Thomas Geisel:

Trust is the foundation of our relationship

The Mayor of Düsseldorf Thomas Geisel answered our questions in an exclusive interview with Capital Ideas.

Relations between Moscow and Düsseldorf have always been held up as an example because they have always been good. However, right now relations between Russia and the West in general leave much to be desired. Has this situation had an effect on contacts between Moscow and Düsseldorf?

I would actually say that the opposite is true.  I think, that when diplomatic or foreign relations are facing new challenges, it is even more important and necessary to develop relationships between people, between cultural figures and, of course, between entrepreneurs. It is also important to cooperate across spheres such as sports, education and school exchanges. So it is important to strengthen relationships like these. This is why we are maintaining very close relations with Moscow. I completely agree with the opinion of the German Ambassador Rüdiger von Fritsch who believes we must seek to unite people, that political conflicts and difficulties come and go, but it is extremely important to maintain these kinds of contacts.

How is economic cooperation between the Russian capital and the most populous state of Germany (North Rhine-Westphalia) developing? Which recent projects would you highlight?

We have always had a close relationship which started with the gas-pipeline deal between the USSR and the Federal Republic of Germany which was conducted in Düsseldorf in 1970. This was a long-term contract that entailed the supply of large-diameter pipelines and other equipment for the construction of a pipeline to Western Europe in exchange for gas delivered from fields in Western Siberia. It opened up a new chapter in the history of German-Russian relations (back then, it was German-Soviet relations). The company Ruhrgas, where I worked for 14 years, took part in it. It was a giant milestone in terms of relations between Germany and Russia. There had been no similar deals between the USSR and the West up until that point.

There has been a Russian Business Competence Center in Düsseldorf for quiet some time, which has been set up by the Düsseldorf Chamber of Commerce and the "Messe Düsseldorf". By the way the "Messe Düsseldorf" trade fair company opened its office in Moscow as early as in 1963. So you could say that "Messe Düsseldorf" is a real pioneer! There are not many cities that have that much exposure to and experience with the Russian market.

How many Düsseldorf companies operate in Moscow? What kind of companies are these and what is the scope of their activities?

There are a lot of Düsseldorf companies operating in Russia. Henkel, for example, has been in the Russian market since the 1990s. Metro Cash and Carry started expansion in Russia in the early 2000's and its Media Market / Saturn branch were established in Russia in 2006. E.ON's successor Uniper has been active in the Russian energy market for roughly a decade. Also SMS Siemag, a Düsseldorf plant engineering Firm, has a Russian office for quiet some time.

There aren’t a lot of investments flowing into Russia right now. Nonetheless I don’t know a single German enterprise that wants to exit the Russian market. Rather the line of thinking: yes, there is a crisis right now but it will not go on forever. But the foundation of our relations is strong and based on trust, and that is what we are counting on.

How is cooperation between the two cities developing across areas such as municipal services, education and culture?

We have great exchanges with Moscow in the cultural sector. During the Düsseldorf Days in Moscow, we had jazz concerts by the famous Düsseldorf "Sebastian Gahler Trio". The exhibition in the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow with artists from the famous "ZERO group" (an artistic movement that started in Düsseldorf in the early 60's) was also quite popular. Later this year, Düsseldorf will host an exhibition from Moscow’s Kolomenskoye Museum. I would also like to mention the collaboration between the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre and the Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf. Three schools in Moscow and Düsseldorf maintain partnership ties. These are all examples of cooperation that benefit both Moscow and Düsseldorf.

Is there an active dialogue between Düsseldorf and Moscow with respect to civic organisations?

Yes, quite active. This dialogue is held under the auspices of the Moscow-Düsseldorf friendship society that is active in our cities. I am a member of this organization, so I can tell you for sure: we have established a very wide network of contacts with Muscovites.

What is the significance of the partner city movement in the development of relations between Russia and Germany, especially right now?

I am a local politician, so am not working on foreign politics. However, it is clear that partnership ties between cities contribute to the improvement of relations between the two countries.

Were this year’s Düsseldorf Days in Moscow a success? What was the defining feature?

They were very successful. I am personally glad that Moscow was so hospitable. In my opinion, it is important that our partners in Moscow genuinely demonstrate that they are interested in working with Düsseldorf, that our city is very respected and recognized in the Russian capital. This was definitely reflected in the Düsseldorf Days events in Moscow.

Who did you meet in Moscow? Were these mostly courtesy visits, or did you discuss specific joint projects?

No, even though they were courteous, they were definitely no courtesy visits. We signed an agreement of intent with Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin for the upcoming 25-year anniversary of relations between Düsseldorf and Moscow, when we plan to host the Moscow Days in Düsseldorf.

This is a document on cooperation between our cities for 2017. It states that on the occasion of the 25-year anniversary of the establishment of partnership relations between the Russian capital and the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, we will organize official delegation exchanges, joint projects and public events across all relevant sectors such as the economy, culture, youth and sports. All events should point out the close friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation between Düsseldorf and Moscow.

We have ambitious plans. We intend to develop extensive cooperation, for example in the fields fashion and start-ups. But we will also discuss economic relations between the two cities of course. This time in Moscow, I took part in the panel discussion "Düsseldorf and Moscow: opportunities and challenges of bilateral economic cooperation." We discussed the prospects of bilateral cooperation.

This is probably not your first time in Moscow. How do you like the Russian capital? What changes have you noticed?

I first came to Moscow in 1992 - almost a quarter of a century ago. If I compare the city then with the city now, then of course Moscow has changed dramatically. In those days it was the end of the Soviet era and Moscow was going through difficult times. To be honest, back then Moscow seemed kind of depressing to me. It was truly a difficult time for the Russian capital and its residents, when the shops were almost empty and people were living in poverty. Today, it is difficult to imagine this in Moscow, and I must note that Moscow is a very modern city, a rapidly developing metropolis. I got the impression that there is a lot being done in Moscow to increase the standard of living for the people who live here.



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