In the 12th century, a large number of Germans immigrated to Eastern Europe to start trading in this region. Of this group, many Germans also settled in Romania, especially in Transylvania. The group of so-called Romanian Germans continued to develop in the following centuries, mainly due to further emigration from Germany.
Romanian Germans have been able to maintain their culture, language and religion for more than 850 years. However, the number of Romanian Germans dropped dramatically during and after the Cold War due to immigration to Germany.
Although the German minority numbered about 750,000 in 1930, today there are only about 36,000 Germans in Romania.
Relations between Germany and Romanian Germans have always been very close. Although the German minority settled in Romania, they wanted to reunite with Germany in recent centuries.
The attempt at unification with the German Empire in 1871 and cooperation with Nazi Germany in Romania during World War II are important examples of this desire for unification.
Despite discrimination, the German minority is tolerated in Romanian majority society and is even seen as a role model. This is mainly because the German minority makes a large contribution to the Romanian economy through trade.
Even during Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime during the Cold War, German minorities were allowed to continue their Protestant and Catholic practices in churches, albeit with restrictions. This was not a given during the communist era.
After the end of the Cold War, Romania, like other Eastern European countries, underwent a process of transformation. In this process, integration of democracy and rule of law is declared the ultimate goal. Germany concluded a bilateral agreement with Romania in 1992, and in 1995 and 1996, the two countries entered into additional cooperation agreements in the fields of education and culture.
This agreement greatly strengthened German-Romanian relations in the long term. During this process, several German institutions, foundations and companies have established themselves in Romania.
Among the most important German foundations are the politically affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Hans Seidel Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.
According to their own statements, these foundations independently pursued the goal of strengthening the rule of law and the democratization process in Romania.
Although these foundations act independently of each other, they adhere to certain guidelines of German foreign policy. Collaboration can also occur between these political foundations if interests overlap in one area.
Much of the collaboration took place between the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Hans Seidel Foundation because of their political closeness.
Political foundations usually organize seminars, conferences, workshops and symposiums to bring Western European values closer to the Romanian public.
But most importantly, these organizations serve to train aspiring politicians in Romania and connect them with German politicians and academics.
To strengthen this network, these foundations organize educational excursions to the Bundestag, for example. This also increased German influence on politics in Romania.
With regard to culture and education, the Goethe Institute in Bucharest is the most important German institution. The Goethe Institute ensures the preservation of German culture and language in Romania, not only with seminars and workshops, but also with targeted German teacher training.
The Goethe Institute collaborates with several schools and universities in Romania to teach, for example, German at these institutions. The Goethe Institute is directly funded by the German state, individuals and sponsors.
In addition, there are German schools in Romania run by the Goethe Institute and the Central Agency for Schools Abroad (ZfA), where students can take the German Abitur, a test required to qualify for admission to German universities.
Officially, there are 53 German-speaking schools, most of which are attended by Romanian children from the upper middle class. This is mainly because Germany’s minority population is very small.
In addition, Romanian families from the upper middle class send their children to German schools because these children have much better opportunities in their future careers.
German schools are also seen as elite schools, even though they are state-funded. The reason is that the highest success rates for graduation are achieved in German schools. While the graduation rate in Romanian schools is 55% -65%, the graduation rate in German schools is 98%.
In addition, there is the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which also supports student and academic exchanges between Germany and Romania.
Trade, economic ties
Cooperation in the field of education extends to developments in the economic field. Since the end of the Cold War, the trade volume between the two countries has continued to increase.
Especially with Romania’s entry into the European Union in 2007, a big leap can be seen: Although in 2005, its trade volume was $ 10.7 billion, it increased to $ 15.2 billion in 2007.
In 2019, the trade volume between the two countries reached more than $ 20.7 billion. Germany is considered the most important economic partner for Romania.
Despite its relatively small size, Romania is also considered an important trading partner for Germany, ranking 20th among all countries in the world.
There are currently about 7,500 companies registered in Romania with German participation. Companies such as Mahle, Bosch, Conti and Hella are particularly present in Romania. Daimler has also invested approximately 300 million euros ($ 365 million) in Sebes, Transylvania.
In addition, German retail chains such as Kaufland have also found Romania as a location. According to the German-Romanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, German companies are the third largest foreign investor in Romania in terms of investment.
How about the press?
German minorities have run their own daily newspapers in German for more than several centuries, which have closed numerous times. Currently there are only Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung (ADZ) and Siebenburgische Zeitung.
The ADZ is in particular an important means of communication for the German minority, because it is through this daily newspaper that the German minority receives the most important information about current developments affecting them.
Another very important foundation is the German Democratic Forum in Romania (DFDR). The DFDR was founded in 1990 by the German minority with the aim of representing the German minority politically as an ethnic group.
Several ethnic groups live in Romania, and the Romanian parliamentary system allows each ethnic group to be represented in Parliament by at least one member of parliament from each ethnic group. The DFDR provides MPs who will represent the German minority in the Romanian Parliament.
Furthermore, it should be underlined that the DFDR is a country funded by Romania and Germany. In 2010, the German Federal Interior Ministry confirmed that it gave 1.65 million euros to the DFDR.
The German minority serves a liaison function in German-Romanian relations. The DFDR is an important instrument for successfully implementing this bridge. For example, DFDR MPs accompany Romanian government leaders on their official trips to Germany to advise them. The lawmaker played an important mediating role on this journey.
In addition, high-ranking politicians such as Horst Seehofer, Guido Westerwelle and Angela Merkel have visited the DFDR on their official trip to Romania. They stressed repeatedly how important the DFDR and the German minority are to German-Romanian relations.
The domestic political influence of the DFDR can be illustrated by the example of Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Iohannis himself is a member of the DFDR and, after a successful term in Sibiu as mayor, he was elected president of Romania for two consecutive terms in 2014 and 2019.
The activities of German foundations, institutions and educational institutions are of strategic importance for both countries. The German foundation has made a significant contribution to the successful transformation of Romania.
Romania’s entry to the EU in 2007 was the culmination of this successful transformation process. Educational and cultural institutions have helped not only to preserve culture and language but even to spread it to a part of the majority population of Romania.
Through better relations, a successful transformation process and support for the German language, the two countries can also benefit economically.
The German minority also contributed to the preservation of the German-Romanian community by establishing communication media. The foundations of the DFDR were not only an important means of establishing direct contact with the German government but also of exerting some influence on Romanian politics.
* Students of Master’s degree in Europe and International Relations at Turkish-German University