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July 16, 2007 |  9 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

The Case for German-Polish Rapprochement

Wess Mitchell: The growing rift between Germany and Poland could do damage to US and European interests. Three postwar principles could help to repair relations.

The recent crisis over vote-weighting in the European Council revealed the absence of German-Polish reconciliation in the post-Cold War, post-enlargement era. The tensions go deeper than the usual intra-European wrangling; they reflect a profound and growing disconnect between German and Polish visions for the integration project. Fueled by a resurgence of historical consciousness in Poland and the reappearance of great power aspirations in Germany, this disconnect is likely to outlast both the four-year ceasefire brokered by Chancellor Angela Merkel and the remaining tenure of the current Polish leadership.

The result—a running feud between the EU’s largest western and eastern members—is something that neither Europe nor America can afford. Warsaw’s desire to lock in the Treaty of Nice and Berlin’s conflicting preference for population-based voting could paralyze EU integration for years to come, undermining two long-standing US interests: the need to ensure that Germany’s ambitions remain fully absorbed within EU structures and the quest for Western unity vis-à-vis an increasingly assertive Russia.

To prevent this, Germany and Poland should seek fundamental political rapprochement. With support from the United States, Warsaw and Berlin should devise a strategy for deepening bilateral ties and forestalling future conflict. As a model, they should look to an earlier episode in intra-European fence-mending: the post-World War II Franco-German rapprochement and its offspring, the European Coal and Steel Community. From this example, three underlying principles are potentially useful for today:

1. Think long-term.
After World War II, many French leaders wanted heavy compensation from Germany for France’s wartime losses. The now-famous Schuman Plan, which deepened France’s ties with Germany through the pooling of coal and steel resources, represented a 180-degree turnaround. Looking forward, Schuman saw two looming realities: the inevitability of German resurgence and the emergence of Russia as a greater threat than Germany. Modern Polish leaders would do well to consider the same points today. Coping with these realities will require more than just getting the right ratio of votes in the EU, coming to terms on a controversial museum, or issuing a joint communiqué at the next Weimar Triangle meeting.

2. Resolve the source of insecurity for the weaker power.
The 1952 “moment” succeeded because its architects understood that the real problem in Franco-German relations was not history, but rather the underlying geopolitical reality that had made that history possible: the permanent power disparity between Europe’s largest state and its mid-sized neighbors. Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman ingeniously addressed this deeper issue by giving the weaker state a rein on the stronger state’s power. Back then, the rein was coal and steel, without which Germany could not wage war. Today, it is natural gas. Much as French leaders once fretted about Germany’s greater supply of raw materials, modern-day Polish leaders worry about Germany’s privileged access to Russian gas. The template that Schuman used for addressing the problem in his time—a common program for producing and consuming coal and steel—might work today in the form of a common program for gas consumption. If Schuman were alive, he might suggest linking Germany’s controversial Nord Stream Baltic pipeline to a shared-authority gas storage and distribution network. In the same way that France accepted a German voice in Euro-Atlantic institutions in exchange for an insurance policy on war materials, Poland should be willing to accept a louder German voice in today’s EU in exchange for an insurance policy on energy.

3. Include the United States.
Franco-German rapprochement would never have left the ground without Washington providing the fuel. Just as Dean Acheson told France that it would not be taken seriously until it abandoned its punitive stance, US leaders should tell Warsaw that its influence in America increases in proportion to its engagement with Berlin. Ultimately, however, the real leadership must come from Germany. Washington should encourage Berlin to show the same degree of initiative in working toward rapprochement that it took in supporting Polish membership to NATO and the EU.

The problems in German-Polish relations are profound, deep-rooted and emotional. So were the problems in Franco-German relations. Finding a lasting solution required nothing less than a “diplomatic revolution”-–a sea change in how an earlier generation of European and American leaders thought about their problems and the types of instruments they were willing to use to solve them. The solution they found required giving something up in exchange for a bigger payoff down the road. Then, as now, this was a radical notion. But in 2007, as in 1952, it’s well worth the trouble.


Wess Mitchell is director of research at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a policy institute devoted to the study of Central Europe.


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Member deleted

July 16, 2007

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Wess Mitchell is absolutely right to remind us of the very successful French-German rapprochement as an excellent example for reconciliation between old adversaries. Unfortunately, I doubt that it can be transferred to our current problem.

Understanding each other, coming to terms with each other, cooperating with each other – all this requires commitment from both sides. As of now, the whole situation reminds me more of a dead-end-street – and it is up to you to guess where the dead end could be.

It seems impossible to establish a viable working relationship, let alone reconciliation or friendship, with Poland as long as the country is in the grip of the Kaczynski twins. There were numerous initiatives to improve relations with Poland during the last years but there is a significant lack of goodwill (to say the least) in Warsaw these days.

Instead, fueling Anti-German resentments seems to be the instrument of choice for the government when it comes to deal with their neighbor in the West. Just take a look at Poland’s policies towards Germany since the Kaczynskis took office and you will have a hard time to find reasonable future-oriented suggestions on how the common future can be shaped.

What we do about it? Lets have a look at the three principles Wess suggested:

1. Think long term: Definitely necessary – especially for our Polish friends. As of now, Germany already has a long term perspective, knowing that reconciliation is a long term business and impossible when your partner is openly hostile. Poland on the other hand should think about why it actually joined the EU (by the way, something that would have been unthinkable without the significant support of Germany).
2. Resolve the source of insecurity for the weaker power – again an important point. If I am not mistaken, Germany did propose that it could be possible to connect Poland to the new pipeline. Polish officials instead decided to compare the plan to build this pipeline with the Hitler-Stalin-pact of 1939 (a very constructive way to deal with the problem, isn’t it?).
3. Include the United States – that is the most important part. If the US has an interest for the situation to improve, it needs to get involved actively. It wont be enough telling Germany to keep trying. On the opposite, Washington must tell Warsaw that it would highly benefit from an improved relationship with Germany and that the opposite would damage Polish interests. It is up to the US to decide what they can offer Poland.

We are indeed in a difficult situation and frankly I don’t see a short term solution to this problem. And while political pressure from the other side of the Atlantic is necessary, caution is advised as well. Even more so since stubbornness is part of the national character most Polish take pride in. Let us hope it will prove to be different this time.
 
Peter  Männer

July 16, 2007

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"the need to ensure that Germany’s ambitions remain fully absorbed within EU structures"

Not exactly a good reason for rapprochement from the perspective of the german government.

"and the quest for Western unity vis-ā-vis an increasingly assertive Russia."

And yet another one. Do you really expect Germany to risk its strategical partnership with Russia for the benefit of a country like Poland?
This is the main problem: Poland has far less to offer. And with Germany to the West and Russia to the East, one might expect the Poles to be a lot more cooperative in EU affairs, to keep the Alliance alive for as long as possible. I just don´t understand their current behaviour.
 
Wess  Mitchell

July 16, 2007

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Jonas:

You raise some good points. As you rightly point out, the current Polish leadership is a major (if not the biggest) obstacle to any potential deal, no matter how imaginative. And contrary to prevailing wisdom, there is good reason to believe that the “Kaczynski moment” will extend well beyond the twins’ actual tenure in office (just look at the increasingly anti-German hue of current Polish education curricula, documentaries on Polish TV, the Polish press, etc.). A lot of people will say it is nonsense therefore to even be talking about rapprochement. But most people believed the same thing in the late 1940s about France and Germany. During his tenure in the postwar French provisional government, Charles de Gaulle assumed a deeply vindictive policy stance toward Germany that included de-industrialization and the handover of the Saarland. It was very similar in scale to the 1918 settlement. And even when de Gaulle left, the political climate in France was not receptive to conciliatory gestures. But gradually, it changed. Perhaps it will require the departure of the Kaczynskis, just like it required the departure of de Gaulle. What eventually changed in France was simply the recognition that a negative policy stance could go on forever. Growing US pressure plus the realization of eventual German recovery and of the looming Russian threat eventually convinced even the staunchest proponents of retribution. I think the exact same factors could change the Polish position – and possibly than many people think.

You are also right to point out that Germany has offered the Poles a chance to participate in the Baltic pipeline project. During a trip to Warsaw, Merkel offered a branch-off of the pipeline from Greisfald to Poland. There was also the BASF offer in May. This is exactly the direction that things need to be headed in my opinion, but even these offers fall short of the kind of full-fledged, shared-authority project that Schuman used for coal and steel.

Overall, one thing that we do appear to be in agreement on is that rapprochement is needed. Political willpower is a completely different question.

Wess
 
Wess  Mitchell

July 16, 2007

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Peter:
Thanks for your comment. Actually, enmeshing Germany within the European project and seeking Western unity vis-ā-vis Russia are not just US interests; they’re also German interests and long-standing tenets of German foreign policy.
Are they good reasons to seek rapprochement with Poland? Certainly. From a German perspective, the long-term benefit of investing in the EU far outweighs the benefit of investing in a bilateral relationship with Russia. And investing in the EU means investing in the relationship with Poland. The result of Germany failing to adequately address the growing rift with Poland is that the EU takes longer to “gel.” A Germany not enmeshed in Europe (and therefore not leading Europe) will have less leverage in dealing with external powers (whether it’s dealing with Russia on energy, dealing with China on intellectual property rights, or dealing with the US on missile defense) than a Germany that has prioritized integration and done the hard work of making amends with the Poles. Down the road, the payoff of the “Polish option” is indeed greater for Germany than the payoff of the “Russia option.”
Wess
 
Peter  Männer

July 16, 2007

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" And investing in the EU means investing in the relationship with Poland. "

That is the point where we might differ. More and more the political class in Germany gets the idea that it might be a lot better for the future of the EU when there are two parts of it, integrating at a different speed. One the one hand you have the sceptical part, which Poland undoubtably belongs to. On the other hand you have members that want to have a common foreign policy and a common army for example - unimaginable as long as you want to have the Poles on bord.

All the economical advantages the eastern part of the EU can ever offer will never outweight what Russia can offer: Vital ressources, a huge homogeneous market, infrastructure for space travel, common research and global political partnership to name just a few.
 
Oliver  Hauss

July 17, 2007

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Wess-

for all that could be said about de Gaulle, it was de Gaulle who signed the Elysee treaty, thus pledging mutual consultations in all issues of foreign, security, cultural and youth policy. Can you imagine the Ks doing something like that?

As for acceptance of rapprochement in the public, a great deal of this has come not the least through plenty of exchange, not the least youth exchange with France.

As for connecting Poland to the pipeline falling short of the shared-authority project for coal and steel, the situation isn't in any way comparable: there was no EU back then. There is now. And with it, on the one hand free transfer of goods and services and if push comes to shove, there's nothing preventing Poland from sending over a train or a ship and fill up. In any case, getting gas via Germany would practically mean a back-door approach, giving Russia far less control over how much gas goes to Poland. On the other hand, through the EU, Poland does have some degree of control over the distribution of resources.
 
Wess  Mitchell

July 17, 2007

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Peter:

Your comments impress upon me just how dangerous the current situation is. The options you describe are, I think, precisely the alternatives that Germany (as a rational actor) has if it can’t overcome Polish feet-dragging and make the EU-25 function in a way that is amenable to German interests: (a) seek a multi-speed arrangement and (b) invest more heavily in the relationship with Russia (or both). If the current Polish leadership were really thinking this through, they’d see the same thing and realize that their obstructionism runs the risk of exhausting what goodwill/patience there is left in Germany and eventually pushing Berlin into courses of action that are far more damaging to Polish interests than population-based voting. Where I disagree with you is on the question of whether options (a) and (b) above are more advantageous to Germany than a fully-functioning EU-25 with Berlin playing a prominent leadership role. When the costs and benefits of option are compared, I think the long-term benefits of rapprochement with Poland (an operational EU-25 with a secure eastern flank) outweigh the costs (the hard work of looking for ways to recreate 1952 with a Polish leadership that is very difficult to deal with). I also think that these benefits are greater than the benefits of “what Russia can offer.” Remember one thing: Germany has very few real levers in the relationship with Russia. Without the EU, Germany deals on very disadvantageous terms with Moscow. And this is only going to be more the case with time. You can talk about Germany having the “power of demand,” financial clout, etc., but Russia holds all the cards that matter.

Oliver:

You make an excellent point about de Gaulle. Lech is no Charles. The point I wanted to make in referring to de Gaulle was to say, in response to Jonas, that the French were far from being pro-German in the years immediately preceding the rapprochement of 1952. And even if you exclude de Gaulle, the overwhelming majority of French leaders held the view that Germany should be permanently crippled – many all the way up to the last minute. Schuman was considered a fool (and by some, a traitor), and had to accept progress in small increments until elite opinion started to really “get” his logic and understand just how bad off France would be if it persisted in a punitive policy toward Germany. What does this show? That things can get radically better within a fairly short period of time after even the most nationalistic/revanchist of leadership; that structural realities have a way of crashing in on political hotheads; and that you can’t use bad leadership on the other side as an excuse forever.

On comparing gas with coal and steel, you make a good point: the analogy, like all analogies, breaks down eventually. But the two examples are more comparable than you allow. In fact, I think it’s striking how very similar they are: in both cases, joint management of a strategically-vital natural resource can be used to overcome the deep-seated historical mistrust between Germany and its largest immediate neighbors. You’re right to point out the major difference of the existence today of the EU. If anything, however, the EU should make cooperation on gas easier than cooperation on coal and steel. Having said that, I think that, just like in 1952, the reconciliation has to begin on a purely bilateral basis before spreading to a wider European context. The root problem is bilateral; the solution has to be bilateral. A big part of this is emotional/symbolic, just like it was in 1952. The problem in German-Polish relations is not your garden-variety intra-European spat. Even if Poland really could cruise over and “fill up” (though it’s not quite that simple), it would still be desirable for the two countries to come to terms on gas in a publicly-visible, long-term way. The symbolic value alone would outweigh years of the Kaczynskis’ worst rhetoric.

Wess
 
Aggie  Gasior

July 22, 2007

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Having read this article and the comments that follow, I was wondering, Wess, if you could answer one question for me. Though I am interested in this topic, I must admit that my knowledge is limited. I wanted to know what exactly would be Russia's stance on allowing Poland equal access to the gas? It would seem to me that Russia would lose out and therefore make things harder for Germany. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
 
Klaus  Bachmann

November 16, 2007

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Dear all,
it seems to me, You all confine to much importance to words, symbolic gestures and climate than to hard facts. The Kaczynski government was incompetent and provocative, but most things it did - especially in German-Polish relations - had a broad consensus behind them: You wont find a party in Poland, which does not criticise the Northern pipeline plan, which is not against the Centre against expulsions in Berlin, which is not against the double majority in the Reform Treaty and which - in general - is not criticising German policy towards Russia. Only exception: The Fundamental Rights Charter, which has no practical implications for bilateral relations with Germany. The problem does not dissappear with this government, only the rethoric will be replaced by a more conciliatory one.
Tags: | Germany | Poland |
 

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