The Deutsch View
With the biggest economy in Europe, Germany is regularly referred to as the engine of the EU. The country's recently reelected chancellor, Angela Merkel, was called "Europe's leader" and "the world’s most powerful woman" by The Economist. Needless to say, it's an important country. And with a Canada-EU free-trade deal still in the works, Canada's relationship with Germany will likely only get closer. OpenCanada interviewed Werner Wnendt, Germany's ambassador to Canada, about Merkel's election victory, Germany's role in Europe, and its ties with Canada ahead of his upcoming Speakers Forum event in Toronto on October 18th.
Can you share your thoughts on the outcome of Germany’s recent election? What are the implications of Angela Merkel’s victory for Germany, its neighbours, and its international trading partners?
The outcome of the German elections on September 22 was expected in a sense; that Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), together with its sister party from Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), would come in as the strongest political force in Germany. However, the CDU and CSU will not have an absolute majority in the German parliament, the Bundestag, which would be necessary to elect a new Chancellor. Therefore, Mrs. Merkel will need a new coalition partner, since the Liberal Party, at present part of her government, will not be represented in the new parliament.
Whatever the outcome of these negotiations will be, it is to be expected that the very successful economic policy and the policy towards Europe of Chancellor Merkel will continue. There is broad support for a Germany with an open economy and a keen interest in trade and economic cooperation with other countries, including Canada.
There is also broad support for a policy that aims to strengthen the European Union by implementing necessary reform programs. Germany under Chancellor Merkel has contributed a great deal, financially and otherwise, to support other member states of the European Union that are confronted with high debts and high unemployment rates. There may be some differences between political parties in nuances, but in general, the commitment of the new German government to help overcome the financial crisis in the European Union and strengthen the cooperation between member states is without any doubt.
Many in Europe and beyond look to Germany for economic and political leadership. Some, however, claim Germany could be more effectively facilitating Europe’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. What do you consider to be the most common misconceptions surrounding Germany’s approach to managing the euro crisis.
It is a misunderstanding to think that Germany alone could rescue Europe. The European Union is a unique supranational organization, where decisions taken in Brussels often become law right away in the member states. It is also an organization with equal partners and equal rights.
Of course, Germany is the biggest economy in the European Union and currently enjoys stronger economic and employment growth than many other member states. This is very much due to the fact that years ago Germany started to implement necessary reforms for the labour market and the social security system, among other areas, which helped to strengthen Germany’s competitiveness.
What is also important is that you cannot spend more money than you earn. Although it may be temporarily necessary for a government to borrow money to finance important investments in infrastructure or technological development, it must be the objective of any government to reduce the deficit and balance the budgets.
Germany therefore supports the implementation of necessary reforms in other member states. It is also necessary to strengthen the mechanism to oversee the national fiscal policies at the European Union level. These two elements, together with the readiness to make, when necessary, additional resources available, is and will be the Germany’s government’s strategy for the European Union. As the present and most likely new Chancellor, Angela Merkel has made the point again and again: Germany wants a stronger, not a weaker European Union.
How would you describe Germany's vision for Europe's future?
When you look at the world in the 21st century, you see that many things are changing. It is no longer the so-called Western World that determines the future of our planet. At the beginning of the 20th century more than 20 percent of the people on earth lived in Europe. Today around 10 percent of the world’s population is European, and by the end of the 21st century it will be less than 5 percent.
What goes for the population is also relevant for the economic development and for the share of international trade. Germany’s vision for the future of Europe is a stronger European Union that works and acts together on the basis of values including human rights, which we share with many other countries and certainly with Canada. No single European country will be able to meet all the challenges that lie ahead on its own.
Today’s global challenges extend beyond the economic sphere to climate change, terrorism, poverty, etc. What transnational threats would you highlight as priorities for Germany? Where can Germany and Canada cooperate more effectively to meet these challenges?
As I have already mentioned, there are many challenges ahead of us that we must work together to overcome. Together means Germany and the European Union, Canada and the United States, and all those that have an interest and a right to participate.
To determine which are the most threatening or important challenges is difficult. As we have seen recently and very often in the past, international terrorism is a threat to both our security and our populations. Climate change, which will probably alter the conditions under which we live on our planet, is also a big challenge. We will need to answer questions such as: “How will we feed the growing population on earth?” “How will we supply it with energy, with housing and transport?” And better health care, not only in richer countries, and the fight against global diseases is also important.
All these issues require a close cooperation and partnership between nations worldwide. We need to agree on common strategies and then implement those strategies. If not, life can become more difficult for many people in the world. I do think that Canada has a very similar view on these issues and is ready to participate in the solution-finding process. What makes our partnership special is that we share a vast amount of common ideas, values, and visions.
Canada and the European Union are currently negotiating a trade agreement. What can be done to strengthen the Canada-German economic relationship while the CETA remains to be settled?
First of all, I am confident that the CETA negotiations between the European Union and Canada will soon be successfully concluded. However, even when there is an agreement, the necessary legal scrutiny and the implementation process will require some time. Therefore, we will not wait until the CETA comes into force to strengthen the economic relations between Canada and Germany.
At present, we see a growing interest in the field of energy, where recently a contract was signed between one of the biggest suppliers of energy on the German market, EON, and the Canadian company Pieridae Energy on the deliverance of liquefied national gas (LNG) as of 2020 onwards.
There is also a growing cooperation between German and Canadian research institutions and companies, which can lead to a growing exchange in trade goods. The “Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative,” which organizes common research projects with regard to environmental issues, is just one example.
Last but not least, German companies can get more involved in the exploitation of natural resources in Canada. Here we have seen a major investment by the German company Kali & Salz (K + S), a leading producer of fertilizer in the world, in the potash business in Saskatchewan.
What would you like to see change in the Canada-Germany relationship over the next decade, and what would you like to see stay the same?
Changes in the relationship between Canada and Germany in the coming decade must be understood as part of a wider framework.
The European Union – with the CETA agreement, and also with the strategic partnership agreement that is being negotiated in parallel – will set the stage for increased cooperation between our two countries. We will also work together in international bodies to support the peace promises in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.
If we combine our resources and capacities we will not only strengthen our cooperation, but also contribute to positive changes world-wide. I am very hopeful that together we can move in this direction of strengthened cooperation, because although elections may change governments, the common ground that exists between our two countries is solid.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.