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Bangladesh-German Relations: Current Trends and Prospects

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 By 2026, Bangladesh will be upgraded to a middle-income country and it has several challenges along with the positive aspects. On the other hand, amid and after the post-Covid new normal, Germany, likewise other European Union (EU) members, needs to harness new avenues for economic and infrastructural development along with facing the challenges of economic reconstruction. Bangladesh has gradually turned to a geostrategic and economic hub of South Asia and Southeast Asia. At least ten developmental mega projects and speedy economic acceleration creates a new avenue for the Bangladesh-EU relations and especially for the Bangladesh-German relations.

Historical relations

Bangladesh has long-standing and reliable traditional and historical relations with Germany since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. Germany (former East Germany) was the first country in Europe to officially recognize Bangladesh. After establishing the diplomatic relations on February 4, 1972, the bilateral relations between the two countries began to grow increasingly both in “depth and dimension”. Both countries have a long and successful bilateral relationship on most international issues and platforms. Between 1972 and 2020, Bangladesh received approximately € 3.03 billion in commitments from Germany as part of bilateral financial and technical cooperation. Besides, when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family was assassinated on August 15, 1975, his daughter and the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was in Germany.

Economic ties

The bilateral economic ties between Bangladesh and Germany have been steadily increasing over the past ten years. Europe, especially Germany is now one of the enthralling and lucrative export destinations for Bangladesh. According to the Foreign Ministry of Germany, Germany is currently the second largest export market for Bangladesh. The volume of bilateral trade with Germany has increasingly enlarged in recent years. In 2018, Bangladesh exported goods worth about 5.8 billion Euros to Germany and imported worth 800 million Euros with a gross 6.6 billion bilateral trade. 90% of the exporting products Bangladesh to Germany are textile material along with frozen foods and leather products.

In a recent meeting with the railway minister of Bangladesh on May 20, German Ambassador to Bangladesh Mr. Peter Fahrenholtz has expressed his desire to be a part of the development partner of Bangladesh especially through investing in the Railway sector. The government of Bangladesh has given more importance to the railway sector. Many projects are currently underway in the railways including Dhaka to Jessore through the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, Bangabandhu Railway Bridge, Dhaka-Cox’s Bazar rail link and Jessore-Satkhira rail line. Germany with its high technological advantage can play an important role in investing as well as digitalizing the railway sector of Bangladesh. Along with the railway, German investment in Bangladesh is also increasing in other sectors since 2016. Germany got approximately 4 billion dollars for several projects in Bangladesh in various sectors including electricity and textiles. The notable works of German-based companies received, included e-passports, 3,600 megawatt LNG-based power plants and the supply of 15 oil and gas-fired engines to generate 260 megawatts of electricity.

In the investment sector, the involvement of developed countries like Germany in the development and progress of Bangladesh is certainly very encouraging. Amid the hard time of Covid-19, Germany has agreed to provide 339.54 million euros for various development projects in the country which is signed by the Secretary of the Economic Relations Division (ERD) of Bangladesh and the Ambassador of Germany on behalf of their countries respectively. It is to be noted that technical and financial agreements are executed between the governments of Bangladesh and Germany every two years. Of the 339.54 million euros, 48.4 million euros are being given as grants and 292.5 million euros as loans, which are repayable at nominal interest for 25 years. These grants and loans will be used in various development projects in the country. The news of increased foreign investment and foreign reserves of Bangladesh is undoubtedly reassuring even in the face of Covid-19 epidemic.

According to Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), from the 2016-17 fiscal year to March 2020, about US $11 billion foreign exchange investments have been implemented. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, gross foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Bangladesh was approximately US $3.23 billion. Besides, the foreign reserve of Bangladesh has exceeded 45 billion dollars. It is a pride for the country that born from poverty, famine and war, the country is now lending foreign reserves to Sri Lanka and Sudan through currency swap. Bangladesh’s position in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2021 has been upgraded to 168th from 176th with 8 steps forward than previous year. All these will help in improving the investment environment in the country, setting up new industries and creating new avenues for expanding bilateral economic relations between the two countries. Speaking at a seminar organized by the German-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce during a visit to Germany in October 2018, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh called on German entrepreneurs to invest in the pharmaceutical, tourism, manufacturing, ICT, ceramics and renewable energy sectors for joint ventures.

In order to expand German-Bangladesh bilateral trade in the future, new export sectors need to be harnessed keeping in mind the need for environment and labor-friendly production. To diversify the exporting areas, shipping industry, vaccine production and technological cooperation could be the potential areas of bilateral trade in the upcoming days. Although Bangladesh has given priority to the textile sector, the sectors of leather goods, frozen fish, engineering products and medicines need to be developed to diversify the exporting products. The technological sector and agricultural and industrial equipment of Germany is far better than Bangladesh. Bangladesh has been developing 100 economic zones where German industries can work through investment and technology sharing. In a word, there is huge potential to accelerate the bilateral relations to a new height.

Bangladesh has been able to retain its GDP growth rate at around 7 per cent in the last decade before the Covid-19 attacked. Even during the pandemic, Bangladesh is among the fewer countries that become able to maintain a positive growth rate at 5.24 per cent in the 2019-20 fiscal year. To make its economic development more dynamic, the Bangladesh government is focusing on the mega infrastructure projects i.e., Padma Multipurpose Bridge, Metro rail project or Matarbari deep seaport. Bangladesh will soon become a middle-income country where there are enormous opportunities for Germany for trade and investment. Bangladesh’s economic development has been praised by various German economic organizations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank as well. Among the 27 countries of the European Union, Germany is the largest consumer market that leads to competition between exporting countries to capture the German market. In 2019, Germany imported 1,104.1 billion euros worth of goods from abroad, however, Bangladesh only captured 5.64 billion euros where Bangladesh and Germany have huge room for development.

Human Security Aspects

‘Environmentalism’ has been gaining momentum in Europe especially in Germany that tends to lean them towards eco-friendly products which paves the way for Bangladesh to export tea and jute-oriented products. Besides, Germany is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of producing alternative environment friendly fuels. In the field of alternative energy, Bangladesh can utilize the experiences and technological support of Germany. Climate change and global warming are common threats for the world. Bangladesh as the worst sufferer and Germany as an active proponent of climate diplomacy, should work together to make the world sustainable, livable and eco-friendly. Germany can contribute to the Delta plan 2100 and Climate funding to join hands with Bangladesh to mobilize resources for climate and security. Germany may provide Bangladesh technological know-how on how to produce and manage sustainable and renewable energy.

The present state leader of both Bangladesh and Germany has been praised for their humanitarian stands above all other narrowly-defined state interests. The two countries are leading in sheltering refugees around the world. Since 2017, a large number of Rohingya FDMNs fled to Bangladesh due to the “genocidal intent” of the Myanmar Army. As the socio-economic, environmental and security dimensions of sheltering over 1.2 million Rohingya refugees are increasing day by day, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, “the mother of humanity”, has been seeking sincere response from the international community to accentuate safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya FDMNs. The Rohingya crisis is a haze on the economic development of the country. Germany should intensively cooperate with Bangladesh in finding a durable solution for the forcibly displaced Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh.

People-to-People Contact

The cultural relationship and people-to-people contact of Bangladesh and Germany are very strong. Cultural cooperation is mainly directed through the Goethe Institute. In Bangladesh, the Institute is the key meeting place for all those interested in Germany. It offers diversified cultural events through film festivals, seminars and lectures on contemporary arts, culture and exhibitions of both German and Bangladeshi artists. German government has been providing different education and cultural exchange programs for the foreign students. Besides, in the higher study level, they are providing scholarships like German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship which is a really good opportunity for people-to-people contact and cultural affinity. The DAAD and other organizations offers a number of scholarships to Bangladeshi students and young researchers each year in order to promote the academic exchange between Germany and Bangladesh. Besides, in February 2021, GIZ, a German-based organization, has expressed interest in providing more technical assistance to Bangladesh to create skilled human resources in the field of textile education. The company has proposed a new project called ‘Higher Education and Leadership Development for Sustainable Textiles in Bangladesh (HELD)’ to assist the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

To conclude, Bangladesh-German relations have been enjoying great historical, economic and cultural ties. Germany is one of our biggest trading partners and the second largest market for garments in particular. But now pharmaceuticals, eco-friendly agricultural products, leather and ceramic products need to be prioritized for export diversification. Germany is an all-weather development partner of Bangladesh. They are supporting Bangladesh in numerous developmental activities through GIZ in the technology, health, education, environment, climate change, good governance and renewable energy sectors. They should work in a coordinated way to develop bilateral relations and to become trusted development partners in the upcoming days.

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Europe

Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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