Appointed the new Ambassador of Germany to the Czech Republic only in mid-August, Andreas Künne lauds the excellent quality of Czech-German relations, and only has words of admiration for his predecessors and everyone who has been committed to improving our bilateral relations over the last decades. He sees our two countries as natural and established partners and envisions that our strong partnership could lead the way on the European level as well. We spoke to Mr. Künne at the German Embassy premises in Lobkowicz Palace in Prague.
Q: What personal experience and impressions have you had so far from the Czech Republic and the Czech people?
A: It has been amazing. I am deeply impressed by how friendly everyone has been. To have such hospitality, friendliness and openness among Czechs and Germans is a great achievement, and something all those people who have worked on Czech-German relations can be very proud of.
What did you know about our country before your arrival? Has there been anything that surprised you so far?
As a neighbour country, Czech Republic has always been there for me. Plus, I’m half German, half Austrian, and half of my family live in Vienna, so Prague is somehow in the middle between Berlin and Vienna, and has always been an important factor about our discussions and views of the world. My expectations from Prague and Czech people were already very high, and I can only say they have even been surpassed so far.
Good neighbours and European partners
Upon your appointment, you mentioned that your main goal is to further intensify the already great German-Czech relations and friendship. What are you planning to focus on the most in the first months?
There really is no need to shift focus because our relations are excellent. As neighbours, we share a very long border of 800 kilometres. In my view, the people-to-people contacts across the border are the backbone of our relations. Prague and Berlin obviously have very good relations on the diplomatic front, but at the same time, it’s the day-to-day dealings of ordinary Czechs and Germans which are crucial. In this sense, the Embassy is a facilitator and a service provider more than anything else, and I am looking forward to visiting the Czech regions, including the border regions.
Are there any other areas in which you would you like to intensify our cooperation?
I believe we need to work together very strongly and closely within Europe. I am convinced that Europe is our common destiny. I know there are a lot of things we can complain about when we look at Brussels – and rightly so. Again, from Brussels’ perspective, the same would hold true about the member states. You wouldn’t find the same attention to European affairs because the media – just like our societies – are still oriented towards the nation states. We need to defend the European achievements and we have to be careful about what we are really criticising. Not having borders is a major achievement for our continent. We have a free flow of goods, persons and services, and that is a great success for Europe which gives us much bigger power globally. We cannot tackle climate change or reduce our strategic dependence on semiconductors or anti-covid medical components each country on its own. For all that, we need to build a stronger joint political vision of where we want to go, and I am convinced that Germany and the Czech Republic with their very similar economic structures are predestined to help Europe move forward together. There is no viable alternative to moving together jointly in Europe, as partners. And that’s our task, just like anyone else’s.
Europe is our common destiny.
Are you familiar with any Czech companies, or have you even had the time to meet any of them?
Who wouldn’t be familiar with Škoda or the famous Czech breweries! I have only been here very briefly, so I have only met representatives of Škoda or ČEZ so far for example. But I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to visit a lot of Czech companies in the weeks and months to come, and I’m looking forward to that.
Sharing expertise both ways
How could Czech and German companies inspire each other?
The inspiration and knowledge transfer is already happening within the companies. During the German president’s meeting with representatives of German or German-Czech companies from key sectors, the CEO of Bosch pointed out that in the 1990s it was largely a one-way relationship, with German investors and managers coming to this country. But gradually, this was developing into partners, colleagues and in many cases also friends. Now it has become completely normal that Czech people move to German offices within the same company, as Czech expertise is needed in Germany. This shows how strong our partnership has grown.
This issue of TRADE NEWS focuses on engineering and automotive. These are the clearly dominant sectors in German-Czech trade. Are there any interesting collaborations that you would like to mention?
During the German president’s visit, we also spent some time at the CIIRC of the Czech Technical University, specifically the Research and Innovation Centre on Advanced Industrial Production, which has been set up as a Czech-German cooperation with European funds. It was really impressive to see what cutting edge technologies are being jointly developed by Czech and German researchers and companies such as Škoda, Siemens, T-Mobile or Porsche. There’s a great infrastructure which the companies are making use of, and the most important part is the human expertise. To me, it’s another striking example of how we can inspire each other.
Moreover, a memorandum of cooperation was recently signed between the Max Planck Society and the Czech Ministry of Education. The programme is called Dioscuri and promotes people exchange between leading scientists, thereby creating R&D centres of excellence. I think that creating these clusters of excellence and benefitting from our mutual strengths is exactly where our cooperation should be going.
Let’s not forget the services sector
Germany is the Czech Republic's most important trading partner. In which other sectors besides the above do you see the greatest potential for future cooperation?
Since the structures of our economies are very similar, I think we should focus on their strengths and weaknesses, where we also have a lot in common. We can learn a lot in the field of digitisation for example, including the public sector, and we could also strengthen our cooperation in green technologies.
As both countries are traditionally much oriented towards industry, we tend to forget how important the services sector is and will be. Lufthansa or Deutsche Börse have already established big service hubs in the Czech Republic. I understand a major German bank will relocate more of their internal services there. In IT, we see a huge innovative potential in the Czech Republic which we would like to tap into. In Brno and Prague there are growing IT hubs, and my aim is to increase the awareness in Germany of the strengths your country has in this field. Everyone in Germany knows there is great engineering capacity, but your IT competences have big potential, too.
Everyone in Germany knows there is great engineering capacity, but your IT competences have big potential, too.
What role does economic diplomacy play in your day-to-day work?
Strong economic relations and the status of close neighbours are obviously the pillars of German-Czech relations. There are over 4,000 German companies in the Czech Republic and the German-Czech Chamber of Industry and Commerce is a very strong organisation with more than 700 members. Plus, we are both EU members. With this whole framework behind and so many dedicated professionals with lots of experience, I do not see myself as someone who negotiates business deals – it is not even necessary.
I see my role more as raising awareness about our countries: as a location for investment, doing business or R&D. It works both ways: I know that this is exactly what my colleague in Berlin, Czech ambassador Tomáš Kafka is doing as well. Connecting countries and providing an orientation towards the future is where economic diplomacy within the EU should stand.
Andreas Künne was interviewed by Daniel Libertin
Photos: Andreas Künne’s archive & Shutterstock