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Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the 13th German-Polish Forum

05.12.2008 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Professor Lipowicz,
Professor Schwan,
Dr Hamm,
Radek Sikorski,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Your motto for this 13th German-Polish Forum is "Renewing dialogue – focus on Europe" – an apt summing up, I feel, of the current German-Polish agenda.

Renewing dialogue – that's something on which both countries have expended much energy over the past twelve months, with considerable success in my view.

It's a process that began almost exactly a year ago with the visits of Prime Minister Tusk and Foreign Minister Sikorski here in Berlin, which in more than a purely symbolic sense marked the start of a new chapter in our relations.

At government level, previously blocked channels of communication have been reopened.

Radek Sikorski and I, for example, have met on a host of occasions, both official and unofficial – starting with my visit in April to Radek's country home in Bydgoszcz, which I look back on with very great pleasure.

The Weimar triangle consultations with France, in abeyance since 2006, resumed in May.

And next Tuesday, for the first time since 2004, full-scale intergovernmental consultations will be held in Warsaw, attended by the Chancellor and eight federal ministers.

And this will also be an occasion to award the German-Polish Prize again. Foreign Minister Sikorski and myself will be jointly presenting the Prize to Action Reconciliation – Service for Peace and the Krzyżowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe, two civil society initiatives that have made uniquely valuable contributions to German-Polish understanding.

Clearly the vitality of relations between our two countries depends in large measure on intersocietal dialogue. And in recent months this, too, has once more begun to thrive.

Another tangible sign of this is today's German-Polish Forum. I'm delighted to see it reconvene again after a three-year-long gap.

So let me at this point pay a special tribute to the Forum's two coordinators and joint hosts, Professors Schwan and Lipowicz as well as to the staff of the German-Poland Institute.

Everything you do is contributing in a very direct way to the further development of our bilateral relations.

The German-Polish Youth Office, which this year has once again resumed its full programme of activities, is further proof of the renewed dialogue now under way.

This year, too, the new German-Polish Research Foundation has at last started work after lengthy preparations.

Another factor in boosting dialogue across the board was the abolition of internal border controls when Poland became part of the Schengen area at the beginning of the year. The importance of this can hardly be overestimated, for face-to-face contacts and encounters are essential for any kind of dialogue.

In the light of these dynamic developments and whatever is later said and written about this year of world-shaking events, I think it's no exaggeration to state that 2008 has definitely been a good year for German-Polish relations!

Another reason is that in October the European Court of Human Rights finally ruled on something that has long beset our bilateral relations.

In dismissing the applications lodged by the so-called Prussian Claims Society relating to property claims of displaced German nationals, the highest European court has created legal certainty: there are no outstanding property issues between Germany and Poland in connection with the Second World War.

Both Governments have explicitly welcomed the Court's decision. State Secretary Bartoszewski has even called it one of the most seminal documents in the history of German-Polish relations.

To cite Adam Krzeminski, you could say we are "now at last good neighbours". That may sound modest, but given the legacy of the past it amounts to a very great deal.

History has clearly inflicted deep wounds. We see it as a core task also in future to understand and come to grips with our shared past.

So if we can talk now of a "new normality", of friendly ties and partnership between EU neighbours, this to me is not a matter of course but a real achievement.

Let there be no misunderstandings. "New normality", as I see it, doesn't mean ending the dialogue on our troubled shared past. Reconciliation with Poland is a task spanning generations, it remains one of our top foreign policy priorities.

But normality means we can talk with one another about everything, we can work together and we can support one another. Obviously it means, too, that we accept and discuss different views. And that we listen to one another particularly well, in respect and friendship, when these views differ from our own.

It's really quite simple to gauge how far our relations have normalized. We need only look at the agenda of our meetings – bilateral problems take up ever less of our time. We're now increasingly focusing on what joint initiatives we could take, for example, in the field of culture, research and education. And we discuss the European and international issues that interest us both.

"Focus on Europe", the Forum's motto, is well chosen. For that is our shared trust.

With its constructive attitude Poland's influence in Europe has increased over the past year. If the Poles and Germans in future strive for common positions on pressing European issues, that will greatly benefit us both.

So it is much to be welcomed that our bilateral consultations next week are to take place in Poland ahead of the European Council meeting.

The main issues in Brussels will be energy security and climate protection as well as how best to respond to the current financial and economic crisis. These are issues of overriding importance for the future of both countries and Europe as a whole. If the Poles and Germans can reach a common understanding here, the chances of achieving a compromise also at European level will be markedly improved.

The European Council – like the 14th UN climate change conference now under way in Poznan – needs to send a message that we won't allow even the global financial crisis to undermine our efforts to tackle climate change.

Poland and Germany could together make a host of very practical contributions to this endeavour. I'm thinking here, for example, of the development and deployment of clean coal technologies. Or cooperation on developing wind power technology or harnessing biomass energy.

On foreign policy issues, too, close consultation in a spirit of mutual trust is in both our interests, especially concerning policy towards our eastern neighbours and Russia – precisely the issues you've been discussing today at the Forum.

Given our different national experience, we may of course have different perspectives on these matters.

But we clearly all have an interest in seeing an area of prosperity and security emerge east of the EU as part of a pan-European peace order.

The crisis in Georgia this summer vividly drove home how remote this goal still is. It also reminded us that the EU bears a special responsibility for its neighbourhood to the east which it cannot simply opt out of.

It's more than ever in the EU's own interest, in fact, to pursue an active policy towards its eastern neighbours. I fully agree with Foreign Minister Sikorski that we need a vision for the long-term stabilization of eastern Europe and cooperation with the countries of the region.

This idea also fed into the initiative we launched during Germany's EU Council Presidency to strengthen the European Neighbourhood Policy.

Poland and Sweden also built on this idea with their joint paper on developing the EU's policy towards its eastern European neighbours.

The Commission responded by two days ago presenting a proposal for an "Eastern Partnership".

This to me is a shining example of how, working together, we can take Europe forward.

Poland and Germany will be offering the incoming Czech Presidency their full support in fleshing out this new "Eastern neighbourhood" concept.

Our aim should be to link the European Neighbourhood Policy, the "Eastern Partnership" proposed by Poland and Sweden and the existing Black Sea Synergy initiative and thereby enhance stability across the entire region.

Speaking of regional stability, we all know of course there's no stability without Russia – and certainly none by challenging Russia.

Let me make one thing clear beyond doubt. The conflict in Georgia has greatly strained Europe's relations with Russia. The violation of Georgia's territorial integrity remains for us totally unacceptable.

However, we also agree with Poland that there's no alternative to functioning cooperation between the EU and Russia. Particularly when the going is tough we need channels of communication with Russia that are open and working.

That's why I'm glad we agreed this week in Brussels to resume dialogue with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council.

Whether in the NATO-Russia Council or in the context of negotiations on a new EU-Russia partnership agreement, expanding practical cooperation with Russia – on missile defence, energy security or disarmament – directly benefits both sides and builds mutual trust.

Trust that is indispensable for the creation of any new European security architecture.

For that is our goal: a security partnership in which all countries from Vancouver to Vladivostok participate on equal terms. A partnership based on the principles and values enshrined in our CSCE and OSCE commitments. Which preserves what's been tried and tested – but is geared to changed realities and new challenges. This also means we must operate with a very broad definition of security.

That was something we broached yesterday at the OSCE foreign ministers meeting in Helsinki. We will be pursuing these discussions next year with a new US Administration explicitly committed to overcoming Cold War mindsets.

Next year may be a year of important decisions paving the way for the creation of a viable pan-European peace order for the twenty-first century. Poland and Germany both have a special responsibility to ensure the right decisions are taken.

Thank you very much.

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