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16 August 2018

The Fi­nance Min­istry at the Ger­man Em­bassy in New Del­hi

The Indian subcontinent is experiencing rapid economic growth. Thanks to its economic strength, the structural reforms implemented by the government and its huge population numbers, India will join China and the U.S. as one of the world’s largest economies in the not-too-distant future. Wolfgang Horning has been seconded from the German Finance Ministry to the German Embassy in New Delhi to observe these developments up close.

New Delhi

The German Embassy in New Delhi has a staff of 180, including 70 German nationals. Many German ministries have their own policy officers there, representing areas such as economic affairs, fiscal policy, transport, agriculture, labour and social affairs, economic cooperation, culture, environmental policy, the Federal Police, military affairs and the Federal Criminal Police Office.

Our Financial Counsellor Wolfgang Horning regularly provides us with up-to-date information on India’s fiscal and economic policy as well as on general policy issues, giving us an excellent overview of the current situation on the Indian subcontinent. Thanks to the country’s geographical size, its 1.3 billion-strong population, its rapid economic growth and the structural reforms implemented by its government, India is expected to become the world’s third-largest economy after China and the U.S. in a few years. Foreign investment has increased sharply, and the IMF recently noted that India now accounts for nearly 15% of global growth. Some of the key issues that Germany’s Financial Counsellor deals with include tax and fiscal policy, monetary and financial market policy as well as corruption and money laundering.

Interview with Wolfgang Hornig

I am a trained lawyer and have been working at the German Finance Ministry since 1990. I worked on international issues, mainly international customs matters, for a total of 14 years. But I also spent five years in the directorate-general responsible for the federal budget.
The position was advertised and I applied for it. After I found out that my application had been successful, I did not have much time for reflection. There were thousands of things to do in preparation for the move to India and my new job. The position of Financial Counsellor appealed to me because I have always been interested in India. This is my final position before retirement, so I see it as the cherry on the cake of my career.
I live in a very central, but quiet and leafy residential area. Generally speaking, it is not difficult for diplomats to find accommodation in New Delhi. The housing market is large, but rents are high. You can find good accommodation in a central location, or you can opt for what is known as a ‘farm house’ with a swimming pool in the suburbs. I chose to live in the centre because I wanted to be close to the embassy – road traffic in the city is unbelievably hectic.

I am the first Financial Counsellor at the embassy. My predecessors were based at the Consulate General in Mumbai. In India, more than elsewhere, direct contacts are essential. That is why it is important to reach out to Indian colleagues at ministries and think tanks, but also at other embassies and international institutions, for example the offices of the IMF, the World Bank and, of course, the EU Delegation. The latter is particularly important, and I am in frequent contact with my colleagues there.

At the beginning, I had to knock on doors until I had established my most valuable contacts. My working day begins at eight o’clock every morning. We are four hours ahead of German time, so it is still night time there. We start with a brief review of the press. Three times a week, there is a briefing with the Ambassador. And of course I have to go through my many e-mails. I have to separate the wheat from the chaff – I work on a wide range of different topics, and these change quickly. I also need to keep an eye on the work of the colleague for whom I sometimes stand in. The embassy hosts many events related to economic affairs, and we also receive numerous invitations from Indian organisers of conferences and information events. India is in the midst of a transition – it is undergoing great modernisation and transformation. But my personal life also requires constant organisation, and this is not as straightforward as it is in Germany. Life in India proceeds at a different pace; people have a different mentality.

One of the highlights, without a doubt, was the currency exchange programme in late 2016, when about 98% of the cash in circulation was banned overnight. We woke up in the morning and the money in our wallets was suddenly worthless. Notes had to be exchanged for new ones, but these were in short supply. Cash machines were empty or broken for a long time. Cash is still the most important means of payment in India, so we had to improvise for months.
My time in India will come to an end in October 2019. After that, I will be ‘retired but not tired’, as they say. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss my time in Delhi, even though it hasn’t always been easy. Temperatures can climb to 50° Celsius between May and July. This is followed by the monsoon season, with its high humidity and many mosquitoes. The winters are cool, and the smog is the worst in the world at that time of the year. But you do get more annual leave, and people spend it outside New Delhi.
After three or four years, I would have to choose Berlin for health reasons alone. But as I said, India is a real experience, and I would not want to miss it for the world!