Public Lecture by H.E. Detlef Lingemann
“The Future of the Bulgarian-German Relations”
On 11.02.2015, H.E. Detlef Lingemann, German Ambassador to Bulgaria, joined the initiative “The Future of Bulgaria” and shared his vision for the future of the bilateral relations between Germany and Bulgaria. Major themes in his lecture were the political, economic and cultural relations between the two states, as well as the role of the EU in solving common challenges. Mr. Lingemann talked about the future by analyzing current and past events, and opportunities and obstacles in the development of the relations between the two states.
Historically, the two countries have strong traditions of partnerships in the cultural and the economic field. Mr. Lingemann praised the close ties between Bavaria and Bulgaria in terms of regional cooperation. An important theme in his speech was the tourist sector and the growing number of German tourists who visit Bulgaria each year. In 2015, more that 6 thousand German citizens spent their vacation on the Bulgarian Black sea coast, making them the largest tourist group in the region of Varna.
In terms of economic relations, Germany is Bulgaria’s biggest trade partner. There are 5000 German companies operating in Bulgaria. According to a survey conducted by the German-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce, 88% of these companies are satisfied with their business in Bulgaria. Still, there is potential for further developing this sector. Among the factors that prevent growth are insufficient confidence in the rule of law and the lack of a reliable judicial system in Bulgaria. Another obstacle is the lack of young qualified workers in Bulgaria. To resolve this problem, many German companies in Bulgaria are engaged in vocational training for young people. Germany is advocating this system, where the cooperation between the state and business circles is the foundation for the economic success of Germany. Bulgaria can adopt this standard, the ambassador assured, and Germany will be happy to help in this regard.
In terms of cultural cooperation, there are 150 partnerships established between German and Bulgarian universities. There are 100 German medical students in the Medical University in Varna. The technical university in Sofia is another good example. Graduates speak fluent German and have deep experience in exchange programs with Germany. “These young people,” Mr. Lingemann said, “are the bridges between our two countries. They are the assets in our bilateral relations.”
The European Union presents unique opportunities in the development of these ties, the ambassador said. The EU is not just a common economic market, but a union of values. “We are a union of common values – human rights, the rule of law and freedom of movement.” The EU has been a great success as a peace project in Europe. Today the EU is facing great challenges, such as the refugee crisis. “This demands solidarity from all member states. Realistically speaking, there are no easy and quick solutions. The situation in Greece and the debate in the UK on its future role in the EU are other problems within the union. No EU country will be able to resolve any of these challenges on its own, the ambassador concluded.
Citing German and EU officials, a student from the audience made remarks about the demographic crisis in the EU and the positive role that can be played by Syrian refugees in rejuvenating societies as a fresh labour force that can support pension plans. He also questioned Chancellor Markel’s remarks about returning refugees home, once the war in Syria is over. Commenting on this, Mr. Lingemann explained that the “refugee crisis is not a German problem, but a problem of the EU.” People coming from Syria are refugees of war, who are looking for protection, not simply numbers, but actual people. The ambassador agreed that the integration of these people into European societies presents a challenge. This process would require teachers, housing, and work opportunities for them. In tackling these tasks, Germany expects solidarity from EU partners. Moreover, we should try supporting refugees in other regions, such as in Turkey. The most difficult task, however, is understanding the roots of the problem, and applying a diplomatic approach in finding solutions. Another important factor in this crisis is border security, where Bulgarian authorities play an important role in identifying and registering refugees.
In a follow-up question, the tension between East and West was addressed, referring to demands made by the Visegrad Group. Ambassador Lingemann expressed his optimism about the future of the EU, saying that history had shown time and again that Europe had become stronger after every crisis or challenge.
On a question about the future development of the economy in Varna, the ambassador cited important factors that influence foreign investments –a stable political landscape, tax incentives, the cost of labor and production, as well as a qualified labor force. The mayor of Varna had expressed his hopes for the development of the city, citing plans for enhancing the tourist sector by diversification – not only for leisure, but also for sport and culture. There are also interesting plans for the Varna harbor as well. Mr. Lingemann refrained from elaborating on the subjects due to his lack of familiarity with the region.
On how Germany can help Bulgaria improve the rule of law, the German ambassador gave examples within the EU framework – the verification and cooperation mechanism in place and the annual reports issued by the European Commission. Bulgaria should follow the advice and recommendations given in these documents, he said. “It is not just about the law, but the application of the law,” he said. Germany is always ready to exchange expertise and offer advice, but ultimately the task is in the hands of the Bulgarian government and the people of Bulgaria. “We are sovereign partners on equal level in the EU,” he concluded.
In view of the fact that 20% of Bulgarian youth are nether employednor enrolled in universities, a representative from Future Workshop Bulgaria asked for more information with regard to the German dual training, or vocational training system. Mr. Lingemann explained that this system has been developed in Germany for centuries, and it fits the structure of the German economy, where small and medium-size companies are the backbone of the economy. These companies are relatively small in size, but are very well defined in terms of their specialties, which makes most of them leaders in the market. What these companies need, he explained, is not engineers and lawyers, but a skilled labor force, specializing in their particular segment. The vocational training programme helps in this regard. Students sign contracts with companies for training that they attend after school. Thus, students spend half of their time at school and the other half on practical training in various industries. At the end of their training, students undergo exams, designed by the business associations of these companies. One of the advantages of this program is the opportunity for constant improvement in skills with regard to innovations and the application of new technologies. This cooperation has existed for decades and even hundreds of years. You need to have a proper structure in place before implementing the system. Thus, it is not an easy task to simply copy the system, but rather find practical cooperation between companies and schools. German companies are involved in similar practices in Plovdiv. Ths example demonstrates the success rates of the program. It is important to distinguish the dual training system from the practical classes offered in universities.
An opinion from the audience was voiced, saying that Bulgaria is not an equal partner, but a second-class member in the EU. If the EU is to survive, its needs to adopt more unifying laws in terms of energy and security. The ambassador commented, by expressing his optimism about the future of the EU. Every member has a voice, he said. The way the EU works – everybody has his own voice. Many of the prominent names in the building of the union are not big countries. Take Luxembourg, for example. “It is not about the size of the country, but its commitment to the union,” he said. Young people are enjoying enormous benefits – freedom of travel and the Erasmus program are two examples.
H.E. Detlef Lingemann was born in 1954 in Düsseldorf, Germany. He studied law at the Universities of Bonn, London and Strasbourg, before entering the diplomatic service. His first foreign post was in Moscow in the early 1980s. From 1986 to 1989 he was Deputy Head of Mission in Mali. From 1995 to 2000 he headed the press department of the German embassy in the USA in Washington DC. From 2006 to 2008 Mr. Lingemann was Permanent Representative of the German ambassador in Moscow. From 2011 to 2014, he served as an Ambassador to the Czech Republic. He was part of the economic division in the department of the foreign ministry in Germany. Since August 8, 2014 H.E. Detlef Lingemann has been the Ambassador in Bulgaria.