UPDATE: Mar 17, 2017
Vocational Training and Study Abroad Opportunities for Young People
—– Japan and Germany have had cordial relations for more than 150 years. Which areas do you focus on to reinforce the good bilateral ties?
We are focusing on broad areas such as science, culture, and economic ties, but also try to promote Germany for its lifestyle and as a good place for young Japanese people to receive university education. As for political affairs, both countries are working closely to tackle global challenges both bilaterally and in the G7, G20, and in the G4 on the UN Security Council. As a current example, Chancellor Merkel invited Japan as a partner country to the CeBIT 2017, and we are glad that Prime Minister Abe has accepted the invitation.
—– The German economy has been enhanced by the nationwide growth of small and medium-sized companies (Mittelstand) and the labor market reform. Would you suggest that Japan can learn from Germany to cope with the same challenges?
Since the small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Germany are active in international markets, while those in Japan are knowledgeable about the market trends in Asia, a partnership to explore third countries would be mutually beneficial. Furthermore Germany has the dual vocational training system, in which young people are trained on the job in the companies and in vocational schools. This helps the growth of small and mid-sized companies. If it is considered beneficial, Japan could adopt this system. Due to the reform within the last 20 years, the German labor market is now quite flexible. Jobless people are encouraged to make their own efforts to find a job, while receiving governmental support. Also, I encourage young Japanese to study abroad in order to broaden their global experiences. If they decide to come to Germany in this context they would be most welcome.
—– What do German companies expect from the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which is under negotiation?
The German companies are hoping for international harmonization of standards to reduce entry barriers to the markets, and also participation in the Japanese public procurement market. We hope for an early conclusion of an agreement, but are more interested in the EPA to be substantially valuable for both countries. “Industry 4.0”, proposed by Germany and promoted by both countries, is an industrial revolution to advance manufacturing technologies – and Japan is showing strong interest in it. An agreement on the substantial details would accelerate this revolution.
—– Europe is deeply concerned about the mass migration and refugee issues, which is leading to increased anti-refugee sentiment in some countries. Does it have any influence on the generous asylum and migration policy of Germany?
Germany accepted roughly 1.1 million refugees last year. Although the anti-refugee sentiment is increasing in many European countries, Germany’s welcoming culture has not changed in principle. We provide financial support to Syria and neighboring countries, and continue accepting refugees based on the asylum seeking and registration process. By learning the German language, contributing to the job market, and following the German laws, the refugees become a part of Germany. German society and culture have benefitted from immigrants and refugees in the past, but education is still necessary to deepen the public understanding of refugees.
—– How will the so-called Brexit affect Germany, and what are its implications for the EU’s future?
The Brexit is a blow to Germany and the EU, but not a catastrophe. It may affect the economy in Germany and the rest of Europe by weakening the European market and making it therefore less attractive to investors. The negotiation for the Brexit will take a maximum of 2 years. Certain aspects will be relevant in the upcoming process: The UK will not participate in the single market without the freedom of internal movement. Secondly, it will lose access to the EU’s free trade agreement with roughly 50 states and regions which is hardly possible to re-establish right away. And finally,a slowdown of the British economy and depreciation of the pound is also expected. Germany and France have often worked as the engine of European integration. Some smaller member states are worried of a Franco-German dominance in the EU, but they seem to be even more worried of these two countries not agreeing: France and Germany have differing opinions in many areas, so a compromise between these two is usually acceptable to other members as well, because such a compromise is thoroughly discussed and well thought through. It will be the task of politicians to remind young people of the value of the European integration that tends to be taken for granted. The Brexit decision was a wake-up call to review the structures of the EU: Many citizens do not realize the advantages of the European integration and dislike over-regulations by the EU bureaucracy. Therefore, we have to strengthen our key objectives like the economic and monetary union as well as a common security and defense policy, and at the same time reconsider excessive EU regulations and hand some responsibilities back to the member states. But we cannot allow “cherry picking” by single member states. The EU has gone through many crises in the past and always came out stronger