Illustrating the extent of the involvement of German companies in Malta, H.E. Walter Haßmann, Germany’s ambassador to Malta for the past two years, said in the latest episode of The Boardroom “German companies are invested in Malta to the tune of €23 billion, and our annual trade exchange fluctuates between €900 million and €1 billion.”
The first in a new series launched today by The Boardroom, featuring interviews with ambassadors to Malta, business writer Jo Caruana caught up with Ambassador Haßmann who delved into the origins of Malta and Germany’s trade relations, going back over 40 years.
“I happen to know two true stories about how German enterprise came to Malta, and they are still family-owned businesses today,” he said, explaining that, In both cases, the patriarch was invited to came to Malta on holiday and returned home with an interest to invest in the island.
“In the late 1980s the Maltese Government created favourable conditions, organisationally and financially, for business investment and German companies responded to that,” the ambassador said.
“The first generation, so to speak, meant that Malta was more or less the extended workbench, cheap labour, in simple terms, but this changed completely and nowadays, the companies are here because there is a highly dedicated, qualified and disciplined Maltese workforce, who produce high-quality, expensive goods. I am confident that this economic cooperation will continue.”
In the years to come, ambassador Haßmann believes that Malta’s digital sector may prove attractive for specialised German companies, namely in the areas of Artificial Intelligence and digitalisation. “I also think there is a lot of competence here in the traditional fields such as engineering. In recent years, the problem was that there was not enough skilled labour available and some companies were employing skilled workers from all over the world because there are not enough Maltese. This might be a limiting factor.”
Turning to the most pressing topic of discussion at hand, the ambassador discussed the EU’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when Germany took on the Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1st July 2020.
“We have to increase mechanisms of European solidarity. Honestly in the beginning there wasn’t much of that, but we turned the whole thing around and got to a better understanding. But we have to increase European resilience against major disasters or catastrophes like a pandemic, and we are working very hard on that through communication under crisis conditions. Covid-19 was a wake-up call, which is, in a way, quite good for the EU as a whole and for our cohesion.”
Ambassador Haßmann added that the EU is working on bringing about the new Multiannual Financial Framework from 1st January 2020, which is crucial for the EU to function
“We are also working on the additional recovery programme. President Macron of France and Chancellor Merkel initiated this new principle, on how the EU can finance itself and bring more money to those member states who need it. We are talking of enormous amounts of money but I’m sure we will get to a workable plan and then tackle this crisis together, the EU as a whole.”
Focusing on Germany’s current economic state of affairs, the ambassador asserted “these are difficult times and we are still under the pandemic, let’s be realistic about it. But I must say I am quite proud of what we have achieved under very difficult conditions.”
“I have a bit of resistance to the term new normal – I don’t think we will be normal until we have defeated the virus through a vaccine and/or treatment, but under the present situation, where we are all a bit suspended mid-air if we are honest, Germany’s economy is performing admirably just like the Maltese.”
He added that many have discovered a new flexibility and what can be done without every person being at the workplace from 9 to 5. “It is an opportunity to learn a lot and develop news ways to operate, how to continue using the skills and capacities of your staff without losing the staff and without bringing everybody together every day, so in this tremendous crisis there is also tremendous potential. But I am not trying to downplay the challenges,” he said.
Such challenges extended to the embassy’s work, especially at the start of the pandemic in Malta, which saw the team at the German embassy repatriate around 2,000 nationals in Malta back home. While many made it onto the last Air Malta flight, the Maltese Government offered the embassy eight flights in a joint effort between the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Air Malta and the German embassy.
“We worked literally around the clock for around 10 days to allocate individuals to flights,” said Ambassador Haßmann. “We were very nervous, we were exhausted but I would like to thank our partners in the Maltese Government for making this possible,” he said. After the “big bang” at the star of the crisis, the team at the embassy worked digitally as much as possible. “My profession lives on meeting people and interacting so it was painful to be reduced to a laptop screen, but it was much better than any other alternative.”
Having been in Malta for two years, and with a personal connection to the island that dates back over 160 years – the ambassador’s great grandmother was born in Malta in 1860 – he is confident that Malta-Germany relations will continue going strong.
“There is so much trust, many political contacts, and a lot of cooperation and exchange of thoughts in the political and economic fields,” the ambassador added. “German companies wouldn’t be here if they didn’t feel the general environment was conducive to their activities, but we have to continue to work hard to adapt to changing situations and the pandemic is the best example for that. I have enjoyed every day I have spent here so far, and I am quite optimistic I will continue along these lines.”