New Zealand-German Relations: Quietly Deepening: Astrid Fritz Surveys New Zealand-German Relations, and Foreshadows How Both Countries Will Address Global Challenges Such as International Security

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What do a small country on the edge of the world like New Zealand and an economic 'heavyweight' in the middle of Europe like Germany have in common? More than one would expect. Substantial convergence is signalled publicly by high-level visits such as Prime Minister Helen Clark's visits to Germany in 2000 and 2005 and Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright's visit in 2004. These were reciprocated by Federal President Johannes Rau's visit to New Zealand in 2003 and visits by President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Thierse and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in 2005.

What is the political basis of New Zealand-German relations? New Zealand and Germany established their diplomatic links more than 50 years ago. Since then, as a sign of healthy bilateral diplomatic relations, numerous mutual visits have taken place. In the past few years the centre-left political affinity between former German Chancellor Gerhard Schr6der and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has led to a further deepening of New Zealand-German relations. Both leaders regularly participated in the international Progressive Governance meetings, which increased mutual appreciation for each other's system of government and style of leadership. (1)

New Zealand and German government officials emphasised that the cooperation framework between their two countries would be unlikely to be affected by any change of governments. The Social Democrats are still part of the German government through the grand coalition and the Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier took the position of Foreign Minister. On the other hand, Prime Minister Helen Clark and the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel could find a common basis because they are both women in a leading position.

Even though New Zealand-German relations are positive and not controversial, it remains to be seen how they will develop under a new German government. It is basically a question of how much further the relations can be deepened. A realistic chance exists that both Clark and Merkel might be interested in exchanging their political experiences. If not earlier, the next official meeting will take place in 2007, when Germany will have the presidency of the European Council. Mutual interest in each others' political structures is revealed by the fact that New Zealand and German politicians follow political developments in each other's country to find patterns that could be adapted to their own political system. It is well known that New Zealand adopted the German system of a double vote, which became the mixed member proportional representation system (MMP) in 1996. It is less well-known that German politicians and scholars, too, follow developments in New Zealand, such as in the educational and social system, and study the consequences of the public sector reforms for possible applications to Germany's educational and administrative systems. Germans are primarily interested in studying the consequences of such reforms and evaluating the pros and cons of these reforms from a German perspective. New Zealand is therefore a perfect case study.

What are the mutual challenges of the 21st century? Despite having different geographical, cultural and economic backgrounds, New Zealanders and Germans face similar problems. They both have to cope with a changing global economic system, the problems arising from an aging population, the responsibility for sustainable development, fair treatment of developing nations and the protection of the global environment. Helen Clark further emphasised these similar challenges in a speech on the occasion of the state visit of German President Johannes Rau in 2001 :

   Germany and New Zealand share
   many challenges .... How do we position
   our economies, and produce,
   attract and retain the new skills we
   need? How do we re-train those already
   in workforce? How best can
   we meet the circumstances of ageing
   populations? …