Honourable Governor Isarescu,
Honourable members of the Romanian Government and Parliament,
Esteemed colleague, Mr Brummel,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this exchange of ideas. Today, we are discussing a possible vision for Romania’s development in Europe, economic and social trends, euro convergence and the reform steps needed. These topics are crucial for Romania, but also for the European Union as a whole, and especially for my country, Germany, which is one of Romania’s major trading and investment partners.
Thus, I can only echo wholeheartedly what has been elaborated so well by Governor Isarescu on the existing challenges and needs in view to inter alia public infrastructure and its financing in the widest sense.
Germany’s strong relationship with Romania is well known. Our historical and cultural bonds have evolved over centuries; our economic relations are currently stronger than ever, with Germany being Romania’s main partner in trade and German companies being among the biggest employers in the country. Moreover, more than 400,000 Romanian nationals live and work in Germany, while there is an active and visible German minority in Romania. Romanian nationals are the third largest group of citizens with foreign nationality in Germany, and they are the best integrated. There are numerous cooperation projects between our countries at both governmental and non-governmental level. And, of course, Romania is an important partner country within the European Union with whom we are in total agreement on all fundamental issues in Europe and beyond.
Clearly, there are many good reasons why Germany wants to see a strong and resilient Romania.
Each country has its specific challenges and conditions. Therefore, external advice must be given with consideration and due diligence. This is why I will just mention two areas which have proved to be essential in the development of my country. If they are adapted to circumstances in Romania, focusing on these key subjects could – from our experience – deliver substantial impulses for Romania’s development.
The first field is education - or, more precisely, working on an education system which provides young people with a realistic perspective for their professional future.
Having an education system which is also tuned in to the needs of the labour market does not mean simply removing Latin or music from the curriculum. It means being in serious contact with the actors in business and really taking their input into account. Universities should be encouraged to intensify their cooperation with companies, to set up dual study programmes with the private sector and to be relevant partners for research and development. Especially in the IT&C sector research and development and the transformation into practical products could be a chance.
Furthermore, in Germany we have had positive experience with the concept of Dual Professional Education. This is a non-academic alternative, which still provides very valuable and highly needed qualifications. Dual professional education has proved to be an effective tool to fight youth unemployment, to foster the innovative strength of companies and to secure the practical relevance of the content of teaching. It is a real model of public-private partnership.
I have seen many companies in Romania that are willing to engage in such a partnership, and we are happy to see ever better cooperation to this end between the Ministry of Education, school inspectorates, professional schools and private companies. And there is further good news: of the 107 graduates of the Scoala Profesionala Germana in Brasov, 105 found well-paid permanent employment in industry; only two of the students chose to pursue other paths. We are very much looking forward to further intense cooperation with the Romanian Government in this regard. In a partnership on an equal footing with the private sector, a system of dual professional education could be established which would benefit young people, the business sector, the Romanian economy and the Romanian society as a whole.
Romania’s education system currently has a special asset: schools where the working language is German, Hungarian, French or English or another language. It also has other schools with intensified classes in foreign languages. Just as an example, more than 21,000 students attend Romanian schools where German is the working language. As a consequence, generations of Romanians have outstanding language skills. Maintaining or even extending this valuable advantage seems worthwhile for a country like Romania which is interconnected strongly in Europe, where multilingualism is the recipe for success.
Yes, education is a costly investment in the future of a country and its society, but generally it provides an excellent dividend no capital market in the world can offer, especially these days when we see negative interest on capital. Investment in people always has a positive return. And this is not meant to be an insult to the many bankers in the room.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The second topic I am going to mention might seem less prestigious; nevertheless, I consider it crucial for every country’s development. It is public administration. I am aware of the fact that your Government, Prime Minister Cioloş, has already set itself ambitious targets for reforming the Romanian administration. We welcome these efforts and I firmly encourage the endeavours to foster an efficient and modern public service. It is obvious: no matter what kind of political or social challenge is to be met, a nation has always to rely on its administration to implement the measures and laws which have been decided beforehand politically and by the political leadership. Thus, in my view, an efficient, transparent, rule-of-law-based, impartial, fair and clean public administration is key to national progress.
Therefore, expectations that Romania will manage to empower its public service to meet the requirements of running a country in the 21st century are high.
Careers in the public service have to be based on merit, and not on political connections. The public service needs a legal framework which gives the individual public servant scope for decision-making. Working conditions and equipment that enable the authorities to perform are also essential, as are salary schemes that guarantee decent payment for decent work, so that public authorities are able to hire bright, motivated staff of integrity.
Being a public servant should be a desirable and proud perspective for Romanian citizens. The administration should deliver actions that are predictable, transparent, free from bias and taken in an adequate time scale. From our experience in Germany I am convinced that steps in this direction will immediately have a positive influence on other fields, like investment in infrastructure or the health system, the absorption of EU funds, and others.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A final remark on euro convergence, which is also on today’s agenda. In this context it is understandable and logical that Romania is determined to strive for so-called “real convergence”, meaning that Romania is aiming to bring its competitiveness and prosperity in line with those of other EU member states.
In principle I am fully convinced that Romania, as well as the other cohesion states, can make their way to real convergence, thus becoming – hopefully as soon as possible – EU member states with no significant structural differences from member states in the west, north or south of the Union which joined the EU much earlier.
Having said this, I would take the liberty of hinting at an aspect that probably somehow goes beyond the economic focus of today’s agenda.
Perhaps, metaphorically, “real convergence” could and should be seen also in a harmonisation of the understanding of “EU membership”.
Being part of the EU is not only about structural alignments or about funding. It is not even only about political coordination and shared rules and regulations. It is more than that.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Obviously, many Romanians already have a more integral understanding of the position of their country in and as a member of the European Union.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that for some Romanians the process of convergence can still also be seen in the broader sense of their political perception being converged with the rest of the “old” European Union. So that all citizens, decision-makers and commentators might finally come to a more holistic understanding of what it means to be a European country.
Being part of the EU is in the first instance being part of a community with shared values – in general, as well as with regard to the rule of law, democratic behaviour and separation of powers –, where the members enjoy enhanced solidarity; where national interests are heard and respected, but not seen as superior per se to the common good; where member states have rights and liberties, but also duties; where common burdens must be shared; where common views are developed and joint actions are taken for the benefit of all. This will strengthen the EU as a community and each individual member state alike.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I hope today’s debate will contribute to strategic decisions which will lead to an even stronger and more resilient Romania and thus to a stronger Europe!
15 March 2016, Romania’s Development Strategy, Regionalization and Euro Convergence