A veteran diplomat, German Ambassador Boris Ruge has a long checkered experience in public life.
Ruge, 53, served as political officer at the Bonn foreign office besides being the chief political adviser to the commander of the Kosovo Force.
Prior to his arrival in Riyadh, he worked as regional director of the Middle East and North Africa at the foreign office in Berlin.
Arab News Riyadh Bureau Chief Ghazanfar Ali Khan caught up with Ambassador Ruge to discuss his work, his country, his experience in Saudi Arabia and his perception about the growing Saudi-German relations on the occasion of the German national day.
Q. How do you evaluate relations between Germany and Saudi Arabia on political, commercial and cultural fronts?
A: As a leading player in a key region, Saudi Arabia is an important partner for Germany.
As G-20 members, close coordination between our two countries is becoming ever more important.
Over the past year, we have seen numerous visits at senior level going in both directions.
We have also had several visits by members of the German Bundestag.
We are also witnessing more exchange in terms of people-to-people contacts: Germany is becoming one of the favorite destinations among Saudi citizens for tourism, medical treatment, language training, higher education, and business.
Economic relations between Saudi Arabia and Germany are strong and go back to the period before the foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in its present form. German companies built the Hejaz railways in the early 20th century.
Since then, they have been present at every step in the development of the modern economy of Saudi-Arabia and the expansion of its infrastructure.
Today they participate in the creation of a modern public transport system for Riyadh as well as in the diversification of the Saudi petrochemical industry.
German companies are among the pioneers in energy technology, and in particular renewable energy for electricity generation and water desalination in the Kingdom.
As for our cultural relations, there is huge interest on both sides.
The recent years have seen an increasing number of projects and cooperations.
Since 2014 the Goethe Institute, the German cultural institute, has been operating a language center in Riyadh.
It has more than tripled the number of students since then.
I would also like to mention the excellent cultural week in Berlin, which the Saudi Embassy organized in September 2014. And I was delighted that Saudi artists participated in the Berlin Art Week just a few weeks ago.
Our two “crown jewels” to come in 2016 will be our role as guest of honor at the Janadriyah Festival and an exhibition of the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin to be shown in Riyadh on “Damascus and Baghdad as Early Islamic Capitals”.
Q. What have been the total volume of bilateral trade and investment between your country and the Kingdom during 2013, 2014 and during the first half of the current year?
A: The official bilateral trade balance stood at an impressive number of 11 billion euros in 2014 and has been constantly growing.
But these numbers do not reflect the entirety of our bilateral economic activities. Crude oil from the Kingdom and other Saudi exports reach Germany not only through the direct route but also to a much larger extent through other European ports, which means that the Saudi exports are much higher than those published in the trade balance.
While German enterprises act less than before as general contractors, they are still very much engaged in consortia in the giant infrastructure projects of the Kingdom or act as suppliers for other enterprises.
Payments by foreign general contractors to German sub-contractors may or may not figure in the German trade balance with the Kingdom.
Q: What are your major exports and imports? Do you foresee an upswing in trade (exports or imports) during the second half of 2015 or in 2016?
A: The exchange of the traditional range of goods — mechanical engineering and chemical products against crude oil and petrochemical products — continues to play an important role.
Today, Saudi Arabia puts much emphasis on the creation of a manufacturing industry based on locally available raw materials such as crude oil, gas, or aluminum.
Germany figures among the top investors in the strict sense, as defined by Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).
More and more German companies are deciding to establish a manufacturing base in the Kingdom (Foreign Direct Investment). Alone or together with a Saudi partner, they transfer technical know-how to the country, create high-quality jobs, and qualify a new local workforce.
A good part of German companies in Saudi Arabia consists of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Such companies form the backbone of German Industry.
Often, they are market leaders in their special field.
They are considered as competent, punctual in keeping deadlines, and fair.
They are much-valued partners of Saudi entrepreneurs.
Q. What is Germany’s position on Yemen? Is your country working closely with Saudi Arabia and Saudi-led coalition to solve the Yemen conflict and ensure peace and security in that country?
A: We are constantly engage in dialogue with the Kingdom and with the GCC.
Our hope is that we can move to a political track as soon as possible, the objective being to implement Security Council resolution 2216.
A continuation of the conflict will increase the suffering and will also open up space for groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
In the meantime, all of us must step up efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.
Both our countries are very much committed in this regard.
Q. What is your country’s position on Syria? Is your country working closely with the Kingdom and other stakeholders to bring Syria back to normalcy?
A: Around 15 million Syrians depend on humanitarian aid.
As the third largest humanitarian donor in the Syrian refugee crisis, Germany is making a substantial contribution to ameliorate the situation.
Nonetheless, the truth of the matter is that the international aid efforts for Syria remain woefully underfunded.
We must all step up our efforts to not only provide for the refugees’ survival but also to offer young people education and hope for a better future. In Syria, too, we need a political solution.
So far, all attempts by the international community to bring the parties to the negotiating table have failed.
Q. From Syria, we hear the disturbing news that Russia is moving reinforcements in that country besides making military bases. Do you know what Mr.Putin is up to and what is the German position on that?
A: Our two countries, together with the other members of the Syrian core group have reacted to that with a clear statement.
This statement expressed our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria and especially the attacks by the Russian Air Force on Hama, Homs and Idlib which led to civilian casualties and did not target Daesh.
These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization. Altogether, we called on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting Daesh.
This recent Russian intervention in Syria has shown that finding solutions will by no means be a smooth process. But that must not stop us from doing the utmost to help create the conditions for peace talks.
Q. What about the Middle East peace process? What are your perceptions about the current situation as far as Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned?
A: Germany is a strong believer in the two-state-solution, meaning two states living side by side in peace.
The Arab Peace Initiative, put forward by the late King Abdallah is and remains a corner-stone.
The lack of a serious political process is a matter of deep concern to us. The danger is that we will see further radicalization.
The recent clashes in Jerusalem are deeply worrying.
Q. Germany is unique among European countries insofar as it has granted Muslims the status of a recognized religious community. What is the social and education conditions of Muslims in your country? Please answer these questions with special reference to influx of refugees into your country.
A: In recent decades, Germany has become more diverse culturally and in terms of religion, above all as a result of immigration by people from predominantly Muslim countries.
Today, approximately four million Muslims live in Germany. Almost half of these already hold German citizenship.
In the last decade, there has been tremendous progress as regards the integration of Muslims into German society and our state institutions. A key institution in achieving this has been the German Islam Conference (DIK), started in 2006.
It is considered to be the most important forum between the German state and Muslims living in Germany.
The aim of DIK has been and continues to be furthering communication and cooperation between the various levels of Government and Muslims living in Germany.
Strengthening common ground, overcoming differences, promoting participation – based on the principles of the German constitution — this is the approach that is needed.
Muslim associations in Germany include the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany (IRD), the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ) the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), and the Alevi community in Germany (AABF). The refugee crisis is our greatest challenge since German unification.
What I would highlight is the positive attitude taken by the Government and so many of our citizens.
People around the world have seen the pictures of volunteers helping at Munich Central Station and other places. I am very proud of this.
But no one underestimates the challenge.
We will have somewhere around 1 million refugees entering Germany in the course of 2015. Not all of them will be recognized as refugees or asylum seekers.
But the number of those remaining in Germany will be enormous.
Already now, the administration at the local level is overwhelmed in some places. Which is why the Federal Government has allocated billions of Euros to help find solutions.
Teaching newcomers German, bringing the children into the school system and helping adults enter the labor market will be crucial.
In the meantime, we will have to find a formula for burden-sharing at the European level.
Austria, Sweden and Germany cannot continue to take in a disproportionate number of refugees arriving in the EU.
It is obvious that the Muslim community and its associations can play an important role in the integration of refugees.
Q. Is there any plan of any top official or delegation to visit Saudi Arabia from your country in near future? Or any plan of any Saudi delegation likely to visit your country during the last quarter of the current year.
A: The current exchange of visits has been very dense: We had Vice-Chancellor Gabriel visiting in March, Bavaria Premier Horst Seehofer visiting in April as well as a host of other senior visitors. Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir was in Berlin in August of this year.
Our Minister of Foreign Affairs will be visiting Riyadh soon and the opening of the Janadriyah festival in early 2016 will see another visit by him.
Before the end of the year, we will receive a high-ranking political and business delegation from Baden-Württemberg, one of the economic power houses of Germany.
Q. What is the status of technical cooperation between Germany and Saudi Arabia? Please provide brief account of the cooperation with special reference to GTZ and other similar bodies?
A: Technical cooperation between German and the Kingdom extends to many fields and has been practiced successfully since many years.
The German GIZ (formerly known as GTZ) is Germany’s main body of technical cooperation.
During the last session of the German-Saudi Joint economic Commission in Riyadh in March of this year, the intensification of technical cooperation in various fields has been agreed upon.
The field which I would like to highlight is vocational training.
GIZ is active in this field at the College of Excellence in Ar’Rass, the College of Technology in Yanbu as well as at the German University College Riyadh (former Technical Trainers College) where future college teachers are being trained.
Germany is looking forward to enter into a fruitful dialogue with the Kingdom about what Saudi needs are and how Germany can contribute to their achievement.
Q. Germany has been an important tourism destination also. What is the status of tourism traffic between the Kingdom and Germany? What are the total numbers of Saudi tourists, who visited Germany in 2013, 2014 and during the first nine months of the current year.
A: Tourists from the Kingdom are coming to Germany in growing numbers.
Last year there were 1.9 million overnight stays in Germany by tourists from GCC countries.
That is 21 percent more than in 2013, which makes the GCC the fastest growing source of tourists.
It is estimated that roughly 40 percent of these tourists are from the Kingdom.
There are no figures for the current year yet, but judging from visa applications (which are at a record high in 2015).
I believe that the positive development will continue over the next years.
Saudi-German ties touch new heights
Saudi-German ties touch new heights
A veteran diplomat, German Ambassador Boris Ruge has a long checkered experience in public life.