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 750,000 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 express the friendly partnership and good cooperation between the two countries. Such meetings include the annual intergovernmental consultations with the heads of government and ministers.
Addressing 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.
Remembrance of the past continues to play an important role in our bilateral relations. On 11 November 2018, Poland celebrated the centenary of regaining its independence. This occasion was marked by a series of bilateral visits, talks and events in Poland and Germany. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Poland in June 2018. In October 2018, Polish President Andrzej Duda met Federal President Steinmeier in Berlin. In November 2018, the Federal Foreign Office co-hosted a major historians’ conference with the German Poland Institute. Important anniversaries will also be commemorated in 2019 – 15 years of Poland’s accession to the EU [the watershed year of 1989] and the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, with the Federal President attending the commemorative events in Wieluń and Warsaw.
1 August 2019, the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, was an important date. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited the Polish capital to mark this occasion, thus following in the footsteps of Federal President Roman Herzog and Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who attended the commemoration in 1994 and 2004 respectively. During a speech in the Warsaw Uprising Museum, given in the presence of Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz and a large number of young Germans and Poles, Maas acknowledged Germany’s guilt and spoke about Germany and Poland’s role as alliance partners with shared responsibility for Europe.
A common future and shared responsibility
The German Government is pursuing the goal of working with Poland on actively shaping European integration and taking on responsibility in Europe and the world.
To this end, the two countries work closely together at EU level, as well as in other formats such as the Weimar Triangle (together with France) and the Three Seas Initiative.
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 three million young people to conduct bilateral programmes. In its coalition agreement, the German Government pledged to expand the scope of the Youth Office and has accordingly increased the funding allocated to it.
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 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.
Further information is available on the FGPC website.
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 1996 and 2017, approximately 65,000 students, graduates, researchers and other university staff from both countries – around 42,000 from Poland and some 23,000 from Germany – received funding from the German Academic Exchange Service.
Further information is available on the German Academic Exchange Service website.
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 held by Sibylle Katharina Sorg, Director for Relations with European Union Member States, Cross-Border and Regional Cooperation.
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. The most recent meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission was held in Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland, in June 2018. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in Berlin in September 2019.
The German‑Polish Forum – a long-standing format
The first German‑Polish Forum took place in Bonn in 1977. Since then, it has been an important event that is held at regular intervals and lends momentum to German‑Polish relations and intersocietal contacts outside official consultations. Its co‑chairs are the two Coordinators of German‑Polish Cooperation. Minister‑President Dietmar Woidke is the chair on the German side. Funding is provided by the two countries’ foreign ministries.
The Foundation for German‑Polish Cooperation has organised the forum since 2014. It was held for the 19th time in Berlin on 22 and 23 October 2018. The participants discussed the topic of “Germany and Poland, working together for a strong Europe”.
The German‑Polish Prize
The German‑Polish Prize is awarded annually to individuals or organisations from Germany and Poland for outstanding services to German‑Polish relations. 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. The prize has not been awarded since 2016.
Dietmar Woidke, Minister-President of Land Brandenburg and Coordinator of German-Polish Cooperation, is the co‑chair of the prize committee on the German side. Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Secretary of State for Polish Community Abroad, European Policy and Public Diplomacy, is the Polish co‑chair.