“The Romanian community in the south of Germany is very well integrated.” – An Interview with the Romanian Consul General for Bavaria, Ramon Chiriac »

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Since November 2016, Iulia Ramona Chiriac has been functioning as the Romanian consul general for Bavaria. Born in 1979 in Romania, she has studied European studies and political science in Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Münster (Germany) and Twente (The Netherlands) at graduate and postgraduate level. She has served in various functions in the Romanian governmental system both at the local and the central level and has joined the Foreign Service in 2008. In 2012 she made her first acquaintance with Bavaria being posted as a consul for Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, a posting which allowed her to gather the necessary experience and contacts useful for her new tasks as a consul general in Munich. She is also an author having recently published a book on the depiction of Europe and Europeanness in the Romanian presidential discourse. In an interview with Diplomatisches Magazin she spoke about the large Romanian community living in the south of Germany, the bilateral relationship with Bavaria, the consulate’s activity in Munich and the role of the German minorities in Romania.

Ms. Chiriac, how many Romanians live and work in the south of Germany?

The Romanian presence in the south of Germany, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, is significant. There are 272.734 Romanian citizens officially registered in the two Länder, 156.242 in Bavaria and 134.987 in Baden-Württemberg, which represents more than the half of the entire Romanian community in Germany. Metropols such as Munich or Nürnberg host, for instance, 20.000 or 10.000 co-nationals. I meet here in Munich, almost on a daily basis, co-nationals who provide daily strategic services to the community – such as the Romanians working here as doctors, or IT engineers, at the airport or for the postal services or those employed in the hotel and restaurant industry. Overall, the Romanian community in Germany grows annually, having the biggest growth among the EU citizens in 2016, for example, with 80.821 newly-arrived Romanians, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).

What would be the challenges for the Romanian community in the south of Germany?

The Romanian community in the south of Germany is very well integrated, striving to be an involved and honest part of their new host-society. I would like to emphasize, once more, that Romanians, as a rule, come to Germany to live and work and not to be primarily recipients of various social benefits, as we too often hear.

Some of the main problems that my co-nationals encounter here have to do with the lack of knowledge of the German language which can often lead to accepting jobs for which they are over-qualified. Another problem is the scarcity of the housing market in certain big cities in the region. The recognition of the diplomas is also a topic of interest, which is related to the necessity of a better preparation on the citizens‘ part before actually moving to Germany.

Another challenge, and this time a more insidious one, is a certain narrative of our country in the media. I cannot stress often enough that Romanians come to live and work in Bavaria, strive to build an honest existence here and are appreciative of their host-society. Unfortunately, as with many other topics, exceptions are often being depicted as being the norm and that is often discouraging and unproductive.

What does your activity as a Consulate General entail and how do you manage such a big community?

I must begin by saying that serving a community of almost 300.000 co-nationals is an honour, a huge responsibility and a difficult task at the same time. One first step in our efforts to provide qualitative consular services has been their digitalization. This allows for a better organization, predictability and shorter waiting periods. I take this opportunity to stress that Romania has the second biggest consular network among the EU member-states, in terms of consulates opened in Europe, encompassing 49 consulates, with a worldwide digital platform for all consular services.

Another step that we have taken in order to build a meaningful relationship with the Romanian community in the south of Germany has been the initiation of a project entitled „Bavaria from A to Z”. This project allows for a structured and comprehensive approach of the Romanian community in the region and encompasses field visits performed by the representatives of the consulate general. Throughout these visits we are able to meet Romanians in their own new hometowns, lead discussions with Bavarian authorities and with Romanian opinion-leaders in those respective cities. So far, we are proud to say that we have managed to visit eleven Romanian communities in their new home-cities of Augsburg, Traunreut, Rosenheim, Bamberg, Munich, Kempten, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Landshut, Neuendettelsau and Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz (chronological enumeration). This is, if you will, a sort of a „grass-roots approach” on our part and it has proven to be very successful insofar.

From the bilateral point of view how is the cooperation with the Bavarian institutions?

In Bavaria, every diplomatic representation feels the high expectations in terms of delivering both consular services for our citizens, as well as establishing a political, cultural and economic presence in the community. We are thus, actively involved in providing high-quality opportunities for the Romanian culture and artists here in Bavaria – such as the already renowned Romanian Culture Days Festival (in partnership with GE-RO Forum), the recent efforts to promote traditional cultural practices for spring (Mărţişor, Märzchen, as we have come to call it in German) or this year’s festivities for the anniversary of 100 years of Romanian Unity.

The bilateral cooperation with the Bavarian authorities has received a new impetus in the last year, with the new Working Session of the Intergovernmental Commission „Romania-Bavaria”, which was organized in November 2017 in Bucharest, as well as with the high-level visits at the level of the Romanian Ministry of Commerce and Entrepreneurship, the Romanian Ministry of Culture and the Romanian Police. These recent developments indicate a bilateral cooperation at the technical level, as well, which serves as a good indication of future achievements in our relationship. Talks are under way with regard to common events in view of our Presidency of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (November 2018 – November 2019) and our Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2019. In terms of trade, there is a remarkable increase of almost one billion Euros between Romania and Bavaria in 2017, in comparison to 2016. Romania is seen as an important and growing EU economy, a fully- fledged EU and NATO member-state, deeply committed to the consolidation of the European project and a factor of stability in the region.

There is a significant German population that is historically connected to Romania – the Transylvanian Sachsen and the Banat Schwaben, among others. Can you elaborate?

2017 represented a very special year for the Romanian- German relations – we celebrated 50 years of diplomatic ties and 25 years from the signing of the Treaty on friendly cooperation and partnership between Romania and the Federal Republic of Germany. Furthermore, Romania celebrated ten years of EU membership, a journey on which our German friends have helped us from the start, when our European and Euro-Atlantic paths were just at the beginning.

Within this substantial bilateral dialogue the German minorities that live or have lived in Romania play a fundamental part. There is a century-long cohabitation of Romanians, Saxons and Swabians in Transylvania, Banat and Bucovina. These communities, together with the Romanian-born Saxons and Swabians and over half a million Romanians living and working now in Germany, represent a solid bridge between our countries. A privileged tool for deepening our relations is represented also by the Romanian-German Governmental Commission for the German minority in Romania, established in 1992 – their joint meetings are taking place annually, alternatively in Romania and Germany.

New cultural initiatives, such as the Haferland Festival organized every year in Romania, strive to focus the public attention towards the German values and traditions as manifested through the Transylvanian Saxons. There is an impressive German heritage in Romania with medieval towns, fortified churches, Baroque churches, large museum collections and libraries which are all touristic destinations and proof of the historical connection between Romania and Germany. There is also a vibrant German-speaking community in the field of arts, universities, festivals and mass-media which manage to attract both German minority as well as Romanians.

How do Munich and Bavaria feel for you as a diplomat here?

I am strongly connected to Bavaria having served between 2012 and 2015 as a consul in Munich and now, since November 2016 as consul general. I have always been impressed by the care for the environment, the citizens’ involvement in the life of the community, the pride for local traditions and the bakeries! My son, who has accompanied me since 2012, takes actual pride in being „a bissl boarisch” apart from his Romanian heritage.

INTERVIEW Dr. Helmut Schmidt

Pictures: 1 = Burg in Râsnov, gebaut vom Deutschen Orden © kristofarndt – flickr.com | 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 = Generalkonsulat von Rumänien in München