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German envoy talks travel, trade, Twitter

By Ally Foster      

A social media veteran, Werner Wnendt also has a geoscience background.

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Germany’s new ambassador to Canada arrived in Ottawa on Sept. 1, and has already attended a meeting on the Canada-European trade agreement, considered a social media strategy for the embassy, and is planning an ambitious travel schedule—all while living in rather hectic accommodations.

Unfinished renovations at the official residence has required Werner Wnendt, his wife, two of his children, and last but not least his golden retriever, to hunker down in a hotel, prolonging the settling process that every arriving diplomat must go through. But Mr. Wnendt hasn’t let that slow him down.

Speaking to Embassy on Sept. 19, he had just rushed in from meeting with the EU delegation and other European heads of missions to discuss the ongoing trade talks.

CETA is a very good partnership that has opportunities for all parties, he said, adding that he is confident that it will be finished and signed by the end of this year.

There have been nine official rounds of talks, with additional ones between and after. Mr. Wnendt said a free trade agreement would help EU member countries form stronger relations in the face of the Eurozone debt crisis, which has caused some to question the success of Europe.

“It’s necessary to have more Europe, rather than less Europe,” he said. “I think it will very much strengthen the European integration process.”

Mr. Wnendt said one of his goals in Ottawa is to better explain the European Union and regional issues to Canadians—not just diplomats, but business leaders and average Canadians.

Before coming to Canada, Mr. Wnendt was the director general for culture and communication with the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, which he said made him more tech-savvy.

“I was responsible [for] overseeing the way our embassies communicate by website,” he said.

“[And], more recently, also using the social networks, Facebook.”

Mr. Wnendt called social media “a new element in diplomacy” which did not exist decades ago.

But he also added that it’s not always the best way to communicate important details. Finding the balance is a challenge, he said.

The German Embassy currently uses Facebook, and is active on Twitter.

Mr. Wnendt, who has a geoscience background, will also be trying to inspire research and development partnerships between Canadian and German institutions, and will be encouraging business leaders from both countries to look for business opportunities across the pond.

Mr. Wnendt also has his own travel plans: he wants to visit every province and territory during his posting in order to meet with provincial governments, businesses, and community and cultural leaders.

“I know this is very ambitious,” he said.

He adds his travels will extend beyond professional obligations.

“If you want to know a country, you have to see it with a different eye,” he said.

“Not only as a professional diplomat, but also with the curiosity of a tourist coming here to just see how wonderful things can be.”

From whale watching to catching a glimpse of a polar bear, Mr. Wnendt and his family have a travel to-do list that they plan to start tackling very soon.

Travelling and meeting people from all walks of life is what inspired Mr. Wnendt to become a diplomat—a career he’s found to be exciting but also challenging.

“Trying to strengthen the relationship between countries, or to remedy the consequences of a crisis, or even of war,” he said, can make it “one of the most challenging jobs you can have.”

Mr. Wnendt has been posted to countries such as Kosovo, Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Pakistan, and Kenya, among others.

He said being a diplomat can also blur the lines between professional and private life.

Even when he leaves the office at the end of the day, there is still an expectation for him to be out in the community meeting people, networking, and hosting events, he said.

The other challenge is the need to constantly adjust; diplomats and their families have to be adaptable.

“Every time you go somewhere else, it’s also a new beginning,” he said.

“You need to be open and somewhat curious.”

But, despite being in limbo with hotel living, Mr. Wnendt said the occasionally tough transition should be fairly easy in Ottawa.

Ottawa is “a wonderful city” he said.

“I did ask for the posting here, and I was lucky and got it.”

afoster@embassymag.ca

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