Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the 14th German-Polish Forum in Warsaw on “German-Polish Partnership for Europe”

24.06.2010 - Speech

This year we Germans will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of German unity. The part Poland played in bringing this unity about and ending the division of Europe remains unforgotten.

The political sea change in Poland in 1989 blazed a trail also for the political sea change in the GDR. We Germans will always associate the Poles’ yearning for freedom with the Solidarność movement, which was an inspiration to freedom movements all over Europe.

Over the past twenty years the work of the German-Polish Forum has been described in various terms that reflect the way in which the German-Polish relationship has changed and evolved. At the sixth German-Polish Forum in Poznan in February 1990 Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski spoke for the first time of a “Polish-German community of shared values and interests”. At the time that was a bold step.

The idea of a reunited Germany was something many Poles then found frightening or at any rate disquieting. For the Polish Foreign Minister to highlight shared interests and values in such a climate was a gesture of good faith that only few had believed possible.

Today the chosen motto of the fourteenth German-Polish Forum is “German-Polish Partnership for Europe”. The community of interests between our two countries has become a partnership, Poland’s gesture of good faith has paved the way for what is now mutual trust. The German-Polish Forum has done a tremendous amount for reconciliation and cooperation. Thank you very much indeed for this extremely valuable work.

The evolution in the terms used to describe our relationship did not end when the “community of interests” developed into a “partnership”. Today we can rightly speak of German-Polish “friendship”. This friendship between our two nations is rooted in the conviction that we have a common bond and a shared responsibility for Europe. Both belong together.

How much of a common bond Germans and Poles feel today was clear from the appalling tragedy in Smolensk, which left people in Germany, too, deeply shocked and saddened. I was myself in Krakow for the funeral of the victims. We Germans share in the Poles’ profound grief.

Far too often in our shared history Germany has been the cause of your nation’s grief. That will never again be the case, neither now nor any time in the future. And let me emphasize, too, that in times of sadness and loss we Germans will stand by our Polish friends and neighbours. One of our foremost tasks, I believe, is to persuade those generations who have not experienced war, destruction and the division of Europe at first hand to become actively involved in our German-Polish project.

Trust develops only with people we know. And knowing them means learning as much as we can about them. That is why it is so important to make sure people know about our common history, both the dark side and the moments of glory. Knowing about Polish culture and history is crucial if young people, whether they live on the banks of the Elbe or the Rhine, are to have any sense of what Europe really means. The key to building trust and making contact is a common language. That is why we want to promote language teaching and teacher exchanges and also recognize each other’s school leaving certificates. Learning to know one another, interacting with one another is the best possible investment in German-Polish friendship.

Our friendship with France now has a firm place in people’s hearts and minds. In the same way we are hoping to put also our friendship with Poland on an even sounder footing. I paid my first visit as Foreign Minister to Warsaw and only then travelled on to Paris. That did not mark any reversal of priorities in terms of our relations. It was intended as an exclamation mark underscoring our friendship with Poland. This friendship is of the highest order. It is just as important as the decades-old friendship between Germany and France. This has nothing to do with how near Paris is to Bonn or how near Warsaw is to Berlin. The significance of relations between one country and another country is not something that can be simply measured on a map. Germany’s relations with France and Poland are never an “either-or” matter. It is always a case of “and” here.

The whole point is that we are shaping Europe’s future together. That is why one of my top priorities since taking office has been to ensure that the German debate on the Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation revolves always around the idea of reconciliation.

Poland and Germany have committed to a partnership for Europe. Today we once again need the sense of heading for new horizons, the courage and “can-do” spirit without which the remaking of Europe in 1990 would have been inconceivable. Anyone who regards European integration as a matter of course has forgotten what a struggle it was. Anyone who does not value it will quickly destroy it.

Germany and Poland owe European integration more than I can ever say. Europe is for us a shared commitment and a shared mission. That is why Germany will be providing all possible support to the Polish EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2011.

We are partners in the efforts to overcome the economic and euro crisis. Poland has demonstrated solidarity, although it is not yet a member of the euro zone. Despite the economic crisis, the Polish economy grew in 2009 – the only economy in Europe to do so. Poland has a stability culture similar to our own. We both believe that economic progress in Europe is a shared European responsibility. That is why we are both in favour of economic policy coordination within the EU.

My dear Radek Sikorski,

Yesterday we met for the third time in a month, a fact that alone shows what close relations our two countries now enjoy. What brought us together yesterday was our Weimar Triangle meeting in Paris with our colleague Bernard Kouchner. The Weimar Triangle stands not only for the “and”, however, between France and Germany and Poland. The Weimar Triangle is also a vehicle for generating ideas and initiatives important for Europe’s future. At our April meeting we launched a joint initiative designed to develop further the Common Security and Defence Policy in Europe. Our aim is to make the EU more effective in the field of civilian and military crisis management.

The Weimar Triangle symbolizes the link between West and East in Europe. It can therefore play a key role in helping the European Union forge closer ties with its eastern partners.

A start has now been made. At our meeting in Bonn in April we invited our Ukrainian colleague Kostiantyn Hryschenko to join us. Yesterday in Paris we talked to our Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov. The subjects we discussed included both international issues as well as improvements that people will feel the benefit of in their daily lives. Europe is best when Europe is concrete and down-to-earth.

At this meeting Poland and Russia together raised the issue of the Kaliningrad enclave. Local border traffic arrangements with Poland do exist, but Kaliningrad is specifically excluded. It is situated just a few kilometres too far from the Polish-Russian border. This state of affairs is a contradiction of all that Europe is meant to be. There is now a joint Polish-Russian proposal on the table that is intended to resolve this contradiction. Yesterday my colleague Bernard Kouchner and myself agreed that we would support this initiative at European level. We are doing this because we want to help Poland and Russia further improve their relations.

We also discussed the Eastern Partnership, which was launched on Polish initiative. Through this Partnership the EU is supporting the political, economic and also societal development of six neighbouring countries in Eastern Europe and the southern Caucasus. The aim is to help the Eastern Partnership countries move closer to the level of stability, prosperity, freedom and security that the EU today guarantees. It is therefore vital to involve Russia is this process. For the Eastern Partnership links the EU and Russia in ways not confined to geography alone.

This involvement of Russia can function only with Poland and never against Poland. Germany and Poland are also engaged in trilateral cooperation with Russia. Let me cite two examples here.

On 1 July I will be opening the second German-Polish-Russian conference in Berlin, where historians from all three countries will discuss their different national remembrance cultures. They will be attempting to bring these different cultures in Europe closer together. The aim is to work towards a common European remembrance culture that integrates nations’ very different collective memories and thereby lays the foundations for greater mutual understanding in Europe.

My second example are the meetings that bring together the planning staffs of the three countries’ foreign ministries. At these meetings participants freely discuss also sensitive issues relating to European security. The topics covered include relations between NATO and Russia, the NATO-Russia Council and joint projects under OSCE auspices. What we are trying to do here is build mutual confidence and work together to shape our common future.

German-Polish friendship stands for European unity in our innermost hearts and minds. It stands for the ability to put old antagonisms behind us and build the future together. Let us bend our energies every day anew to working together towards that goal.

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