijan and Germany. I am particularly convinced that the younger generation, who share the same fashion, music, hopes and fears, as well as the connection by modern communication tools, will play a decisive role in this. Many families of Azerbaijani origin live in Germany. They receive their visiting friends and relatives. Of course, some of the visitors try to stay in Germany to seek asylum but the recognition rate is very low. Germany and Azerbaijan cooperate closely in combatting irregular migration and are partners in the execution of the European Azerbaijan readmission agreement. For me, the chances outweigh the risks considerably.
Q.: Do you see interest in the German language and culture among Azerbaijani people? Tell us about the Embassy’s activity aimed at their promotion.
A.: I am delighted to note that students from Azerbaijan rank among the top three in the applications for scholarships granted by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) worldwide, outnumbered only by US-Americans and Russians. About 1,400 Azeri’s are studying in Germany, many at universities, and others at various institutions of tertiary education. Two schools in Baku are currently participating at the Partner-School-Program of the German Federal Foreign Office, and two other schools have asked to join the program. On the other hand, I am afraid that the language training, currently offered by the schools, the German Language Training Center (SLZ) and at the Azerbaijan University of Languages (ADU), will not survive as long as the profession of the school teacher lacks public reputation, a decent remuneration and that the German instruction in Azerbaijan schools is not secured by a binding decision of the Minister of Education. Furthermore, both the German Cultural Institute “Goethe Center” cannot be transformed into a full-fledged Goethe Institute and the other German State-run institutions like the Federal Agency for Schools Abroad (ZfA) or university managed agencies as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) lack a secure status without the finalization of a new Cultural Agreement between Germany and Azerbaijan. I am working on an agreement, which grants the necessary space for the activities of our cultural and educational institutions. I am confident that our efforts will be crowned by success because both governments have a special interest in promoting the German language and culture.
Q.: Did you have a chance to travel to the old German settlements in Azerbaijan, where German colonists lived in the 19th-20th centuries? What were your impressions?
A.: My first official visit outside of the capital region led me to the regions of Göygöl and Shamkir on November 5 and 6, 2019. Remembering the common history of Germans and Azerbaijanis is an important building block of the relations between our countries. The main reason for this journey, however, was not only to look into the past but also into the future of our countries’ relations. I was really impressed by the interest in both regions to increase the knowledge of the German language and the enthusiasm to create sustainable perspectives for the younger generation. I also had a fruitful exchange of views with Governor Seyidov of Göygöl on new forms of cooperation among local farmers. Governor Mammadov of Shemkir region and his deputy Mrs. Abdullayeva inspired us to pursue new strategies for an exchange among young Germans and young Azerbaijanis of the region to foster both language, professional and social skills.
Q.: What are the goals of the Embassy for 2020?
A.: In 2020, Germany will not only chair the European Union but also the Council of Europe and the Forum for Security Cooperation of the OSCE. Both international organizations are heavily engaged in Azerbaijan. Germany will have a special responsibility in these forums as we are respected as an unbiased broker in the region. It will not be easy to comply with the high-running expectations in the region. It will be the task of all three German embassies in the region to develop regional projects, which will strengthen the stability and contribute to regain confidence among the peoples in the Transcaucasus. We will invite the governments to join our efforts for the mutual benefit. Keywords are connectivity of goods and people, modernization and integration of the economies, strengthening cooperation and friendship.
Q.: What are your impressions about Azerbaijan and Baku after several months here?
A.: Since my arrival in July 2019, I’ve had the opportunity to collect many impressions of the country and its people. Compared with my last visit in June of 1994, the city of Baku has completely changed its outlook. It is today a vivid, modern and dynamic place which does not shy away from comparisons of a metropolis. What impressed me most, is that despite the economic and political ups and downs of the past 25 years, Azeris are still one of the friendliest, helpful and attentive people, worldwide.