Tamsa Matura, China-CEEC Cooperation from German Perspective
China-CEE Relations: the German Point of View
Germany is the most important political and economic partner of most CEE countries without any doubt. Germany is the leading investor and top trade partner for the region, German companies employ almost a million people in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, and in the rest of the CEE countries.
Berlin has gained a new amount of power after the Euro Crises in the recent years, and became the de facto leader of the EU. CEE countries accommodate themselves to this situation, although with different approaches. Poland considers itself as a member of the major powers club in the EU, although its capabilities are lagging behind of those. The Czech Republic and Slovakia do not play a significant political role, while the Hungarian political leadership tries to show strength in the EU while accommodating to Berlin’s will in the background.
Visegrad 4 (V4) countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) form a huge industrial cluster with (South-)Germany thanks to their geographical proximity. Since its economic influence fades away with distance, thus countries in the Baltics or on the Balkan are less dependent on Germany, though the political power of Berlin is important there as well.
Despite its influence, Germans are still showing considerable self-restraint due to their historical records. The German society has worked hard in the last seventy years to heal the wounds of World War II, but some psychological burdens are still alive. This dual role of the country have had an impact on its international image, most CEE countries regard Berlin as a very important political and economic partner, but the past has never been forgotten. There is an increasing tension between the remorse of older generations and the new self-awareness of younger Germans.
When it comes to the 16+1 cooperation the perceptions of Germany are utmost important. While the concerns of Brussels or of the EEAS are political in nature, the German point of view has economic motivations as well. Berlin considers CEE countries as an economic backyard and sphere of influence, thus the emergence of China in the region is under close surveillance by Germany. Although it is hard to scientifically prove the main concern of German economic circles is the potential Chinese involvement into (public procurement) infrastructure constructions in the regions, which is a traditional German and Austrian domain.
The role of Germany
Once strong and powerful CEE countries, like the Kingdom of Hungary or Poland had become weak due to continuous foreign attacks from the South (the Ottoman Empire) and later from the West (Austrians and Germans) and from the East (Russia). After the retreat of the Turks the paralyzed CEE region has been turned into the backyard of the Austrians, Prussian-Germans and of Russians, CEE countries had been torn apart and incorporated into Russia, Prussia and the Austrian Empire. The situation is still similar today. Although CEE countries are independent today, after the collapse of the Soviet Union the geopolitical and geo-economic gravity of the united Germany has pulled the region once again back to its own sphere of influence.
Review of Literature
According to expert relations between Germany and the CEE countries, are rather rare examples of success stories in international relations. Since the end of communism and of the Iron Curtain, a dense and stable network of societal, economic and political contacts has emerged in a relatively short period. This a significant achievement, given the uncertainties of systematic transformation and the difficult stages in history between Germany and many of the countries of the region. (Sprūds, 2012 p.6.)
Now, after more than two decades a new awareness of closeness seems to emerge. The uncertain future of the European integration in the midst of the EU debt crisis, growing renationalization, and the potential overhaul of institutional architecture has made EU-issues ambivalent: they can bind countries together, but they can also drive them apart. (Like the current migration crises). Despite the economic and financial crises Germany and the states in the CEE region appear to be discovering common interests. In contrast with other member states, for most of these countries “more Europe” is the solution, and “more Germany” as a part of “more Europe” would be a contribution to a more stable EU. Emphasizing its role as the advocate for smaller and medium-sized countries and bringing more transparency to its “special relationship” with Russia, Germany has surmounted a major obstacle in building contacts with countries in its close eastern vicinity. Meanwhile France seems to pay less attention to the region due to its internal problems, the UK is considering leaving the whole Union, and the US is pivoting to Asia. (Sprūds, 2012 p.7.)
Three main determinants shape the cooperation between Germany and its CEE neighbors:
First, Germany’s interests and objectives as country. Since the end of the Cold War and the enlargement of the European Union and NATO the attention of Berlin has switched from the West to the new middle of Europe. The unified Germany is constantly redefining its role in a changing Europe. (Sprūds, 2012. p. 8.)
Second, CEE countries have their own interests, rooted in their economic, social and political changes, in their foreign policy priority to return to the West, and their relations with Germany.
Third, the diverse and fast changing international contexts and environment shapes German-CEE relations as well. The development of the EE, the transforming transatlantic relationship and the return of geopolitics in post-Soviet Eastern Europe all have their own impact. (Sprūds, 2012. p. 8.)
Besides, Germany has some special reasons to have special relations with the countries of the region as compared to other partners in Europe.
Traumatic experiences of World War II and its consequences, have a much stronger weight in the CEE region than in German relations with other European countries. Excursive interpretations and legal positions over questions like the expulsion of Germans after the war have led to numerous debates between Germany and Poland or Germany and the Czech Republic. Such issues are so important that e.g. the Polish government cited the memory of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 (the agreement on disseminating of Poland between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany) when Berlin and Moscow made an agreement on the Nord Stream Pipeline in 2006. (Sprūds, 2012. p.8.)
Due to historic issues, some bilateral relations can be influenced by domestic politics. Center-right governments in Germany have a rather open approach toward expellees, while center-left parties are calling for dialogue and rapprochement with Eastern neighbors. At the same time during the period of national-conservative governments in Warsaw a considerable deterioration of German-Polish relations took place. During the era of German chancellor Schröder a couple of foreign and European policy changes irritated CEE countries. (Sprūds, 2012. p.8.)
The asymmetry is high between Germany and its partners in the CEE region. Poland being the only mid-sized country in the region and all the others being relatively small in population, economic potential and political influence as well. In terms of population Germany has 80 million people, while the combined population of CEE countries is around 100 million. At the same time Germany’s GDP (3.9 trillion) more than twice as big as the combined economic output of the sixteen CEE countries (1.5 trillion) (Sprūds, 2012. p.9.)
The Visegrad states, the Baltic, the Eastern and the Western Balkan countries are very different in nature and so are their relations with Germany. Their relative distances and the existence of common borders plays an important role in their relations with Berlin. German ethnic groups also have a considerable impact on relation. German communities in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, or in Estonia and Latvia have had a certain effect on relations. Trans-border cooperation and societal and economic exchanges are an important element of German-Polish and German-Czech relations. Of course the various European and foreign policy objectives of the CEE countries also create differences in their cooperation with Germany. Perceptions of Russia, is one of the key issues, where Warsaw seems to be more concerned (due to its historical memories) while Hungary and Slovakia have taken a pragmatic approach vis-à-vis Germany-Russian relations. (Sprūds, 2012. p.10.)
The main framework of German-CEE relations is the system of common international institutions, like the EU or the NATO. These structures have helped to reduce asymmetries by giving CEE countries the opportunity to develop their relations with Germany as part of a rule-based community, where members are legally equal. (Sprūds, 2012. p.11.)
EU membership provides a unique and stabilizing frame of shared values and mutual solidarity. At the same time the EU is also a source of conflict, since as an institutionalized entity it can convert national differences into compromise. However, CEE countries have entered the union amid permanent change and increasing differences, polarizing political conflicts like the Iraq war (or the recent migration crisis), where at least some of them stood on different sides of the barricades than Germany. (Sprūds, 2012. p.12.)
Trade and investment relations between Germany and CEE Countries
When it comes to trade and investment relations between Germany and the sixteen CEE countries the picture is clear: countries in its geographical proximity have received higher amount of German investments and their bilateral trade with Germay is more important both in terms of absolute and relative value. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia have the highest export volumes to Germany, indicating their strong contribution to the German manufacturing industry.(Chart 1) The major share (although statistically unknown) of their exports is produced by German companies and represents an important element in the Central European supply chain.
After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc a German-Central European supply chain has evolved, manufacturing goods for export to the rest of the World. As a consequence bilateral trade relations between Germany and the largest CEE countries have expanded rapidly. Supply chain production in the Visegrad 4 countries has been supported by large inflows of FDI, which has comprised a major share of overall capital inflows. Investment has been directed to the manufacturing sectors, like motor vehicles and other transport equipment production. Export growth in knowledge-intensive sectors has been particularly fast in the Visegrad 4 countries. Complementarities between supply chain activities and domestic production have led to greater synchronization of the business cycle among the involved countries (IMF, 2013). Visegrad 4 policymakers have emphasized the importance of safeguarding enhanced competitiveness in knowledge-intensive sectors. Since unit labor cost differentials with Germany have narrowed, the V4 countries may struggle to sustain their current role in the supply chain. Therefore the V4 countries will need to continually upgrade labor force skills. The growth of the supply chain has increased the exposure of Germany and the V4 to final demand outside Europe, to an extent not captured by bilateral trade statistics, while German domestic demand spillovers to the V4 remain relatively small. A large share of bilateral trade between Germany and the V4 is in intermediate goods: final demand in Germany is not the main determinant of V4 exports to Germany. (IMF, 2013)
Given the above mentioned facts, the performance of the German economy has a significant impact on CEE countries with higher share of exports to Germany. As Chart 2. indicates the V4 countries have to face the highest level of dependence on exports to Germany, followed by the EU members of the Eastern Balkan (first of all Romania), closely followed by Western Balkan countries. Exports to Germany are less important to Baltic states, where Nordic countries and Russia play a more significant role.
Even though Germany seems to be less important in sub-regions more far away, Chart 3. and Chart 4. provides a very clear picture. Germany is among the top six trading partner for all CEE countries, and the single most important in terms of exports and import as well for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. (Chart 3.). When it comes to trade volume, the picture is even more telling: the vast majority of CEE trade is connected to Germany. (Chart 4.)Chart 3.
However, Germany is more than an important trade partner for the region. German companies are the top investors in most CEE countries, employing altogether almost 1 million people. As Chart 5. indicates the stock and share of German investment are both remarkable in V4 countries and in some other countries of the region as well. Hungary has the highest share of German investment as a percentage of the total stock of FDI in the country (28.7%), while Poland has the highest value of German FDI (over USD billion). The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania are also major receivers of capital inflow from Germany. There are many German companies among the biggest enterprises in the region. The subsidiaries of Deutsche Telekom are among the leading telecommunication companies in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovakia. When it comes to manufacturing Skoda (the third largest company in the region in terms of sales revenues) belongs the German Volkswagen Group, just as the 14th largest Volkswagen Slovakia and 16th largest Audi Hungaria (Deloitte, 2014).
Consequently German companies have created plenty of jobs in CEE countries. (Chart 6.) Once again, the Visegrad 4 countries have been the major beneficiary of investment, with more than 300.000 jobs in Poland, 270.000 in the Czech Republic, 170.000 in Hungary and 100.000 in Slovakia. Although their share is relatively low as a percentage of the total number of employees in the V4 countries, their added value is far larger than the national average, thus German companies’ contribution to the GDP of V4 countries is significant.
Security, energy, environment and infrastructure cooperation between Germany and the Central and Eastern European Countries
Security issues have been a high-ranking priority in the foreign policy hierarchies of the CEE countries after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Due to the real and perceived vulnerability of the countries in the region vis-à-vis Russia, all countries of the region have pursued NATO and EU membership on an as soon as possible basis. The sensitivity of security issues, including hard security, is still significant, but this has lost its relevance to some extent as EU and NATO memberships have changed threat perceptions. However, the recent reemergence of Russian assertiveness in Ukraine has sparked new concerns in the region. At the same time a multifaceted risk assessment, which includes energy, economic instability and social uncertainty in neighboring countries as well as big global threats from Afghanistan and Syria, Germany and its partners in the CEE region continue to have different sensitivities and security vectors. The current migration crisis is a perfect example: while certain CEE countries have expressed deep concerns, the German government has announced an open door policy. Germany’s privileged cooperation with Russia has also sparked heavy discussions between Berlin and Warsaw on questions like energy, defense, or the military presence of the United States. (Sprūds, 2012) To sum it up, even though Germany is an important player of the EU, security issues are influenced rather by the NATO and Washington. Due to its historical records Germany shows self-restraint in military activities (similarly to Japan), and rapid change will not come anytime soon.
When it comes to energy issues, Russia and the European Union are the key players. CEE countries are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas and crude oil imports, while their nuclear reactors are also based on Russian technology. Germany invests tremendous amount of money into renewable energy resources to mitigate its energy imports (especially since the shutdown of all German nuclear power plants). The potential extraction of shale gas in certain CEE countries like Poland and Hungary might attract German (and American) energy companies in the future, however the necessary technology does not exist yet.
German and Austrian companies are major contributors to the (road and railroad) infrastructure development of the CEE region. Strabag, Swietelsky (both Austrian) and Siemens and Hochtief (Germans) are three important players, but other European companies like the French Colas are also among the major winners of public procurement tenders. The market is huge, Poland alone has invested more than EUR 40 billion in the development of roads and an additional EU 5.3 billion into railways between 2004 and 2014. Thanks to increased EU funds the amount is expected to grow in the next 7 year budgetary period up to 2021. Other countries of the region also need to refurbish their existing transport infrastructure or to build new corridors. However unfortunately it is impossible to statistically collect the total amount of German infrastructure constructing companies’ revenues in all CEE countries, since the necessary data is not available. Still, according to common sense, since most of the financial support comes from EU funds, the companies of major EU economies have a better chance to win tenders, at least as subcontractors.
Implications of German-CEE relations to the 16+1 cooperation
The following section provides two sections. The first was written by my former intern, Mr. Benjamin Jorit Peter from Germany in March, 2014. His task was to assess German governmental perceptions of the 16+1 cooperation. The second section will deliver findings based on my upcoming working visit to Berlin, in order to compare the conclusions of Mr. Peter with new developments in the last year.
V.1. Chinese influence on Central and Eastern European Countries – A threat to EU solidarity?
(by Benjamin Jorit Peter)
The relations between the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries and China have intensified in the past years. Through the institutionalization of forums and regular summits, they are strengthening their relationship and the dependency of CEE countries on China grows. This section will show some of the reasons for this intensified relationship and the steps that were taken in order to achieve it. Furthermore, the reaction and perception of key European players of these developments will be examined as well as the question whether this relationship threatens the solidarity of the European Union.
Both economically as well as politically, China has invested heavily in CEE countries in the past years. On the political side of things there have been a number of steps which are important for the understanding of the relations. The launching of the “China - Central and Eastern European Countries - Cooperation” showed an immersion of relations. After the first summit in Budapest 2011, Warsaw followed in 2012 and in the end of November 2013, a third summit took place in Bucharest (and the fourth in Belgrade – TM). This cooperation between China and 16 CEE countries (consisting of eleven EU-members and five non-EU members) is closely monitored by the European Commission and other western EU-members, with the EU merely having an observer status during these summits. A European Commission official says that bilateral and regional agreements have been negotiated during these summits, which the European Commission and other Members States do not support. However, no “red lines” have been crossed by the Central and Eastern European EU Member States regarding trade-related matters, meaning there has not been a violation of EU-competences. The European Commission tries to place its topics and opinions in these China-CEEC summits trough the EU Member States which participate in it. Nevertheless, CEE countries have their own agendas during these meetings. And as the expert points out, China is a master in “divide and rule”-politics. It tries to undermine the solidarity between EU Member States – between the western EU-Member States and CEE Member States but also among CEE Member States. China utilises investment offers to mainly financially weak countries in Central and Eastern Europe in order to gain and strengthen its influence on these countries. The European Commission official points out, that Central and Eastern European countries face increasing difficulties explaining their close relationship and their behaviour towards China on the European level in regards to other (Western European) Member States and towards the European Commission. Just days before the most recent China-CEEC summit in Bucharest in November 2013, Karel de Gucht, the EU’s Trade Commissioner, sent out a letter to representatives of those EU member states participating in the summit, “expressing irritation about the timing of the event, coming just days after a major EU-China meeting in Beijing”. The Chinese delegation had postponed some of the topics of the Beijing summit until Bucharest, leaving the EU delegation puzzled in view of the fact that the EU was merely acting as an observer and not as a participant at the Bucharest summit. Therefore, the letter by De Gucht was supposed to remind the EU Member States “to respect the general EU line and collective policies”.
The establishment of the “China-CEE Cooperation Secretariat” in Beijing in September 2012 was another important step towards the institutionalization of the cooperation between China and CEE countries. The secretariat, which is located within the structures of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC and lead by the Chinese vice Foreign Minister, is supposed to facilitate the future cooperation and communication between China and the CEE countries. After the inauguration of the secretariat, which intentionally didn’t receive a lot of media coverage, former vice Foreign Minister Song Tao saw the necessity to point out that the increasing cooperation between China and CEE countries will also benefit the development and improvement of Chinese-European relations as a whole.
The Economical Side
China is already playing a major role for the European economy as a whole. In 2012, China (without the Chinese Special Administrative Regions Hong Kong and Macao) ranked as the second biggest trading partner of the European Union, only being surpassed by the USA, accounting for a 12.5 percent share in Extra-EU trade or roughly 434 billion Euros. Regarding imports, China already is the prime trading partner of the EU with a share of 16.2 percent (roughly 290 billion Euros) and in exports the second biggest trading partner of the EU with an 8.5 percent share or about 144 billion Euros. The bilateral trade deficit between the EU and China amounts to the largest between the EU and a third country.
The Central and Eastern European countries and China have had strong trade and economic relations until the end of the socialist period in the beginning of the 1990s. They were also among the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) after its foundation in 1949. However, after the independence of the CEE countries in the 1990s they turned towards the west, following the path leading to EU integration, which most of the CEE countries achieved with their EU accession in the 2004 “Big Bang” enlargement. In some CEE countries the trade share of the EU’s single market makes up to 70 – 80%, which underlines these countries’ “high dependency with the EU internal market”.
China’s interest in the CEE countries intensified after their EU accession, since China saw “good opportunities […] to enter into EU via CEE”. The trade volume between China and the CEE countries thus improved after 2004, but still only amounting to around 10% of the total China-EU trade in 2011. At the latest China-Central and Eastern European Countries-summit in Bucharest in November 2013, Prime Minister Li Keqiang emphasized the growing connection between the region and China by saying that “China and CEE countries enjoy profound traditional friendship and have no conflict of interest, and there is a firm foundation for expanding cooperation”. In his speech, Keqiang laid out the plans for an improved cooperation in the future, by saying that “China and CEE countries should intensify economic and trade cooperation, and strive to double China-CEE trade value in five years” by investing in transportation infrastructure and expanding financing opportunities between the region and China. Among these financing opportunities is a 10 billion U.S. dollar credit line for the funding of projects in the infrastructure, technology and green economy sectors in Central and Eastern European countries, which former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced at the “China-Central and Eastern Europe Business Forum” in Warsaw in April 2012, which was held at the same time as the China-CEEC-summit and was supposed to establish and to improve ties between businesses in China and in the CEE countries.
A threat to EU-solidarity?
Meanwhile not only the European Commission is critically observing these intensified relations, but also other EU Member States are concerned. A German diplomat notes that the institutionalization of forums and the development of relations between China and CEE countries is being closely monitored by western EU Member States. Although every EU Member State has the right to maintain its own relations with China, this cooperation must not undermine the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU. At the end of 2013, 26 out of 28 European Union Member States still had bilateral agreements with China regarding trade issues. One of the ways in which the European Commission is trying to unify this process is by pursuing an investment agreement with the PRC.
One of the problems that the EU is facing in its politics towards China is the diverse approach of its Member States towards the PRC, “[they] pursue their own, often conflicting national approaches towards China. Some challenge China on trade, others on politics, some on both, and some on neither”. And China has learned how to use these divided interests on the European side, by “[treating] its relationship with the EU as a game of chess, with 27 [lit. 28] opponents crowding the other side of the board and squabbling about which piece to move”.
Experts argue, that China is not interested in a “strategic partnership” with Europe anymore, but rather “is now in effect applying to Europe’s periphery a set of strategies and tools that has paid off elsewhere in the developing world”. In this context the Central and Eastern European countries play a special role, “as much as China's push into Africa was about access to resources, its push into Eastern Europe is ultimately about an access point into the EU", says Thomas König, China programme coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Apart from the Mediterranean EU Member States in which China heavily invests, Chinese money flowing into the CEEs makes up 10 percent of Chinese investments and trade facilitation in Europe, which is “a disproportionately large amount given the overall size of their economies”. China is successfully targeting the small and weak economies of the Mediterranean and south-eastern Europe in order to establish a “China lobby” within the EU.
A German diplomat noted that there are guidelines by the EU about how to interact with China on a bilateral basis which are carried by all 28 Member States, but what matters most is how these guidelines are implemented by the Member States in reality. These “Guidelines on the EU's Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia”, which were published by the Council of the European Union in June 2012, state that the EU needs to “step up its work in particular with China, stressing the need for progress towards rule of law, personal freedoms, and democracy”.
With the European Union being a community of shared values, all Member States have to adhere to these values and represent them externally. Member States such as Great Britain, France and Germany have spoken out against Chinese Human Rights violations in the past, which earned them approval among other states as well as criticism by China. Admittedly the PRC does not stop short of exerting diplomatic as well as economic pressure against countries if its core interest are endangered. There have been several examples of this in the past which include the ban or barriers on imports for products from Norway, Great Britain, France or Germany after these countries criticized China on certain topics or welcomed the Dalai Lama. Therefore “every country thinks twice before it openly criticizes China, because it has to expect consequences from China” reports a German diplomat. Since the economies of most CEE Member States are small and heavily depend upon foreign investments, they are not in a good bargaining position regarding China. Many of these states have deep economic and political relations with China, some of them – like Hungary – implemented strategic partnerships with the PRC. These CEE countries welcome Chinese investments just as much as Germany or France, but for them an investment of China is economically much more important than for a larger EU Member State and therefore China can exert a higher amount of influence on these countries.
Due to these economic ties and potential dependencies it is very likely that smaller EU Member States such as Hungary, Slovakia or Slovenia do not fully implement the before mentioned EU guidelines regarding China. They tend to focus primarily on the economic aspects of the deal and do not raise critical questions on topics like human rights, which are part of the guidelines as seen above. Hungary for example has given up on the human rights dialogue with China and focused merely on economic aspects criticizes a German diplomat. During the visit of former Chinese Prime Minister Wen to Budapest in June 2011 there were reports of blocked protests of pro-Tibetan demonstrators by the Hungarian police and Tibetans living in Hungary were forced to report to the immigration office on the day of Wen’s visit to Budapest. These actions had “violated the rights of free expression and human dignity, and the prohibition of discrimination” as the former Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil Rights said, and were heavily criticized throughout the European Union. They are an expression of intensified relations between China and Hungary and a concentration on economic rather than political issues.
Germany as well as other countries in the European Union are worried, that given the economic influence of China on CEE Member States, this could lead to Chinese influence on political decisions of these countries. The deals that China strikes in weaker European Union Member States often have the following pattern: China offers a certain country Y a highway and expects this country to deliver result X at the next vote on EU level. Jonathan Holslag, head of research at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, says that he does not blame the Eastern European countries for their behaviour towards China, but it is “detrimental to Europe's credibility as an international actor” and it “confirms how weak the EU is at the moment”.
As mentioned above, China is the second largest trading partner of the EU and this ratio is ever more growing. Therefore, the European prosperity is partly dependent upon China, which significantly increases its influence on the EU as a whole and on its smaller and weaker Member States in particular. During the last years of the economic crisis, the influence of the European Union was weakened. Particularly Central and Eastern European Member States were struck severely, their economies suffering from decline and rising unemployment. In such a time of crisis the financial support of an economic giant such as China is welcomed more than ever. Experts agree that China is a master in “divide and rule”-politics. The country is conducting interest-driven politics, and has done this already very successfully on the African continent as well as in East Asia and in both regions with much less qualm than in the European Union. The only solution to not let China divide the EU and its Member States among each other might be a strong, credible and united EU says one interviewee. This can be achieved by a financially and institutionally strengthened European Union – a goal which is not likely to succeed in the current political environment of the EU.
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