Interview given by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita

21.06.2011 - Interview

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the German-Polish Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness

In what areas of German-Polish relations has there been no progress over the twenty years since the signing of the Good-Neighbourliness Treaty?

The way German-Polish relations have developed over the past twenty years is an extraordinary success story. The Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, whose anniversary we’re celebrating today, paved the way – once the Iron Curtain dividing Europe was gone – for our two countries to forge closer ties than they had ever had before. Over two million of our young people have now taken part in exchange programmes and there’s been a fourteen-fold increase in trade. Nothing is so good, however, that it couldn’t be better still. Take transport links, for instance. Here we’re keen to see the rail links between Berlin and Szczecin and Berlin and Wrocław speedily modernized so travel times can be cut. That needs a commitment from both sides.

Couldn’t the politicians settle the dispute over the Baltic Sea pipeline?Couldn’t the German Government guarantee there’s no reason for Poland to worry about access to its ports being hindered?

We’ve already discussed these issues at length and found appropriate solutions. The problem concerning channel depth has been satisfactorily dealt with. In the area of the western approach to the ports of Swinoujscie and Szczecin, Nord Stream has agreed to lay the pipeline under the seabed. In the area of the northern approach the permit for the pipeline is conditional: if there’s evidence of any hindrance to shipping, it will be reviewed accordingly. At the moment access is not hindered. Ships whose draught exceeds 15 metres can’t navigate in these waters anyway, since they’re too shallow.

Nord Stream has promised to move the pipeline to a lower depth if Poland wants in future to expand access to its ports. Would you put your faith in such a promise if one of Germany’s ports was affected ?

The conditionality of the permit means the situation here is clear and subject to judicial review. No one has any intention of harming Polish economic interests. It’s also Europe’s energy supplies that are at stake here and the Baltic’s sensitive eco-system, which should definitely be protected.

Is the German Government willing to compensate members of the Polish minority rehabilitated by the Bundestag Decision of 10 June for the injustice they suffered during the Third Reich?

The Bundestag Decision of 10 June was adopted by a large majority. The document pays tribute to the way German-Polish relations have developed to date and points us towards the future. In the light of the tragic chapters of our shared history, the Bundestag emphasized the importance of honouring and rehabilitating people of Polish descent who were victims of National Socialist persecution in Germany. In the Round Table talks on the rights of German citizens of Polish descent and the rights of the German minority in Poland the issue of compensation has not been discussed. What the groups concerned want is to see their suffering remembered and recognized in a fitting way.

Does the Polish community in Germany today enjoy the same rights as the Sorb or Danish minorities – apart from the fact that they’re not allowed to call themselves a “minority”?

Our fellow citizens of Polish descent are better integrated in German society than almost any other linguistic group. In the Good-Neighbourliness Treaty their rights are spelled out just as clearly as the rights of the German minority in Poland. And of course we want to ensure these rights are respected. The Round Table agreed just recently on a whole series of concrete measures to help both groups do more to foster their linguistic and cultural identities. That’s a huge success, which mustn’t be talked down. Both sides want to translate these Round Table accords into practice, want to continue this dialogue. The demand to grant the Polish community in Germany minority status, however, jars, for one thing, with the social reality our citizens of Polish descent experience and, for another, is something for which there’s no provision in the German legal system.

Last week the Round Table decided to establish in the Polish voivodeships the new post of commissioner responsible for both national and ethnic minorities.Doesn’t that mean Germany is now involved in the intra-Polish dispute over whether there’s such a thing as a Silesian minority?

At the Round Table both sides have made commitments that they are willing and able to deliver. The desire for contact points to serve the German minority in Poland and also the Polish community in Germany played a significant role here. What these arrangements will look like is of course a matter for each country to decide. So in Germany it’s up to us.

Hasn’t the crisis in Portugal, Greece and other EU countries dampened Germany’s enthusiasm for the common currency and greater cooperation in the EU?

Quite the opposite, I’d say. We’ve taken major decisions to safeguard the euro’s long-term future and stability. Solidarity and fiscal soundness are two sides of the same coin. Everyone must help, in other words, build Europe’s common future. We’ve agreed a stability pact that will be authoritative and effective. As from 2013 there’ll be a new permanent mechanism to protect our common currency from speculative attacks. Until then we have viable solutions in place. All euro countries now aspire to budgetary discipline; for their budgetary policies they are accountable in Brussels. So as you see, Europe’s debt crisis has given integration a further boost.

Can one talk of a common EU foreign policy when Germany supported neither France nor Britain over the operation in Libya?

A majority of the members of the European Union and NATO are not participating in the military operation there. Germany and Poland, too, have decided not to take part. The EU partners have a clear common goal for Libya, which is to facilitate democratic progress there. In the EU we’ve now banned all oil and gas imports from Libya and in the United Nations, too, we Europeans are taking the same line here. There is an EU consensus that the Transitional National Council in Benghazi is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. That’s why Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has opened an EU Office in Benghazi. All these steps send a clear signal to political actors in North Africa: the EU has what it takes to pursue an effective common foreign policy.

Today [21 June] the Polish and German Governments are holding a joint Cabinet meeting in Warsaw. What’s the main message you’d like to get across here?

Today we want not only to take stock of what has been achieved but also to spell out a shared vision for our future in the 21st century. German-Polish relations are now better than ever before. The barriers that once divided Europe have fallen and this gives us, as partners in the EU and NATO, a historic opportunity which we must clearly seize, for the sake of people in both our countries. So we intend to play an active and constructive role in Europe and shoulder joint responsibility in the international arena. Given our history, this is surely no less than our duty.

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