Interview: Poland-Germany Relations

  • Antonín Beránek
  • 10.2.2017 10:07

On 9 February, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski said that the main priorities of foreign policy will be increasing the number of NATO troops in Poland in response to Russian aggression in the Eastern Ukraine and the renovation of the European Union. These and other issues were discussed by Polish government officials and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to Poland at the beginning of January, which was established as one of the most important foreign policy events in the country over the last year. We asked Lukasz Ogrodnik, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (www.pism.pl), about relations between Germany and Poland.

Recently there have been some controversial topics between Warsaw and Berlin. Views of the two countries differ regarding the crisis, as well as in the matter of pipelines from Russia. Germany is very critical concerning the issue of to what extent the current political changes in Poland are democratic. How significant is German policy to Poland and how ready are Polish politicians to convince the Chancellor that she is wrong in these matters?

Very critical comments towards Poland appear in the German media. But German politicians are very cautious in their statements. Whether it's the Chancellor or Minister of Foreign Affairs Steinmeier, the official statements are correct. There are many open questions. But remember last year's summer when on the eve of the V4 negotiations Chancellor Merkel met with Prime Minister Sobotka in Warsaw. This could be evidence of exceptionally good Czech-German relations. But the Chancellor failed to convince the Czech Prime Minister to change his attitude towards redistribution quotas associated with refugees. The migration issue keeps returning like a boomerang regarding all matters related to changes in Europe. As you said at the beginning, the unified stance of the V4 on this issue could be an impulse, could unite us. However, the positions of individual countries are not the same. Slovaks and Hungarians are even more radical. It was them who filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against the system of quotas.

So there are no fundamental problems with Germany, or regarding Poland-Germany relations in general?

I did not say that. I do not know if I would say "fundamental problems". We have conflicts of interest here. For example, there is the issue of building the Opal gas pipeline. But if we talk about sanctions against Russia, the stances of Poland and Germany are the same. We differ in our views regarding solving the migration crisis. But compared to Italy and Greece, the differences are even sharper.

Can we expect a new impetus in bilateral relations from the arrival of Chancellor Merkel? Will it be possible to find common answers to the questions and necessary compromises? Or will it concern creating another platform within the EU that would be interesting for Poland, like the Weimar Triangle with France and Germany?

What was interesting was the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the three countries in Weimar. An idea for a new kind of cooperation appeared there: the Weimar Triangle with the Visegrad Four. An effort to unite these groups was mentioned. However, the open question is how viable the Weimar Triangle is. I am somewhat sceptical. I think that the better format was the above mentioned last year's meeting of Chancellor Merkel with representatives of the V4 in Warsaw. This is already well-established in some way. Although even there we did not hear about any significant decisions.

Allow me one more question regarding the Weimar Triangle. Does Poland see in the formalisation of such a group a way to realise its policies, and is it a rather unrealistic project?

France and Germany are in a specific situation. The election to the Bundestag and the presidential elections in France await us. Possible victory of Ms. Le Pen would naturally bring new nuances into this intent. The Weimar Triangle project itself is interesting and deserves our attention. But there is no institutionalisation in it. In the V4, we have the International Visegrad Fund, a large number of collaborative platforms, the space and the ability to establish common ground. The Weimar offers none of this. Some people are already talking about its end. We'll see what this year will bring in this context.

Poland would like to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the years 2018-2019. Will Poland succeed?

We have a decent chance. Especially because we are at the moment the only candidate from our region. Earlier claims of Bulgaria in this position are behind us. This doesn't mean that we are sure of the result. It is a question of voting. Our ministers around the world are lobbying in favour of our candidacy. So we hope.

First, Poland acquires some prestige, second, we will take part in the meetings of the Fifteen. Of course, the position of the five permanent members is different. We will not have a veto, as France or Russia have. But we will have influence over discussion moderation or related efforts to fulfil Poland's strategic interests.

About author: Antonín Beránek

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