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Headquarters of the Goethe-Institut in Munich

Photo: Fabian Sommer / dpa

At least on the Fiji Islands, the joy is likely to be great: After a German embassy was recently opened there, a branch of the Goethe-Institut is to follow soon. One can confidently regard this as a continuation of the Green climate foreign policy by other means, because Annalena Baerbock's Foreign Office is responsible for overseeing Germany's largest intermediary organization.

The planned Goethe representation in the South Pacific is part of a fundamental reform presented by President Carola Lentz and Secretary General Johannes Ebert in Berlin on Thursday. New openings like the one in Fiji are among the good news. Institute closures and painful job cuts are the flip side of the restructuring plans.

Goethe budget blocked

Without pressure from the Bundestag and the Foreign Office, the reform would probably not have come about. Last year, the parliament blocked 14 million euros of the Goethe budget.

Only after the Goethe Presidium had decided on the reform concept did the Budget Committee release the funds. "It is good and important that the Goethe-Institut is now taking this reform into its own hands and thus strengthening its ability to act," says Ralf Beste, Head of the Culture and Society Division at the Federal Foreign Office. "In this way, we can better respond to the goals that we want to achieve with our cultural and educational policy at the turn of the century."

The reform provides for painful cuts. Of the 158 institutes worldwide to date, the sites in Bordeaux, Curitiba (Brazil), Genoa, Lille, Osaka, Rotterdam, Trieste, Turin and Washington are to be closed. In addition, there is the liaison office in Strasbourg.

In addition, other locations are to be reduced, changed or merged. This also involves cheaper properties.

The job cuts in the international network will affect 130 employees, the vast majority of whom will be local staff. The reform has led to some emotional discussions internally.

The Executive Board plans to mitigate social hardship as far as possible by refraining from filling vacancies, through natural fluctuation and the use of early retirement schemes, taking into account the respective labor law framework. "We did not take the decisions taken lightly, because many of the measures that have now been adopted are painful," admitted Secretary General Ebert.

In the medium term, Ebert wants to save 24 million euros annually in structural funds for real estate or personnel in the current budget of 239 million euros. This is intended to strengthen the Goethe-Institut's programme work. "Our primary goal is to create new leeway, especially in times of financial challenges," said Ebert. "Only then can we strengthen our core tasks of cultural, language and information work and provide new impetus for international cooperation."

The reforms are linked to new priorities. In addition to Warsaw and Krakow, a further presence in Poland is to be established. In addition to Fiji, new Goethe-Instituts are to be established in the Republic of Moldova, Texas and the Midwest of the USA.

Move to Berlin possible

Changes are also imminent in Germany. It was said that "an adjustment of the structure at the headquarters of the Goethe-Institut in Munich is planned". Here, too, there will be job cuts. Ebert announced corresponding concepts for the coming year. It is also possible to move from the Munich location, which was only set up just a few years ago, and to move all or part of it to Berlin.

From President Lentz's point of view, the transformation will ensure the Goethe-Institut's long-term ability to act in the face of new political challenges and reduced financial leeway. "In the face of increasing populism and nationalism, illiberal contexts and refugee movements, the work of the Goethe-Institut is more important than ever," said Lentz.

With material from dpa