Last updated in March 2018
German-Polish relations are of tremendous importance for both sides and since 1989 have developed a dynamism unparalleled in recent history. Shared interests in many areas and the two countries’ trusting partnership in the European Union and NATO provide a sound basis for current and future relations. German-Polish intergovernmental consultations are held on a regular basis.
In 2016, Germany and Poland celebrated the 25th anniversary of the signing of the German-Polish Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. High points in the celebrations were the joint opening of the German-Polish Forum by the two countries’ foreign ministers on 19 April 2016 in Warsaw, reciprocal visits by the two countries’ presidents and the German-Polish intergovernmental consultations on 22 June in Berlin. Other major German-Polish institutions like the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation and the German-Polish Youth Office also celebrated their 25th anniversary that year.
Mutual high-level visits are very frequent. Some 223 political meetings were held in 2016 to mark the anniversary, including five Foreign Minister meetings, four meetings of the Heads of State, and three bilateral meetings of the Heads of Government. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most recent bilateral visit to Warsaw on 7 February 2017 received a great deal of attention in Poland. On 16 February 2018, the Federal Chancellor received Poland’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who took over from Beata Szydło on 11 December 2017. Then Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel met for initial talks with his new Polish counterpart, Jacek Czaputowicz, on 17 January 2018, shortly after Czaputowicz succeeded Witold Waszczykowski as Foreign Minister. On 19 May 2017, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to Warsaw for his first official visit to Polish President Andrzej Duda, a trip that coincided with the Warsaw Book Fair where Germany was Guest of Honour.
Since 1991, Poland has been working closely together with Germany and France as part of the Weimar Triangle. Within this framework, trilateral talks are held regularly at different levels. A meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Weimar Triangle took place on 28 August 2016 in Weimar to mark the group’s 25th anniversary. Regional and cross-border cooperation, hundreds of town twinning arrangements and the partnerships between German federal states and Polish voivodeships also testify to the breadth and closeness of relations between the two countries.
The two countries’ economies are closely interlinked. For more than two decades, Germany has been Poland’s most important trading partner by far. More than a quarter of all Polish exports go to Germany. Poland is also of considerable importance for German foreign trade.
Germany’s main exports to Poland are machinery, motor vehicles and vehicle parts, foodstuffs, electronics and electrical goods as well as plastics.
In terms of both the number of investors and the total amount invested, German companies rank first among foreign direct investors in Poland. Aggregate German direct investment in Poland since the country’s change of political system in 1989-1990 stands at approximately 30 billion euros.
On top of this are the investments of less than one million euros by small and medium-sized companies, which do not appear in official statistics. Many such investments have been made, especially in the border regions. Most German investments are greenfield investments, with only a small portion being made through takeovers or in connection with the privatisation of state-owned enterprises. German companies are also investing increasingly in technologically advanced manufacturing and services and are expanding their research and development activities in Poland.
Cultural and educational exchanges
The intense exchange between the two countries in the cultural and education sectors is fostered at the institutional level by cultural intermediaries such as the Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German-Polish Youth Office, as well as by political and private foundations and a close-knit civil society network. In addition, hundreds of schools, universities and scientific societies are engaged in a wide range of activities in this area. The 25thanniversary year of 2016 was marked by a wide range of events showcasing the quality and importance of this network.
The work of the principal German intermediaries in Poland is based on the German-Polish cultural agreement of 14 July 1997, which entered into force on 4 January 1999.
Nowhere in the world do so many people learn German as a foreign language as in Poland – well over two million at Polish schools alone. Offering ways to support the learning of German is one focus of German cultural relations policy in Poland. There are 108 Polish schools partnered with schools in Germany. Twenty seconded teachers from Germany teach German in Poland alongside their Polish colleagues. Levels I and II of the German Language Certificate (DSD) of the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany are awarded at 98 partner schools in the country. In Warsaw, students at the Willy Brandt School, the German School and the German-Polish Binational School can take both the German higher education entrance qualification (Abitur) and the Polish equivalent (Matura).
The branches of the Goethe-Institut in Warsaw and Cracow, with additional reading rooms and partner libraries, and German-Polish cultural societies in major Polish cities, are active in providing information and organising cultural programmes and language courses. The Federal Foreign Office is supporting projects in the realms of music, film, literature and the visual and performing arts as well as cultural, historical and civic education measures for young Germans and Poles.
Since 1993, German and Polish historians have been working together at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw, mainly on topics relating to Germany and Poland’s shared history.
The German-Polish Youth Office (GPYO), set up in 1991 by an intergovernmental agreement, promotes encounters between German and Polish youth and school groups as well as trilateral projects together with third countries. Since its founding in 1991, the GPYO has supported encounters between more than 2.7 million young people. The GPYO is co-funded by Germany and Poland. The German side increased its contribution for 2017 to six million euros, up from five million euros previously.
Since the late 1950s, the DAAD has provided funding enabling more than 70,000 Polish and 27,000 German scientists and academics to pursue research in the partner country. Polish universities with German-language study programmes, the Viadrina European University, which was refounded in Frankfurt an der Oder in 1991, and the programmes offered by the Neisse University, the Universities of Rostock, Greifswald and Wismar, the International Graduate School Zittau and the Centre for Polish Studies at the Universities of Halle-Wittenberg and Jena all serve to intensify mutual academic and cultural exchange. In addition, the Max Planck Society, the German-Polish Science Foundation, the German Research Foundation, the Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation are working together with Polish partner organisations.
The German minority in Poland numbers between 300,000 and 350,000, according to its own estimate. However, the 2011 census put the number at 148,000, though this figure is questioned by the German minority because of the methods used in the census. Many members of the minority have German as well as Polish citizenship. The German minority is the largest of the country’s 13 recognised national or ethnic minorities. The members of the German minority live mainly in Upper Silesia (more than 80 percent of them in the voivodeships Opole and Silesia). Most of the minority organisations belong to an umbrella organisation, the Association of German Social and Cultural Societies (VdG), based in Opole. The rights of the minorities are guaranteed in the Polish Constitution and the German-Polish Treaty on Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation of 17 June 1991. In January 2005, a Minorities Act entered into force that also provides for the use of minority languages as second languages at local level and the putting up of bilingual place-name signs. The German minority is increasingly making active use of this option in its main settlement area.
The German minority is currently represented by a deputy in Poland’s lower house of parliament, the Sejm. At regional level, it is a strong political force in Opole voivodeship and part of the regional government there. Its candidates have won several seats in regional elections and numerous seats in district elections as well as winning a municipal council seat and several mayoral elections.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its Contents.