A new partnership: Why Germany and Poland need to reinvent their bilateral relations
In 1970, German chancellor Willy Brandt eternalised his name by falling to his knees in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw. Brandt‘s gesture, as a symbol for Germany’s committment to apology and reconciliation, marked the historic peak of his social-liberal government’s revolutionary Ostpolitik that, in spite of the Cold War, managed to significantly improve relations between Germany and Eastern European states.
40 years afterwards, Brandt’s act has more than just a merely historic significance. Though embedded within the modern framework of European institutions, the bilateral German-Polish relationship has noticeably deteriorated over the past few years. The PiS-party’s conservative policies and its planned judiciary reform in Poland as well as the German government’s comparatively progressive stance in climate and migration policy have resulted in mutual scepticism and distrust among decision-makers of the two countries.
This development is not just lamentable considering the historic chance for rapprochement which is being missed, but in particular because of the good reasons for a closer cooperation between the two countries.
Firstly, both countries can look back upon a deeply interlinked history and culture. The peaceful coexistence of Germans and Poles in Silesia, Poznán or Masuria is historically unique and should be a focal point in cultural cooperation. Similarly, the troubled relationship in more recent centuries requires thorough reappraisal beyond ceaseless quarrels over reparation demands. Germany and Poland may constructively foster societal interconnections by funding German-Polish economic partnerships as well as projects in culture and art promoting the bilateral relationship.
Apart from this, closer German-Polish cooperation bears the chance of cementing economic relations between the two nations. Germany remains to be the most important trading partner for Poland and thousands of people cross the border commuting to their workplace each day. Ambitious projects such as the development of the Szeczin metropolitan area or the German-Polish university in Frankfurt/Slubice would receive a decisive boost from sustaining underlying political structures.
A German-Polish partnership could likewise produce considerable progress for the mulitateral European political realm. It his highly relevant to consider that apart from Germany and Poland various Eastern European nations find themselves increasingly isolated amid the present embroilments in foreign affairs. Other nations might likewise be attracted by an alternative to the traditional US-Russia dichotomy in Europe. An illustrious German-Polish partnership would presumably not fail to resonate within the Baltic States, Czechia or Romania.
In an era of declining multilateralism both nations find themselves in a delicate geopolitical position. Confidence in the commitment of the United States to its traditional allies has been fundamentally shattered by the Trump‘s administration‘s capricious foreign policy. Britain and Russia have proven themselves to be unreliable partners for European countries, whereas French calls for EU reform and closer cooperation with Russia have bewildered many German and Polish observers. The task of creating integrative political superstructures for Eastern Europe is therefore left for the regional powers themselves to complete.
If both countries realise the rewards to be reapedby closer cooperation, the political differences between the two nation‘s governments can be bridged and result in a revival of multilateralism in Eastern Europe. Germany‘s government should take the initiative and, in doing so, continue what Willy Brandt first committed to 40 years ago.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of IFAIR e.V. or its members.
Felix Schumacher studies Law at the Humboldt University of Berlin. His concurrent work at the German Parliament predominantly encompasses German domestic transport and defense policy. His foreign policy interest focuses on European integration, particularly between the Eastern and Western parts of the continent.