On Tuesday (19 April) Foreign Minister Steinmeier travelled to Warsaw for the opening of the German‑Polish Forum. It was his second trip to Warsaw in 2016 – the 25th anniversary of the German‑Polish Treaty on Good‑Neighbourliness. In his speech he emphasised that the two countries can now look back on a long‑standing friendship between two peoples. During his time in Poland Steinmeier took the opportunity for in‑depth talks with his counterpart Waszczykowski and laid a wreath at the memorial to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.
Friendship on a solid foundation
After a chequered history of relations spanning more than a thousand years, the German‑Polish friendship has reached new heights since 1991. Poland’s joining of NATO in 1999, accession to the EU in 2004 and admission to the Schengen area in 2007 have forged close political ties between the two countries, which rest on a solid foundation of friendship between millions of Germans and Poles: more than 700,000 Poles live and work in Germany. Around 2.5 million young people have participated in programmes run by the German‑Polish Youth Office. And almost 100,000 academics from both countries have received sponsorship from the German Academic Exchange Service for exchanges with Poland.
18th German-Polish Forum
The German‑Polish Forum has played a key role as a catalyst for bilateral relations since 1977. The 18th Forum is taking place this year in Warsaw under the motto “25 years of good neighbourliness – a German‑Polish community of shared responsibility”. In his opening speech Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that the “ong, chequered history of German‑Polish relations” was first and foremost not shaped by politics, but was rather “a journey of two peoples”. After all: “Governments come and governments go.”
Steinmeier went on to say that in the 25th anniversary year, the friendship was facing a test of its mettle, as both Poles and Germans were feeling threatened by a large number of concurrent crises. However, he warned that although fear may be an important human reflex, it was not a good political guide. He said that in spite of some fearful calls for us to shut ourselves off, Germany and Poland needed to work together in Europe’s interests as a community of shared responsibility.
In his speech Steinmeier also reminded his listeners that in the course of history Poland had often been “a courageous torchbearer”:
In 1791, for example, the Sejm gave the country the first liberal constitution in Europe. This was an inspiration to many, not least the German freedom fighters of the 19th century. It also – the current climate prompted me to read up on this recently – contains the principles of the rule of law and the separation of powers. I think this shows that these are deep‑seated Polish and European constitutional principles, and they should remain so!
Bilateral consultations also on Ukraine
After jointly opening the Forum, the Foreign Ministers of the two countries withdrew to the historic Belvedere Palace for in‑depth bilateral talks, which centred, among other things, on the challenges currently facing Europe: ranging from the refugee issue, through the repercussions of the financial crisis and the British referendum on whether to remain in the EU, to the enduring difficult situation in eastern Ukraine. After the meeting, Steinmeier welcomed the fact that the governmental crisis in Ukraine had been resolved with the appointment of a new government and that there was also hope that a humanitarian solution would be found for the Ukrainian pilot Savchenko, who is currently in prison in Russia.
25 years of the ODIHR in Warsaw
In the afternoon Foreign Minister Steinmeier visited the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw, which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016. Here around 150 employees work for the so‑called “human dimension” of the OSCE. In his speech, Steinmeier expressed his thanks for the outstanding work of the ODIHR, not only in the field of election monitoring, but also in the area of human rights and the rule of law.
73 years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
To conclude his visit, Steinmeier visited the memorial to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Seventy‑three years ago to the day, the ghetto inhabitants began a desperate fight against the German occupiers, which they kept up for four weeks despite being at a hopeless disadvantage in terms of weapons. Thousands lost their lives. To mark this anniversary Foreign Minister Steinmeier laid a wreath before the memorial to the heroes of this uprising and bowed his head before the victims. In view of the terrible suffering inflicted by German National Socialism particularly in Poland, the warm relationship Germany and Poland enjoy today is all the more gratifying.