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'Germany and India are natural partners'

Last updated on: April 19, 2006 20:05 IST
Germany's new Ambassador to India, Bernd Mützelburg, was Foreign and Security Policy Adviser to the former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and served as Ambassador (at-large) before coming to India in March. On the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Germany, Ambassador Mützelburg explains to Deputy Managing Editor Ramananda Sengupta why he thinks the two nations are 'are not only natural partners but also important countries in an increasingly globalised world.'

How would you characterise Indo-German relations today: fair, good, excellent, can be better? And why?

Our relations are excellent. The Indo-German strategic partnership will be underlined by the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Germany and our bilateral economic relations keep on flourishing. In 2005 bilateral trade increased by 21.6 percent. Furthermore, we consider 2006 as the 'Year of India in Germany' with India being the partner country of the Hanover Fair, the world´s largest technology fair and the partner country of the Frankfurt Book Fair, again the world´s largest book fair. And these are just some of the Indo-German events in Germany this year. India is very high on Germany´s agenda.

What is the significance of India being a partner at the Hanover Trade Fair? Which country was the partner last year?

Last year's partner country was Russia. Not only in terms of the exhibition space booked, I understand 319 Indian companies will exhibit their products. India seems to be determined to top the Russian presentation. By taking centerstage in the world's largest technology fair, India will be able to showcase the innovative technologies, product quality and competitive spirit fueling its economic success story. This could not have come at a better time. India's presence in Hanover will also provide an important booster for those Indian companies yet to firmly establish themselves in the European and world markets.

To what would you attribute the scarcity of Indian students in Germany? If language is an issue, how do you account for the huge number of Chinese students there?

Lack of awareness in India of opportunities offered by German universities. Still the number of Indian students in Germany has tripled since 1999 to over 4,000. Germany is attractive for Indian students because of the high quality of German universities and about 500 new academic courses held in English introduced at German universities over the last few years. At the same time we think that the current number of Indian students could still increase and German universities as well as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) are continuing their efforts to promote academic studies in Germany. The DAAD is running an office in New Delhi for this purpose.

Many are not aware of it, but today language doesn't have to be an issue for Indian students who speak English and would like to study in Germany. For Chinese students it might be a different matter as many of them would still have to learn a foreign language for studying abroad.

At the International Max Planck Research Schools Indian students are the biggest group of foreign students. As for the Max Planck Partner Groups India and China are on an equal level with eight groups each.

Similarly, to what would you attribute the lukewarm response to the recent German initiative to issue 'green cards' to Indian IT professionals?

The German ´Green Cards´ did not fully correspond to the rights entailed in the American ´Green Cards´. Nonetheless, the 'Green Card Initiative', launched by the German government in 2000 to meet the growing demand of the information and communications industry in Germany for highly qualified personnel, has created a win-win situation for both India and Germany.

For many Indian highly qualified specialists in the field of information technology, it offered excellent job opportunities in Germany. Out of the targeted 20,000 green cards (maximum), 17,369 have been granted during the four years of the programme and more than 5,440 out of these were given to Indian nationals, which made them by far the largest national group.

This initiative has enabled German companies to compete for the best and the brightest in the global labour market, and increased the competitiveness of German IT industry. An average of 350 new foreign specialists were hired every month and the hiring of each foreign IT specialist resulted in the creation of 2-3 jobs for German workers.

The success of the Green Card initiative resulted in the German Federal Cabinet approving the extension of the scheme by another year, till the new German Immigration Law replaced the Green Card Initiative in January 2005. The new Immigration Law aims at meeting the growing demand for specialised personnel in other sectors as well.

Despite differences of rule of law and intellectual property rights, Germany invests far more in China than in India. How do you explain this contradiction?

First of all the figures reported are incomplete, since Indian FDI statistics only register inflows originating from the parent company abroad and do not reflect reinvestments, which are considerable in the case of German companies operating in India.

Even though German FDI in India is still smaller than in China, I believe that we are about to witness a trend reversal. First of all, there is a certain time lag between the full integration of China and India into the world markets. In opening up its most promising business sectors to FDI, India is clearly a few years behind - but it is now catching up. Deficits in India´s infrastructure have certainly been another problem. However, with its firm commitment to engage more Public Private Partnerships in this crucial sector, the Indian government has shown its determination to overcome this obstacle.

As regards China, the protection of intellectual property is, indeed, a concern for many European companies doing business there, including many from Germany. India can certainly develop a strong comparative advantage in this field and its existing patent protection law should be helpful.

Other than the IT industry, what are the Indian sectors that Germany is interested in?

German companies continue to invest in a broad range of industrial sectors such as machine tools, automotive, chemicals and phamaceuticals, electrical and electronical manufacturing, but also in service sectors such as banking and insurance. I see with particular satifaction that a growing number of small and medium sized German manufacturing companies are taking up business here.

If you were to list one thing that binds India and Germany together, and another that causes friction, what would they be?

Germany and India are natural partners. We share democratic values and basic common interests such as the rule of law, tolerance and respect of human rights. Both of our countries want to strengthen multilateral institutions and instruments. At the same time we are further developing our bilateral ties in the political, economic, cultural, scientific and technological field. It is part of such a close relationship that if our views differ we shall discuss it and our experience shows that we usually find a solution.

How does Germany propose to tackle the issue of radical Islam? Is it seen as a law and order issue, or a political one?

Law and order measures will not suffice to tackle problems which also have political and social dimensions. The German government believes in the strength of comprehensive approaches.

What is the German position on the India-US nuclear deal? Is it just a question of awkard timing owing to the negotiations with Iran, or are there other issues?

My government is aware of India's need to secure energy supplies in the future and India's wish to get access to nuclear technology for civil use from global markets has been taken note of. It is now being discussed, also among members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, how India can be supported and the international nuclear non proliferation regime be strengthened at the same time.

What are the three topmost things on your agenda during your posting in New Delhi? Why?

Let me name two: first, to foster the strategic dimension of the bilateral relations between India and Germany, as both our countries are not only natural partners but also important countries in an increasingly globalised world. And second: to develop esspecially those fields in our bilateral relations which benefit the people of our countries, such as trade, science, technology and culture, as bilateral relations can only be strong if the people feel that they gain from them.

Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi