Could you provide our readers with a brief history of your Mission?
Our Mission was established in 1992, upon request by the German government of the time, as the first KRG foreign mission ever. The primary task was to coordinate the significant humanitarian and development aid from Germany to the Kurdistan Region. Another responsibility was to inform the public and the media in Germany about the highly precarious situation of the population of Kurdistan, which was suffering under the dual embargo. Our work was based on three pillars from the start: Direct contact with the German government, the regular exchange of information with the relevant members and commissions of the German Bundestag and the state parliaments, as well as the major religious organizations and NGOs. We then incrementally assumed the function of a consulate, offering the usual services (powers of attorney, legalizations, visas, etc.) to the Kurdish and non-Kurdish residents in Germany. The Mission’s objective is to cultivate and intensify the political, economic, and cultural relations between Germany and the Kurdistan Region.
How would you assess current relations between the KRG and the German government?
We have maintained excellent, friendly relations with Germany for decades. A German Consulate General was opened in Erbil in 2009, and a German business office funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics opened in 2010 to support German companies that want to enter the market. We are in constant dialog. President Massoud Barzani has met with high-ranking government representatives, Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Westerwelle, and this year with the new Foreign Minister Steinmeier. Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani met Chancellor Merkel for talks last year, within the framework of the resource conference held by the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group.
Can you tell us about the delegations you lead between Kurdistan and Germany?
The number of business and political delegations visiting Kurdistan has increased. We collaborate with Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and various trade and business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Near and Middle East Association, the German-Arab Friendship Society, and others to organize trips to the Region. In 2010 we established a German-Kurdish friendship circle. Politicians, members of parliament, and German companies involved in Kurdistan can cultivate and intensify their traditional relationships in this circle. In addition to the connections between Kurdistan and Germany, which have grown over decades, the large number of Kurds living in Germany is an excellent foundation and also a reason to promote bilateral relationships.
The process of democratization, the business boom, the ethnic and religious tolerance, the social progress, and especially the stable security situation are our foundation, and offer major opportunities to German business in all areas.
In what ways are the German government and semi-governmental organizations affecting social and political development in Kurdistan?
A number of international political organizations hold board meetings in Erbil. Our Mission has made it possible, for example, that the International Young Leaders Conference will take place in Erbil in May. Moral support like this is highly important to us and shows that we are on the right path in the process of democratization and reform in our Region. Important government and semi-government organizations, such as the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and others, are active locally and advise our government in many areas. The German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), funded by the Federal Foreign Office, is supporting the establishment and expansion of Syrian refugee camps. We also work together closely with the political foundations of the major parties, with the aim of actively promoting and strengthening civil society and civil rights organizations in the political sphere.
In what ways does the large Kurdish diaspora in Germany affect relations between Germany and the KRG?
Several thousand Iraqi Kurds live in Germany. Unfortunately, the vast expertise among Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan in Germany is still largely unexploited. In the future, we want to intensify our efforts to capture this potential for the Region. It would be helpful, however, if our efforts at reintegrating technical experts were better supported by efficient institutions in Kurdistan. The Kurdish diaspora has a plethora of cultural activities and associations that are independently introducing Kurdish culture to Germany's population. Unfortunately, we have neither the funds nor the staff needed to promote this better.
Which of Kurdistan's economic sectors have German businesses found the most success in? Which offer most future potential?
Unfortunately, the German presence to date is largely limited to the trade and service sectors. Several large German industrial firms are active in various areas of electricity supply, while others are active in water supply. A German company will be setting up its own production site for industrial pipes this year, which in addition to creating jobs, also represents a crucial transfer of knowledge and technology, one which we would also like to have in all areas. In the future, the energy security of Germany and Europe will play a major role for all of us. The vast oil and gas reserves discovered in Kurdistan since 2007 are important to Europe's future energy supplies. Kurdistan presents tremendous opportunities to German businesses, especially in areas such as construction, infrastructure, transportation, logistics, services, environmental technology, agricultural technology, healthcare, water management, waste disposal, and many others. We are highly interested in German and European companies that would enrich the Region with high quality and innovative products and services. We are favorably disposed toward German companies and wish to benefit from their expertise and know-how, like we already do in other areas.
What is your representation's strategy to further encourage economic cooperation and German investment in Kurdistan through 2014?
At this stage, our job is to tell German business and trade circles – especially SMEs– about opportunities in Kurdistan. Publications such as Kurdistan Review, as well as materials from the planning ministry, are an important factor. But even more important is to show interested businesspeople to local developments in the Region, in the form of delegations, appropriate events, and participation at conferences and trade shows, to help attract joint ventures and investments.
What is your key message to the German business community?
The lack of trained staff in Kurdistan is a negative factor. However, the process of democratization, the business boom, the ethnic and religious tolerance, the social progress, and especially the stable security situation are our foundation, and offer major opportunities to German business in all areas. Germany can only benefit from closer collaboration: From our dynamic economy, Our energy resource, Our stability, Our influence in the entire Region and good relationships with our neighbors, and of course as a gateway to the rest of Iraq. We can see many positive developments, yet we still have an enormous amount of work to do. Companies need legal security, prospects, and infrastructure. But even under good conditions, the first steps in a far-away country are always bold steps. Therefore, it is crucial that companies can be certain of having a solid, reliable partner in Kurdistan and being able to rely on local conditions. Germany and German workmanship have an excellent reputation, and it is time to utilize it.