Irish diplomatic relations with Germany are older than the Irish republic. Daniel Binchy, the Free State ambassador at the Berlin legation from 1929, described his task as to "bring light unto the Germans". Thankfully there is no such lofty language in the strategic review of Irish relations with Germany, drafted by Irish diplomats in Berlin after wide-ranging consultations.
The document takes stock of where we are with Europe's biggest player, marks where we should want to be, and plots a course between the two points. In an auspicious sign, Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas was on hand to help launch the review, flying first to Dublin and then on to London. Berlin views Ireland as a reliable EU ally. Irish Brexit concerns are German concerns, Berlin officials insist, and both countries are keen to hold the post-Brexit EU27 together.
Looking to the future, Berlin believes Dublin will increase in importance as a communications conduit to London and Washington. But Germany has more direct neighbours than any other EU country, and even more countries vying for its attention. If it is to become an indispensible partner, Ireland now has to do its homework and come up with good ideas.
A proposed year-long Irish arts year, in 2020 or 2021, will push an open door: German love of Irish culture
The report recommends that Irish politicians and civil servants should meet their German counterparts regularly to keep on top of EU policy, devise bilateral projects and close the gap between the two capitals. But Germany is more than Berlin, and the report urges Irish officials to finally grasp the country’s decentralised structure and pay attention to powerful governments in the 16 federal states.
A new consulate in Frankfurt, home to the European Central Bank, will raise Ireland’s presence in Germany’s prosperous south. A proposed year-long Irish arts year, in 2020 or 2021, will push an open door: German love of Irish culture. For any full-time cultural manager to be taken seriously in Germany, however, they will need serious money to move cultural promotion beyond the Béal Bocht approach.
The report makes an interesting proposal to embrace Berlin, with its young, growing Irish community, as a laboratory to test engagement with a new, mobile emigrant generation. In the long term, however, it warns that building sustainable ties – such as through student exchanges and research co-operations – is dependent on Ireland being serious about German language teaching.
There is always a danger that such reports land in a drawer, not least given the competition for attention and resources from other Government strategies: on culture, STEM subjects, languages and Ireland’s global footprint. But by this time next year, Brexit will have knocked away Ireland’s UK crutch in the EU. After a nine-decade warm-up, the time has come to lift relations with Germany to the next level.