The Polish-German Relationship

Berlin expects of Warsaw to be more important player in the EU

14 December 2018

On Wednesday, December 12th, Visegrad/Insight and the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation hosted a conference in Warsaw to discuss the geopolitics and economy in light of the upcoming EU Elections, as well as technology and energy issues that are highly important in the Polish-German discussion.

Key takeaways:

1. Polish-German relations are heavily dependant on the transatlantic framework that used to be a stabilizing force and recently there are signs of new dynamics.

2. Year 2019 may be very important because of the elections to the European Parliament but in the end, it may turn out to be yet another muddling through tactics that Angela Merkel and in fact many European leaders got used to, not excluding the Polish and Hungarian leaders.

3. Nevertheless, Russia is expected to use this as an opportunity of mass scale interference in the democratic process on the continent in order to weaken the process of collective decision making; as a result, new EU Commission and the Parliament may slow down after 2019.

4. Germany sees the EU as so far the best way to manage its relationship with all European partners; it is willing to share part of its leadership with other partners so, that it avoids the trap of domination.

5. There are political actors in Germany that understand the threat of Nord Stream 2  to [ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”show” ihc_mb_who=”1,reg” ihc_mb_template=”3″ ] the European project, yet so far the government or the parliament did not come up with special law on strategic security which would allow interfering directly in projects run solely by commercial companies; this is why in response to criticism the government usually advocates for the EU solution.

6. Despite good bilateral relations, there are traps of misinterpretation of interests and intentions, often due to the misunderstanding of semantics on both sides; much more focus and explanation of the context needed in media and public discussion on mutual relations.

7. New dynamics in EU observed:

  • Brexit elevated the political role of European Commission;
  • Focus on the rule of law elevated the role of the European Court of Justice;
  • The northern group of EU countries have been consolidating their positions;
  • The southern group of EU countries have become more fragmented;
  • Fringe parties and movements are more and more challenging the mainstream.

8. Proposals for bilateral topics and new cooperation:

  • Combatting Russian disinformation and meddling in democratic campaigns and elections;
  • Regional cooperation – interaction with Germany on V4, Three Seas Initiative, Eastern Partnership;
  • Building resilience to China’s sharp power;
  • Promoting quality of services and goods produced and traded among DE and PL;
  • Defence, including cyber defence initiatives and PESCO;
  • Building up institutional cooperation on civil society, memory and education on history with the outlook for the future cooperation prospects.

The first panel consisted of Knut Abraham, Councillor, Embassy of Germany to Poland; Kai-Olaf Lang, Senior Fellow, SWP Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, and Agnieszka Łada, PhD, director of the European Programme at the Institute of Public Affairs.

The lively discussion was kicked off by the moderator and journalist Marcin Antosiewicz (Newsweek) who had a controversial question, pivotal to understanding the current German-Polish political dynamic, namely the contentious arguments surrounding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Opinions were divided about the appropriateness of the pipeline itself with some arguing that it was an economic programme without a political component since there is no public money invested in the project from the German government. Others pointed out that what was needed from the Polish perspective was a unified political stance from the German government, essentially withdrawing any public support for the project.

Regardless of their position, everyone on the panel agreed that the pipeline had the potential for destabilising the region of Central Europe and, consequently, the EU itself. However, there currently was no legal framework which would allow the German government to halt the production of the pipeline as it was technically an economic project in international waters.

The outline of the discussion reflected a problem that was returned to several times: one of the major issues regarding the development of the German-Polish relationship is the fact that the two countries and people, while having lived in close proximity for over a millennium, still have difficulties in understanding one another.

To overcome this – often semantic – hurdle, it was agreed that more focus should be placed on the necessary explanations in the media as well as the public discussions about the two countries’ mutual relationship. This could be aided by the fact that this cooperation is heavily dependent on the transatlantic framework which has been used as a stabilising force in the past.

From here, the discussion tilted towards the near future and that 2019 might prove to be very important for Europe in light of the upcoming EU elections. Yet, staying true to form, the idea of the EU just muddling through or making less dramatic, incremental changes was presented as the most likely eventuality, especially for the upcoming debate about the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

It was thought that Russia, everyone’s favourite country when security concerns are mentioned, would continue to exploit any weaknesses to the EU’s democratic processes in order to diminish the effectiveness of block’s collective decision-making. As a result, the new EU Commission and Parliament may begin to slow down after 2019.  

The second panel included Piotr Buras Director of the European Council of Foreign Relations; Edit Zgut, Polish Academy of Science; Cornelius Ochmann Director of the Polish-German Cooperation Foundation; Marcin Zaborowski Senior Fellow at Visegrad/Insight and in the chair was Andrzej Godlewski, political commentator and SWPS University lecturer.

Many topics were covered, but they mainly focused on new dynamics observable in the EU. First, the situation surrounding Brexit has elevated the political role of the European Commission, and in the same light, the issues regarding the rule of law has raised the role of the European Court of Justice.

That being said, the regions of the union appear to be a complex of opposing forces. The northern group of EU countries have consolidated their positions and responsibilities in the Union, whereas the southern member states appear to more fragmented than ever.

There are fringe parties and movements which are either taking over power in the parliaments of the continent or, at very least, challenging the mainstream coalitions which have worked to forge ever-closer alliances.

However, the above listed problems also highlighted opportunities which could be used for new, bilateral cooperation. First, the panel agreed on the need to combat Russian disinformation and meddling in the democratic campaigns and elections.

Next, a focus on regional cooperation, especially Germany with the V4, the Eastern Partnership and potentially the Three-Seas Initiative – could provide practical solutions to the problems affecting the areas individually without requiring EU-wide agreement or coalition.

Crucial for the region’s success would be the building up of a resilience against China’s growing sharp power as well as in the defence sector, especially referring to cyber-defence and PESCO.

Lastly and of the utmost importance was the need to build up the institutional cooperation of civil society across the region though further attention should also be placed on the politics of memory and education with the purpose of fostering support for future, multi-sector cooperation.



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