It is a win-win agreement: an agenda for Polish-German cooperation

05.06.2018 | By Jan Chromiec

Like it or not, Poland and Germany should be on the same team as far as the European issues are concerned. Both states do have a vested interest in building up such a partnership. How should our cooperation look like? There is a common ground to work together indeed: future of the European Union, Berlin’s support for ‘Morawiecki plan’ [Poland’s economic growth strategy], data innovation and energy policy, as well as setting up a Polish-German University.

Two years before we have been celebrating 25 years of signing the Treaty of Good Neighbourhood and Friendly Cooperation. There should have been stock smiles, new projects and commemorative photo, though it ended up differently. Polish-German arguments concern not only crucial issues in European politics, but also toxic mutual claims. The ‘community of interests’ so far transforms into ‘community of conflict’.

Nevertheless, a glance into the past indicates that Berlin and Warsaw do need each other. If we look at the problem via ‘national’ lenses only, we will undoubtedly notice that both countries feel like serious players in the world politics. However, hard data is relentless: Poles constituted 0,5 percent of the world population in 2016, while the Germans–1 percent. The economy of Poland represents 0,6 percent of the global economy, while the economy of Germany–4,6 percent.

Taking both countries’ little importance on the global scene into consideration, we have to admit that it is not possible to meet challenges of the international politics alone. Many problems will not be resolved: neither in the East, with Russia’s aggressive foreign policy, nor in the South, where war and lack of prospects are intertwined with terrorism and exile, nor in the West, where the US leader puts alliances to the test.

In the face of those challenges, it is the European Union to be the best instrument to secure the impact on the global politics for Poland and Germany. Polish-German ‘community of the future’ may aim at expanding their influence. To achieve this goal, Warsaw and Berlin should administer conflicts with no damage to their fundamental objectives. We are far away from taking this course of action. Distrust became the new leitmotiv of Polish-German relations.

However, the situation may change if we focus on three prioritised areas of cooperation. First, which I call a collection of hard nuts to crack, concerns issues both important and controversial. Second is a set of catalysts–important, but less controversial issues. The third consists of motors of consent– problems that improve cooperation regardless of big politics.

Hard nuts to crack: important and difficult issues

Firstly, taking the dangerous international situation into account, some problems need to be taken care of with high priority.

  1. Alliances begin to scatter away

Since the seizure of power in 2015, the Polish government works hard on weakening an alliance with Germany, France and the European institutions. Instead of cooperation with those actors, the stress is being put on Great Britain, Visegrad Group, the United States and China.

Polish side provides one of the motives behind such a shift: it is due to Berlin’s disloyalty manifested when Germany allegedly called Polish perspective into question and favoured other political partners. Conflict is over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, debate on future of the EU after Brexit (which took place in June 2016 at the Berlin political summit of the Inner Six), and the permit to equip Russian army with modern ‘Infantry System’ produced by German company Rheinmetall (project was stopped after the annexation of Crimea).

However, building alternative alliances simultaneously with leaving those existing ones is dangerous for both sides. Such situation enables to play Poland and Germany off against each other, as well as to disintegrate the EU in critical international issues, such as sanctions against Russia, Brexit negotiations or response to China’s assertive politics.

  1. Different risk perception

While the Polish government defines migration crisis as a ‘German problem’ and manifests uncompromised stand in migration politics, German newspapers often stress Polish insensibility to the threats posed by Russia and the need to strengthen NATO’s Eastern Flank.

It should be stated explicitly: if German politicians question the meaning of NATO or demand abolition of sanctions against Russia (when aggressor’s politics is relentless), they are diminishing Warsaw willingness to compromise. Nevertheless, at the same time on the Polish side should arise a question why Germany ought to take its demands into account, if Polish government is not willing to compromise at all in issues important for Berlin, that is in migrant solidarity mechanism.

  1. Conflict over the future of the European Union

Poland is afraid of being marginalised. If the future EU is based on the deep integration of the member states that encompasses monetary union (with a joint budget and the Eurozone decision-making bodies), defence and migration, Poland may become a passive observer of the European politics.

In any case, the ball is in Warsaw’s court. If Poland wants to shape the future EU accordingly with its interests, then it should tighten the cooperation with EU leaders. Starting a genuine debate on advantages and disadvantages of closer collaboration together with abandoning demonic discourse on the European institutions could be the first step leading to change. Berlin, for its part, could facilitate this process by pursuing the principle: ‘more for more’. An incentive for a closer Eurozone cooperation could be support given to the modernisation of the Polish economy, as well as Poland’s gradual inclusion into common currency managing.

Catalysts: urgent, but uncontroversial issues

A consensus on beforementioned problems requires difficult compromises. Thus, it is worth trying to widen the Polish-German agenda to include important for both sides, but less controversial issues. Progress in those areas may improve bilateral relations and enhance consensus in hard cases.

  1. ‘Morawiecki plan’ to be realised together with Berlin

The Polish government aims to transform the low labour costs economy into the economy based on knowledge and innovations. A method to achieve this goal is explained in detail in ‘Morawiecki plan’. This document should be scrutinized on the perspective of possible cooperation with Germany.

Moreover, it would be advisable to turn to the European Fund for Strategic Investments (the EFSI) and to finance bilateral projects or to organise Polish-German conference on digitalisation. It is worth trying to expand the portfolio of existing projects in the area of research and education, for example, to create the Polish-German University offering a double degree, as it works with the French-German University in Saarbrücken. In the first step, such university could provide with courses that are of the utmost importance for the Polish economy (in the exact sciences and management), as well as courses that could improve mutual understanding of Polish and German societies (in the humanities and social sciences).

  1. Support for Ukraine

Berlin and Warsaw alike do realise that future of this country, threatened by Russia, depends mostly on internal reforms, which are due to fail if there is no significant technical nor financial support. Polish-German cooperation in this area may encompass lobbying for the interests of Ukraine on the EU level, joint projects on promoting reforms or creation of a University of the Eastern Partnership with a goal to support future regional elites. A visit to Kiev paid together by high-rank politicians from Poland and Germany (possibly also from France) could be the first step.

  1. Polish-German energy cooperation

Working together in the field of electromobility, improving coordination of the capacity market, as well as the exchange of the experiences on energy efficiency, renewable energy and biogas are all important, but less controversial projects. A special body could coordinate all those projects–the Polish-German Energy Council. As far as international level is concerned, the first initiative could be an energy conference, in which Poland, Germany, Visegrad countries, Austria and Baltic states should participate.

Motors of constant work behind the scenes of big politics

Last but not least, the third crucial element of Polish-German cooperation should be projects aimed at constructing social foundations for good relations. Here could be mentioned exchange programs for youth, student, young leaders and journalist, promoting an idea of sister cities, cultural exchange, the cooperation of the civil societies, as well as language exchange–with an emphasis put on teaching Polish in Germany.

These projects work behind the curtains of big politics, but they do have an important function. They build trust among members of the society and future elites independently on the political situation. Moreover, such soft projects are in the interest of both sides, since with no social support for the political decision it is almost impossible they come to life.

Where to start?

There are two conditions for the constructive Polish-German ‘community of the future’ to be realised: the political will of the national governments and organising project with tangible value added. The problem is that realization of such projects requires political will, though political will is more easily built on noticeable advantages from projects. So here we arrived at a vicious circle.

One of the possible solutions to break the vicious circle is to concentrate on some critical projects form the set of catalysts comprehensively with strengthening projects aimed at bringing societies together. It may build trust that could gradually relieve significant conflicts.

An alternative is to leave Polish-German relations in a current confrontational mode or to add to freeze in those relations. It is a bad idea since both countries do have too much to lose.


An article is based on the analysis for the Berlin-based Jacques Delors Institut ‘ A forward-looking agenda for Poland and Germany in Europe’ from April 2017.


Translation from Polish: Katarzyna Nowicka


This publication has been cofinanced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within “Cooperation in Public Diplomacy 2018” programme.
This publication reflects the views of the author and not the official stance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.