“We are neighbours cooperating in the heart of Europe”
Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: Archive
For a diplomat, it is “a top priority, getting to know people and establishing networks. Something which proved to be somewhat complicated in the beginning of my term here because of COVID-19”, points out Mr. Andreas Künne, German Ambassador in Czechia. Nevertheless, he describes his appointment here as having “a very dense agenda with a number of highlights”. What moments have been the most remarkable for him so far? Does he consider the United Nations useful? And how does he view the current Czech Presidency of the EU Council?
What brought you to the profession of ambassador?
Being curious, fascinated by other languages, cultures, and countries, being a bit of a policy aficionado, and never having lived in any place for longer than seven years even as a child all combined to make the foreign service a logical choice for me. And when joining the diplomatic service, to eventually be an ambassador probably is top of the wish list for any hopeful young diplomat. It definitely was the case for me. Then again, when you look back at a career, especially a somewhat successful one, things appear to be inevitable – but they are not. Saying that dedicated, hard work made me become an ambassador would thus be just part of the answer. Having had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time is at least an equally important part.
You have been in the Czech Republic for over a year. Can you share some of your impressions and highlights of that time?
A diplomat’s job description includes, as a top priority, getting to know people and establishing networks. Something which proved to be somewhat complicated in the beginning of my term here because of COVID-19. Fortunately, it seems that this pandemic is no longer dictating our daily lives, and I make full use of meeting people wherever and whenever I can.
Since I arrived in August 2021, we have had a very dense agenda with a number of highlights. For me, it all started with the successful and fruitful visit of Federal President Steinmeier in August 2021. Right after the elections in our two countries last fall, we had a truly historic number of bilateral visits here in Prague. Chancellor Scholz was here twice, as were Foreign Minister Baerbock and Vice Chancellor Habeck, to name but a few. The sheer number of delegations coming to Prague and the Czech Republic over the last fifteen months underlines the high quality of our relations. This also holds true for relations between the neighbouring federal states Bavaria and Saxony and the Czech Republic. Both Prime Ministers met Prime Minister Fiala, and almost all cabinet members from both Dresden and Munich visited their Czech counterparts over the last ten months. This is all the more important since cross-border relations are at the heart of our relations – the more stable and sustainable they are, the more resilient our relations are also on the national level.
On a lighter note, I am very happy that, after a long COVID-induced pause, we were able to invite the public to an open-door day at our embassy at Lobkowicz Palace, when we welcomed over 5,000 visitors. Having a flash mob orchestra and choir perform the Czech, German, European, and Ukrainian anthems at Lobkoviwcz’s historic balcony was truly a ‘goosebumps’ moment and a very special highlight.
What is the most difficult part of being an ambassador in Czechia?
The most difficult thing is learning Czech. I am afraid it will take me ages to come to a point when I am satisfied with my linguistic proficiency… Having said that: I am pleased that many young Czechs are learning German, and that the number of Germans learning Czech is increasing as well. This reflects the traditionally close cultural and economic ties between our two countries. We are very important trading partners for each other, have strong cultural and interpersonal ties, and a long common border. In addition, being a convinced advocate of multilingualism, I hope that at least two foreign languages will remain compulsory subjects at Czech schools. In a united Europe, languages are the key to good relations.
Coming to geopolitics, it is crystal clear that the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is a defining moment for our future in Europe. In these times, it is essential that Berlin and Prague are in constant contact on this. My main role as an ambassador is to deepen mutual understanding of our respective positions, to act as a kind of interpreter. It’s not always easy, but it is definitely a crucial element of my job here.
You love your job and times are busy. However, do you manage to enjoy some hobbies too?
Honestly, there is not enough free time for discovering the Czech landscape and culture. The Czech Republic is a wonderful country, with inspiring people. I am a fan of both classical and jazz music, and the range and diversity Prague has to offer in this respect is just amazing. Plus, I can sometimes combine work and satisfy my cultural appetite at the same time, for example when I attend the ground-breaking performances of long-forgotten works by authors oppressed and killed by the Nazis, which the Národní divadlo, under Per Boye Hansen’s leadership, has been bringing back to the Czech and Central European cultural scenes. The Federal Foreign Office supports this in the framework of the “Musica Non Grata” project. For me, personally, this is a highlight of our cooperation, and I warmly recommend attending one of the operas, concerts, and other performances until the end of 2023.
You served as a representative of your country to the United Nations for many years. In your opinion, is the UN still relevant today?
If we did not have an organization such as the United Nations, we would have to invent it. The UN is the only truly international organization, and it is the only organization capable of bringing together the world’s leaders. Consequently, the UN, its agencies, and its organizations are indispensable when it comes to trying to find global solutions to global challenges, such as climate change, safeguarding biodiversity, or global health, to cite just a few examples. Given how diverse we are on the planet, it is inevitable that the solutions we manage to find are compromises, sometimes just the lowest common denominator.
Obviously, the UN has its issues. It is quite clear, for example, that the UN Security Council urgently needs reform. That an aggressor gets away with his aggression just because he happens to be a permanent member of the Council is a relic of times we had believed long gone. We need to put even more effort into reforming the UN. The Czech Republic and Germany can play an important role in safeguarding the UN’s achievements while, at the same time, pushing for reforms.
What is the current status of Czech–German relations?
Our relations have never been better. Thanks to the dedicated efforts by both sides, contacts are deepening not only in politics and diplomacy, but also in trade, science, culture, education, and many other sectors.
The German Embassy in Prague is a good example of this.
We are working to ensure that our cooperation in the heart of Europe is beneficial for both the Czech and German sides. Just a few cases in point, as illustrations: We support student exchanges and cross-border student internships, including by improving language proficiency. We host a number of events at Lobkowicz Palace, such as scientific workshops, discussions with Czech and German leaders on strategic issues, and seminars concerning Czech-German relations. Contact and networking between Czech-German experts and the public are very important to us. Thanks to this, I see how people, especially young people, truly appreciate contact with their neighbours across the border. But then again, stating that our relations are better than they have ever been does not mean that they could not improve even more. The Czech Republic and Germany can be crucial factors in moving our common European agenda forward. I believe we still have some untapped potential here. And it is our job at the Embassy to move this forward, together with our Czech and German partners.
The presidency of the Czech Republic in the EU Council started in July of this year. How do you, as a representative of your country, feel about our performance?
The Czech presidency is taking place in very turbulent times. We’re still grappling with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, and inflation have become the most pressing issues. I believe the Presidency is extremely successful. Sometimes, I do have the impression that the tremendous efforts and the truly great successes of the Czech negotiators on all levels are not sufficiently recognized by the Czech political and media scenes. As an outside observer, I cannot but congratulate the Czech Presidency. It is thanks to the Czech negotiating skills in Brussels that good progress could be made on many important dossiers. Czech negotiators paved the way for coming to terms with the Russian aggression, concerning both our position vis-à-vis Moscow and getting our own European house in order.
What are you wishing for your country and for the Czech Republic?
I would wish that we further expand and intensify our relations and our cooperation. Whether in politics, business, science, or culture. Above all, however, I would like to see this cooperation and dialogue involve more and more citizens, and especially young people. In the border regions in the first place, but also beyond them.
I hope that we will intensify efforts to learn each other’s language, enabling us to get to know each other even better. This includes being absolutely clear and fair about our history, on both sides. We have so much in common, as we both are in Central Europe.
We owe it to our children to lay the groundwork for a joint future in a strong, resilient, and successful Europe. Therefore, I wish us all that we become true Europeans, being proud of our national identities, proud of where we come from, but being just as proud of our common European heritage. Looking at the near future, as the festive season approaches, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year.