BaileNuachtCartlann Aitheasc agus Preaseisiúintí

Address by an Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, T.D., to the German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce, in O'Reilly Hall, University College Dublin at 2.00 p.m. on 1st October 2010


It is a very great pleasure for me to be here this afternoon to celebrate with you two significant events, the German-Irish Chamber's 30th anniversary and 20 years of German unity.

I want to thank the Chamber, and especially its President, Helmut Clissmann, and its CEO, Ralf Lissek, for the invitation to join today's ceremony marking three decades of productive activity bringing together Irish and German companies.

It is a particular pleasure to mark these events with State Secretary Pfaffenbach and Ambassador von Alvensleben. I know that Dr Pfaffenbach is a graduate of the University of Marburg, one of the distinguished German Universities offering courses in Celtic Studies, which is a reflection of the long-standing German interest in Ireland.

Last November, I was delighted to be in Berlin to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. It was a joyful and memorable evening, during which a chain of giant dominoes was toppled to symbolise not just the destruction of the Wall itself, but the irreversible series of events it set in train.

An ugly barrier that had divided Berlin, Germany and Europe for decades gave way in the face of an irresistible yearning for freedom. The brutal ugliness of communism collapsed with it.

The most immediate and tangible consequence was the reunification of Germany and the emancipation of those countries of Central and Eastern Europe that had endured four decades of Soviet domination.

1990 was the year in which the promise of 1989 became reality. This weekend we mark the 20th anniversary of reunification.

There was nothing preordained about that outcome. Indeed, when Ireland took over the Presidency of the EU at the beginning of 1990, there were few who predicted it would come so quickly. In fact, many saw the challenges of German unity as potentially outweighing its advantages.

In particular, there were those who worried about the implications of German unity for the future of European integration. Some felt that a united Germany might somehow turn in upon itself, diluting its commitment to the European Community.

In Ireland, especially given our own history, we had an instinctive understanding of German aspirations. As the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, put it in Dáil Éireann in December 1989, just weeks after the Wall came down, "coming as we do from a country which is also divided many of us would have sympathy with any wish of the people of the two German States for unification".
As the Member State with possibly the keenest appreciation of German aspirations, it was good fortune that Ireland took up the reins at European level as the question of Germany's future rose to the top of the agenda.

Following intensive negotiations with our European partners, and especially with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Ireland convened a special European Summit in Dublin in April 1990 to discuss the reunification of Germany and the overall situation in Eastern Europe.

After agreement was secured at the Dublin Summit, Chancellor Kohl made a point of praising the diplomacy of the Taoiseach Charles Haughey and Minister for Foreign Affairs Gerry Collins for opening the door to what he described as "the dream of all Germans."

On a subsequent occasion, Dr Kohl paid a strong tribute to the pivotal role, Ireland played at that historic time. He said in Dublin Castle in 1996 that many people had been sceptical of German unification but that "You helped us. You stood by us." Today, I can say that we are all very proud that Ireland did so.

At the conclusion of the Dublin Summit in 1990, European leaders warmly welcomed German unification and expressed confidence that unification would be "a positive factor in the development of Europe as a whole".

Over two decades, we have seen that prediction vindicated. A united Germany has become a rock of the European Union. It has brought energy, vision and leadership to bear at our most critical times.

Successive German leaders have made their impact. From Chancellor Kohl, to Chancellor Merkel. I pay warm tribute to them, and to the German people, for their consistent commitment to the further development of the European Union.

Ireland and Germany derive great benefit from our common membership of the Union. We are proud to make our distinctive contribution to it.

Germany's importance to the European Union has always been evident, not least during the past two years of global economic turbulence. I applaud the determination of Chancellor Merkel and her colleagues to stand behind the Euro and to strengthen our currency's defences against future financial upheavals.

I also want to pay tribute to the German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce for the invaluable work they have done over the past 30 years. The Chamber brings together the leading Irish and German companies whose business activities have given a vital new dimension to the age-old ties between Ireland and Germany.

In recent months, the Chamber has been active in arranging a series of road-shows in the major German cities during which influential business audiences were briefed on developments in Ireland. These events - in Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden - serve to draw attention to Ireland's continued attractions as an economic partner for Germany.

These ties are not new. Ireland's links with Germany can be traced back to Irish monastic activity on the continent more than twelve hundred years ago. They have taken on new life since our two countries became partners within the European Union.

Today, Germany is the fourth most important market for Irish exports. Last year Irish companies sold €4.8 billion worth of goods in Germany. We exported almost €7 billion worth of services. I am particularly pleased that exports to Germany this year from Irish-owned companies are predicted to increase by 10%, with companies in life sciences, engineering services and business software performing particularly well.

Despite the exceptionally challenging environment of the past two years, Ireland's exports generally have held up very well and are now showing significant growth again. This is encouraging. It means that the improvements to our competitiveness are bearing fruit.

The message is now going out loud and clear: Ireland has rolled up its sleeves. We are determined to work, grow and export our way out of our present difficulties.

Earlier this week I launched our first fully integrated strategy to promote overseas investment, foreign trade and tourism. We will now drive this strategy forward, with the aim of creating over 150,000 direct jobs in manufacturing, tourism and internationally traded services. This, in turn, can generate up to 150,000 additional jobs, as well as increasing the number of overseas visitors to Ireland to 8 million.

Europe is a critical part of this picture. Irish companies should make it a priority to expand exports to innovation-driven European economies like Germany.

The German economy is growing again. Like Ireland, Germany has an export-led economy and there must be scope for Irish and German companies to partner in third-country markets.

In the German-Irish Chamber, Irish companies have access to an organisation based in Ireland, but which has an unrivalled network of contacts in Germany.

German commercial engagement with Ireland goes back to the very foundation of the State with the construction of the Ardnacrusha dam by Siemens in the nineteen twenties, an investment that was key for the development of our economy.

German investment today in Ireland, second only to the United States, remains vital. I am convinced there is room for further German engagement here.

I would encourage German businesses to follow the example of such major German firms as Siemens, SAP, Bertelsmann, Allianz, Bayer, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank and BASF, who have successfully invested here. Those who come to Ireland will find that we retain the many attractions that have made us a magnet for foreign investment in recent decades, and that we have also become significantly more cost-competitive in the past few years.

I want to stress that investment between Ireland and Germany is a two-way process. Leading Irish companies have significant operations in Germany and now employ in excess of 10,000 people.

As I have said, under our new Strategy, we will also be seeking to boost the number of visitors to Ireland, including those from our European neighbours.

German tourists have been coming to Ireland since the early part of the 19th century. There has been a surge of German interest in Ireland since the 1950s and last year some 422,000 Germans visited Ireland generating revenue for the Irish economy of nearly €200 million. This makes Germany the third most important tourism market for Ireland. German tourists stay in Ireland for longer than the average visitor, travel to different parts of the country and are highly likely to make return visits. This is an encouraging and positive starting point from which to grow this market further.

Our engagement with Germany could become deeper and richer were we to improve our people's facility with the German language.

Although we have an advantage arising out of the status of English as an international business language, this should not blind us to the importance of mastering the languages of our major trading partners. In the case of German, some 100 million Europeans speak it as their mother tongue and, although Germans are renowned for their command of English, any Irish company seeking to develop a serious presence in the German market is likely to benefit considerably from having Irish employees who are familiar with German.

Last week, the Government launched a new effort aimed at increasing the number of foreign students in Ireland. I hope that more young Germans will look to perfect their English by studying in the kind of English-speaking environment we can offer in this country.

Although we in Ireland are continuing to face difficult challenges, one of our continuing strengths is our young population. They are bright, innovative and well-educated, with record numbers now attending third-level colleges.

They are the generation that will shape Ireland's future.

As today's leaders, our responsibility is to ensure that our country's finances are placed on the soundest footing, so as to enable those young people to reach their full potential and to take advantage of the many longer-term strengths we possess.

We are utterly determined to emerge from the current international economic crisis with a strong and sustainable economy.

We are dealing with a uniquely difficult set of circumstances in a serious and determined way. We have made significant adjustments in spending, and are committed to substantial further savings in the coming years.

Yesterday brought clarity to the banking situation. There is no arguing about it - the costs involved are serious, very serious.
But they are manageable. Getting banking back on track is an indispensable step in our journey to economic recovery.

So too is restoring sustainability to our public finances.

Restoring stability to the public finances and fixing our banks is not, of course, the full story of Ireland's path to recovery. On the contrary, our future is based on developing to the full our potential for sustainable growth.

That arises not just from the quality and skills of our people and the flexibility and resilience which they have shown over the recent past. It also derives from the strong competitive base established in key sectors of the economy, through overseas investment and our own, vibrant indigenous companies. In key developing sectors, like pharmaceuticals and software, and in core industries like food, we have a strong enterprise base whose export performance, even in these difficult times, has been world-class.

Through investing in our infrastructure, strengthening our R&D capacity and developing new policy frameworks to create the best conditions to establish and grow businesses, we can face the future with confidence.

By highlighting the importance of innovation, by creating better access to venture capital, by recognising the opportunities to create whole new industries as technologies converge, and by linking our universities and research institutions with the business community in new and dynamic ways, we are creating the conditions for growth; growth which will not only help us to manage our fiscal adjustment, but to generate the jobs which must be at the heart of our economic and social agenda.

We are facing the immediate challenges, and making the urgent adjustments, with a very clear focus on the path to recovery and on creating the basis for our prosperity into the future.

I welcome the German Irish Chamber recent survey and your members' confidence in our shared future. It is encouraging to note that 50% of companies in the survey say they will increase employment in the next two years.

Work is underway on a revised four year strategic plan that will set out the measures necessary to bring our deficit below 3% of GDP by 2014. We will publish this route map to recovery in early November.

I very much welcome the statement of Ireland's Eurogroup colleagues - including, of course, Germany - in which they expressed confidence in our commitment to doing what is necessary to meet our targets. I value and appreciate their support. In developing our strategy for the coming years we will, of course, continue to work in close cooperation with the European Commission, in liaison with the European Central Bank.

Yes, these are troubled times. But, unlike others, I refuse to offer a counsel of despair. The reality is that our future remains firmly in our own hands. The Irish people, over centuries and generations, have shown their resilience and I believe will do so again in facing up to the new challenges that we must now overcome as a nation.

The German people have shown us what determination can achieve.

From near destruction after the Second World War, they built Europe's economic powerhouse.

With pure grit and determination, they unified their country in less than a year. Their commitment and drive should inspire us now.

The spirit of European solidarity that underpinned the Dublin Summit in April 1990 lives on.

There were those who said that the cost of reunification would cripple Germany and that this would undermine the European Union. Instead, Germany and Europe have gone from strength to strength. As Europeans, we have coped far better with the current crisis by working closely together.

Europe will, I believe, emerge from these difficulties stronger, wiser and more united.

So will Ireland. In tackling the problems that confront us, our membership of the EU remains one of the key assets we possess. Our partnership with Germany, including within that Union, is another.

I wish the Chamber continued success in the years ahead. Finally, I ask Dr Pfaffenbach to convey to Chancellor Merkel and to her colleagues in government our very best wishes on this great occasion for Germany, as it celebrates the momentous achievements of 1990 and the rich harvest of German unity.

Thank you.