That is about to change with a 40-strong delegation from the “Free State” visiting Glasgow and Edinburgh later this week. The mission, led by the Bavarian Economic Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ilse Aigner, will be in Scotland to promote business co-operation and closer government relations.
• READ MORE: Diary of a tech trade mission to Bavaria
The 17 town twinnings between the two regions are the bedrock of the relationship, with the oldest of these dating back to 1954 when a group of Munich schoolchildren was invited to Edinburgh by the city council. Since the 1950s, hundreds of schoolchildren and other Scots have enjoyed Bavarian hospitality and vice versa. Now the plan of both governments is to build on these civic and cultural connections and stimulate business activity in the energy, technology and research sectors.
Bavaria has plenty to offer a Scotland that in 2017 and all of its political ramifications is in urgent need of European partners. With a population of over 12 million and a GDP of €550 billion, the southern German region of Bavaria has a larger economy than 21 of the 28 EU member states. Much of this success can be attributed to political stability and a strategic partnership between government and industry.
So why are Minister Aigner and some 30 companies and organisations taking the time to travel to Scotland – in reality, a relatively small market on the fringes of Europe and, from a trading perspective, prone to political risks and a the currency volatility that comes with the territory? In my view, there are two reasons.
The first is that the Scottish Government and industry have combined in an impressive manner to develop renewable energy projects. This reputation has already attracted numerous German developers and equipment manufacturers, a couple of them from Bavaria, and that gives Scotland a track record for being a place to do business.
The second and more important reason is that it is vitally important in these turbulent times in Europe that friends with similar values stick closely together. The Government and the electorate in Scotland have demonstrated unequivocal support for the European idea of peace and solidarity and this is highly valued by our German friends. The world is really the Bavarian “Mittelstand’s” oyster and these companies are trading and exporting in every corner of the world.
Bavaria has form in this mixing of commerce and diplomacy. In the 1980s, a co-operation was started with the Canadian province of Quebec and fast forward 30 years and over 600 commercial, research and cultural projects have been delivered by representatives based in Munich and Montreal. A real balance has been achieved in that universities, SMEs, major corporations and local communities have all had the opportunity to engage, a fantastic example of effective economic development at its best.
In 2003, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the Scottish and Bavarian governments but Scotland failed to follow up on the offer.
Reassuringly, there are signs though that the same mistake will not be made twice. Supported by government funding, Scotland’s chambers of commerce are currently forging partnerships with their Bavarian counterparts.
Most encouraging of all, is that the overall Scottish response to the planned two-day mission which I am helping to organise has been overwhelmingly positive. Government agencies, local authorities, chambers of commerce, universities and companies are all pitching in to ensure that this, to paraphrase Rick in Casablanca, is the new beginning of a beautiful friendship.
• David Scrimgeour MBE, who was the Scottish Government’s investment representative in Germany and Austria in the 1990s, is the founder of the British-German Business Network