IN THE HOUSE WHERE EVERYONE IS COMFORTABLE

A dialogue is well-grounded when it is filled with content — specific, weighed, comprehensive. These epithets are to be addressed to the dialogue on partnership of Belarus and the countries of the European Union. Today in daily use of the European politicians there appeared the notion of a “realistic view on the future relations with the European Union”, where there is place for common interest in mutually beneficial relations. In fact, these relations have always existed. They also exist today and are fulfilled, first of all, through business projects.Activity of the German-Belarusian House can be an example of the strength of the contacts that bind European countries (and Belarus, undoubtedly, is a European country). Recently in Minsk I had an opportunity to talk to an executive director of this non-commercial organization, Patricia Ruppert.
A dialogue is well-grounded when it is filled with content — specific, weighed, comprehensive. These epithets are to be addressed to the dialogue on partnership of Belarus and the countries of the European Union. Today in daily use of the European politicians there appeared the notion of a “realistic view on the future relations with the European Union”, where there is place for common interest in mutually beneficial relations. In fact, these relations have always existed. They also exist today and are fulfilled, first of all, through business projects.

Activity of the German-Belarusian House can be an example of the strength of the contacts that bind European countries (and Belarus, undoubtedly, is a European country). Recently in Minsk I had an opportunity to talk to an executive director of this non-commercial organization, Patricia Ruppert.

— The German-Belarusian House has existed for a long time. It is interesting to know what projects it carries out today. Which goals does it have, taking into account today’s reality?
— Yes, the German-Belarusian House was founded in 1994 as an organization that is not oriented on getting profit. It is registered in the city of Karlsruhe in Germany and has its representative office in Minsk.
A founder of the German-Belarusian House is Professor Rolf Rupert, a lawyer from Karlsruhe, who is also the president of the House. I am the executive director of this organization that in the 90’s initiated many projects with Germany, with the help of the federal government funding. Today, more projects are being implemented with the help of the funding from the European Union. It means that the work concept has slightly changed. Our first projects ensured the know-how transfer from Germany to Belarus in a very important sphere of public service. Those projects dealt with the issues of water and energy supply, energy-saving, waste disposal and public transportation. Even today ten trams from Karlsruhe run in Minsk. The German-Belarusian House initiated and established contacts with German organizations on different levels — companies, state and private organizations — convincing them to come to Belarus and to introduce their know-how into various management spheres.
The German-Belarusian House is still stable and is oriented on further development. In the same way as we did before, we propose project ideas that touch upon the issues that are especially relevant for the Belarusian society.
— Is it possible to say that after more than ten years the organization is still in demand?
— My answer to this question would be as following: activity of the German-Belarusian House and the projects it carries out speak for themselves. For instance, this year we are finishing an extensive and interesting project in Brest which is called “EU-Enlargement and Foreign Direct Investments in Border Regions to the CIS.” Its main aim is to strengthen economic cooperation of the cross-border regions of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus, which will help to soften the consequences of the expansion of the EU borders up to Brest. The FDI project has been carried out with the assistance of Brest regional and district executive committees, as well as with the help of the free economic area “Brest”, Byalskiy povet (Poland) and the Shatsk region (Ukraine). In early October an economic forum took place in Brest, in which the representatives of eight enterprises from Baden-Wьrttemberg took part. The event was held with the assistance of the Baden-Wьrttemberg Ministry of Economics, the Embassy of Germany in Belarus, and Delegation of the European Commission in Belarus.
The FDI project’s main objective was to develop a regional marketing strategy that would “open up” the region and would make it attractive for the allocation of industry and direct foreign investments. The partners managed to solve this problem successfully. They have revealed all strengths of the Polish-Ukrainian-Belarusian cross-border region that became known as “Business Valley Bug”. For example, if an enterprise is situated in Brest, it will be possible to enter the markets of all three regions — in Belarus, Ukraine and Poland — at one and the same time. In other words, one region equals to three markets. Why does the German-Belarusian House deal with such projects? Because Karlsruhe, which is also situated in the cross-border region, has more than thirty years of experience in cross-border cooperation between German and French parties. It is this practical experience that we would like to introduce to Belarus.
— And, in particular, to the Brest region?
— Yes, we’ve had a very extensive discussion with our local administration, trying to define what branches of economic development show more promise in this region. We have found out that these branches are agriculture and food industry. These are particularly interesting and promising branches for Brest, especially if they go along with the usage of various biotechnologies and bioenergetics. Nowadays countries and even regions within one and the same country compete with each other in order to win foreign direct investments that would increase the region’s economic prosperity. As a rule, the development of a number of cross-border regions falls behind that of the central ones, despite their substantial economic and strategic advantages. The question is to define these advantages and the ways of their implementation and development. In the Brest region, we have carried out three projects dealing with the development of cross-border cooperation since 2000, all of them co-funded by the European Union.
— And what is the interest of the European Union in these projects and their implementation?
— One of the strategic objectives of the European Union is well-balanced progress of the regions that can be achieved through minimization of the differences in their economic and social development. This progress would be the guarantee of safety and stability. Europe has already realized that even in the European Union there are regions with big differences, which leads to certain problems. Europe tries to smear these problems at the expense of the cooperation program funding. Another important reason for the development of these initiatives is the neighbourhood policy of the European Union. On entering the EU, Poland and the Baltic states have become a part of this policy that obliges all states at the EU external borders to develop friendly and neighbourly relations with each other.
I would also like to mention a completely new project. Recently I visited Polotsk, Belarus where I met with the city’s administration. The aim of my visit was a new project “Bella Dvina — crossing the borders, discovering the culture, enjoying the nature of the Western Dvina/Daugava space.” The project’s main idea is to create a common tourist space along the Dvina river — from Daugavpils, Latvia to Polotsk, Belarus. Even today many tourists from Germany and the rest of Europe come to the Baltic countries to have rest and get to know the nature of Dvina. Unfortunately, their tourist routes and, consequently, the offers of the tourist agencies end on the border with Belarus. In this project, a new cross-border tourist product will be created. Improved infrastructure of the information service delivery, construction of parking lots, marketing of the region, publishing of tourist maps and launching of new routes will help the region to become more recognizable and attractive for the tourists.
— Is this project still in the process of development?
— We have already got approval of the European Union, and currently the project is in the process of registration in accordance with Belarusian legislation. But the most difficult issues of funding have already been solved — we have got more than ¤500,000. The project begins next year and will last for 24 months.
— In light of the fact that you now work more with the European Union, is it probable that the name “The German-Belarusian House” will be transformed?
— I am German myself, and this means that I am a convinced European. Our representative office in Belarus is called “Interaction”, so it already reflects the change. We are very glad that the Belarusian government has decided to open the representative office of the European Union here in Belarus that will support cooperation through its institution.
— In November you took part in the Minsk forum. How could you evaluate its importance? Was it valuable? What is your opinion on the organization of international forums?
— I think that it is very important: we should have a possibility of discussing the questions thoroughly, and not only on the official level. Press and television have highlighted this forum in a very positive way, and this event proves that the changes between Belarus and Germany are really taking place and that they are indeed positive.
Europe doesn’t expect that it will be the only variant for Belarus. The European Union would like to be one of the favourable variants for the development of political, economical and other relations.

Viktor Mikhailov
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