German‑Polish cooperation

19.04.2022 - Article

The Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland on Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, signed on 17 June 1991, forms the basis and framework for the intensive political dialogue and intersocietal contacts between the two countries.

Men in suits with documents
Helmut Kohl and the polish Prime Minister Bielecki signing the Treaty in 1991© picture alliance/dpa

In 38 articles, the two countries outlined political, economic and cultural goals for cooperation, mindful of “their shared responsibility for building a new, free Europe united by human rights, democracy and the rule of law.” Together with the German-Polish Border Treaty of 1990, it formed the foundation for reconciliation, good neighbourliness, partnership and friendship between Poland and Germany following the end of the division of Europe.

Bilateral relations entered a new phase with Poland’s accession to NATO in 1999, the European Union in 2004 and the Schengen area in 2007. They were further enhanced by the complete opening of the German labour market in 2011.

Around two million Poles, as well as people of Polish descent or with dual nationality, currently live and work in Germany. For more than two decades, Germany has been Poland’s most important trading partner by far. Lively exchange and frequent visits at the highest political level demonstrate the friendly partnership and good cooperation between the two countries. This also includes intergovernmental consultations involving the Heads of Government and Ministers from both sides, most recently in 2018.

Memorial ceremony in Wola
Memorial ceremony in Wola© Xander Heinl/Photothek.de

Addressing the past

A responsible approach to the past forms the basis of German-Polish 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 back 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.

Remembrance of the past continues to play an equally important role today. Then Federal Foreign Minister Maas travelled to the Polish capital to mark the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising on 1 August 2019.

Furthermore, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and then Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel attended ceremonies in Poland on 1 September 2019 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. Chancellor Merkel also joined the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on a visit to the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau on 6 December 2019 to mark the tenth anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. President Steinmeier travelled there on 27 January 2020 for the 75th anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation, while Chancellor Merkel and the Polish Prime Minister attended a memorial concert in Berlin on 27/28 January 2020.

On 30 October 2020, meanwhile, the German Bundestag decided to establish a forum at a prominent location in Berlin dedicated to the Polish victims of the Second World War and the National Socialist occupation of Poland; it will serve as a place where exchange, learning and debate about German-Polish history can take place. Plans for a Forum for Remembrance and Exchange with Poland were drawn up under the auspices of the Federal Foreign Office, in collaboration with Polish and German experts from academia and civil society, including from the German Poland Institute, and presented on 15 September 2021.

You can find out more about the Forum here.

A common future and shared responsibility: Young people and civil society – the key to closer relations

On the basis of the German-Polish Treaty on Good Neighbourliness numerous German-Polish institutions which have been fostering civil society contacts ever since were created, constituting a cornerstone of German-Polish friendship together with the more than 500 twinning arrangements between the two countries.

The German‑Polish Youth Office (GPYO), which was founded in 1991, has to date helped some three million young people to take part in bilateral programmes. In its coalition agreement, the current German Government reiterated the pledge to strengthen the work of the Youth Office.

Further information is available on the GPYO website.

The Foundation for German‑Polish Cooperation (FGPC), which was launched by the two Governments in 1991, is a further key institution for fostering bilateral relations. Over more than 30 years now, it has funded around 16,000 joint projects, thus strengthening the foundations of mutual understanding.

Further information is available on the FGPC website.

The two countries’ close links in the field of higher education, science and research are sustained by numerous institutions such as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the German-Polish Science Foundation, which is based on a bilateral governmental agreement. In 2020, a total of 2198 students, graduates, researchers and other university staff from both countries obtained funding from the DAAD. Of these, 1964 were receiving funding for the first time; 433 were from Poland and 1765 from Germany. Since 1953, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has awarded more than 1300 Humboldt Research Fellowships and Humboldt Research Awards enabling people from Poland to spend time in Germany, as well as Feodor Lynen Research Fellowships for Germans going to Poland.

More information can be found on the websites of the DAAD, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and (in German or Polish only) the German-Polish Science Foundation.

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 convened for the first time in Görlitz in April 1991 and meets once a year, alternately in Germany and Poland. The German co-chair is held by Ambassador Anke Meyer, Director for Relations with EU Member States, Cross-Border and Regional Cooperation. Her Polish counterpart is Dr Mariusz Boguszewski, Director of the Department for International Affairs at the Ministry of the Interior and Administration of the Republic of Poland.

The Intergovernmental Commission has three focal areas: (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 Commission in the following areas: cross‑border cooperation, regional planning, interregional cooperation and education. The Commission most recently met on 21 December 2021 in a session held online. The next meeting is planned for the autumn of 2022, when it will be Poland’s turn to act as host. Germany and Poland also work closely together in expanded formats. For example, Germany, Poland and France consult regularly on foreign and European policy issues within the framework of the Weimar Triangle, which was founded in August 1991 by the three countries’ Foreign Ministers.

Borders divide – the Oder unites

The wide range of crossborder cooperation between Germany and Poland is reflected in the more than 500 town twinnings, three double cities (Guben/Gubin, Görlitz/Zgorzelec and Frankfurt (Oder)/Słubice) and four euroregions (Pro Europa Viadrina, Euroregion Spree-Neiße-Bober, Euroregion Pomerania, Euroregion Neiße (trilateral with Czechia)). The Länder Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the Free State of Saxony and the western Polish Voivodeships Greater Poland, West Pomerania, Lower Silesia and Lubusz located along the Oder have joined forces to form an informal network known as the Oder Partnership.

More Information

Cooperation in the Weimar Triangle

German and Poland: bilateral relations

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