Poland’s accession to NATO in 1999, to the EU in 2004 and to the Schengen area in 2007 marked a new phase in German‑Polish relations, which were further enhanced by the complete opening of the German labour market in 2011. Over 700,000 Polish citizens now live and work in Germany, where they form the second largest group of migrants. Lively exchange and frequent visits at the highest political level are an expression of the friendly partnership and good cooperation between the two countries. Such meetings include the annual intergovernmental consultations with the heads of government and ministers.
Dealing with the past
A responsible approach to the past forms the basis of our relations. This includes Germany’s recognition of its responsibility for the suffering of the Polish population during the Second World War, as symbolised by Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt falling to his knees at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes during a visit to Warsaw in 1970. Reconciliation would have been inconceivable without the willingness to forgive, as expressed in the pastoral letter by Polish bishops to their German counterparts in 1965, and the willingness to renounce one’s own claims for restitution, as shown in a bulletin on Germans’ relations with their eastern neighbours by the Protestant Church in Germany during the same year.
Federal President Roman Herzog taking part in the Polish ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising on 1 August 1994 was one of the major gestures of reconciliation between Germany and Poland: “I am moved as I today reach out to you across the graves of those who died during the Warsaw Uprising. I bow to those who fought in the Warsaw Uprising and to all Polish victims of the war: I ask forgiveness for what Germans inflicted upon them“.
In 2014, a year of anniversaries, Federal President Joachim Gauck and President Bronisław Komorowski sent important signals as regards dealing with the past. Among other things, they opened an exhibition in Berlin on the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, marked the 25th anniversary of the peaceful revolution in the GDR in 1989 together in Leipzig, and commemorated the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 at ceremonies in the German Bundestag and Westerplatte in Gdańsk. On 27 January 2015, they joined Holocaust survivors in marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp in Auschwitz.
A common future and shared responsibility
The German Government's declared desire is to work more closely with Poland in the future on shaping European integration and taking on greater responsibility in Europe and the world. Together with the federal States, intermdirary organisations and Polish Partners, in 2016, to mark of the 25th anniversary of the Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland on Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, a total of more than thousand events took place on a political as well as on a social level. The events focuses on cultural and civil society exchange between both countries.
Young people and civil society – the key to closer relations
Youth exchange programmes and functioning town twinning projects pave the way to closer relations between Germans and Poles and foster mutual understanding. Recent years have seen this field develop in leaps and bounds. Over 700 municipal and regional partnerships are now registered with the Association of German Cities.
The German‑Polish Youth Office (GPYO), which was founded in 1991, has helped some 2.5 million young people to conduct bilateral programmes. In its coalition agreement of 2013, the German Government pledged to expand the scope of the Youth Office.
The Foundation for German‑Polish Cooperation (FGPC), which was launched by the two governments in 1991, is a further key institution as regards fostering bilateral cooperation. Over the course of more than 20 years, it has funded almost 15,000 joint projects, thus underpinning the foundations of mutual understanding.
A large number of foundations and institutions, such as the German Academic Exchange Service, are also involved in the intensive educational and research exchange between Germany and Poland. Between the late 1950s and 2012, the German Academic Exchange Service funded some 70,000 Polish and 27,000 German academics in exchanges with Poland.
Intergovernmental commission: Overcoming borders
The German‑Polish Intergovernmental Commission for Regional and Cross‑Border Cooperation is an important partner when it comes to shaping relations with Poland. It meets once a year, alternately in Germany and Poland. The German co‑chair is Ambassador Thomas Ossowski.
The Intergovernmental Commission was first convened in April 1991, in Görlitz, Germany. It has had three major duties ever since, which remain unchanged, namely to (a) foster cooperation between regional, municipal and other institutions, associations and facilities, (b) spark initiatives by making recommendations and (c) communicate information.
Four committees support the work of the Intergovernmental Commission in the following areas: cross‑border cooperation, regional planning, interregional cooperation and education.
German‑Polish Forum: A format with a tradition
The first German‑Polish Forum took place in Bonn in 1977. Since then, it has been an important event held at regular intervals that lends momentum to German‑Polish relations and intersocietal contacts outside official consultations. Its co‑chairs are the two Coordinators of German‑Polish Cooperation. Funding is provided by the two countries’ foreign ministries.
In 2014, the Foundation for German‑Polish Cooperation organised the forum for the first time. Around 200 participants discussed the future of European eastern policy at the event, which took place in Berlin on 19 and 20 November 2014.
In April 2016 the Forum met in Warsaw. For further information click here:
The German‑Polish Prize is awarded annually to individuals or organisations from Germany and Poland for outstanding services to German‑Polish relations. The prize is worth 20,000 euros. Laureates include Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, Jerzy Buzek, Willy Brandt, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Richard von Weizsäcker, Lech Wałęsa, Hans‑Dietrich Genscher, the Krzyżowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe, Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace and the International Youth Meeting Centre in Oświęcim/Auschwitz (IYMC). In 2015, the German‑Polish Prize was awarded posthumously to Władysław Bartoszewski, a Holocaust survivor, historian and former Polish Foreign Minister. In 2016 the prize has not been awarded.
On the German side, the prize committee members are the Coordinator of German‑Polish Cooperation, Minister‑President Dietmar Woidke of Brandenburg (co‑chair); the Director of the German Poland Institute, Prof. Dieter Bingen; the Director of the German‑Polish Youth Office, Stephan Erb; former Member of the German Bundestag, Hans‑Ulrich Klose, and Dr Geri Nasarski. Polish price committee members have yet to be appointed.