Poland and Germany could reform the EU

The potential of Berlin and Warsaw puts these two capitals in a strong position to drive the reform process of the EU, international affairs experts say.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Council, has become known to say that “when the situation gets tough, one has to lie”. It might sound amusing, but it is dangerous. These days the situation is indeed difficult, but that is even more reason for not lying.

The Western press and specialist literature is full of scenarios describing what Europe will be like in ten, twenty years. These depictions leave no space for the EU, for the monetary union, for co-operation or good neighbourship. What we are shown is a Europe that has turned on itself, full of conflicted nations, packed with military struggle and the smell of sulfur and gunpowder.

Poland and Germany can prevent this, not alone and not exclusively, but above all they. Poland and Germany must prevent this doomsday scenario, not least because they will be the first countries to be affected – albeit perhaps in different ways – and become the victim of the European cataclysm.

One can and one must prevent this from happening. This view is shared by both the 15, that is the old members of the EU, and the 13, that is the new EU. The authors of the disaster-averting scenario must consist of the leader of the EU, that is Germany, and the leader of the new EU, that is Poland.

Crises are dangerous. However, it is not only the level of danger that is crucial – just as important is the nature of the response to the crisis. Some people like to pretend as if nothing has happened. Others think that it’s enough to shoot off a few statements. But both Poles and Germany know how to draw conclusions from crises. One can use a crisis to start a reconstruction. Recognising that there is no better moment than the present to have a rethink and make corrections. The crisis draws attention to mistakes. The only chance of preventing another crisis is by responding properly to the current one.

This thinking is in line with both German political philosophy as well as Polish experiences. This is because it is directly linked to our fate. Not only do we not want to live in the midst of a crisis, but above all we don’t want to become its victim. Europe’s political future and political integration, based on sound, realistic rules, will to a large extent – if not in its entirety – depend on co-operation and even closer relations between Poland and Germany.

We, Europeans

In politics it is important to have a good memory, but it is also worth rising beyond grievances and natural differences in interests. This always helps solve even the most difficult of problems. This does not signify amnesia. It is also worth remembering that we, Poles, have for years spoken about the demise of the Union, the fall of Europe, the dismantling of the community.

It is time that Poland assumes its rightful position in the European Union, it is time for less controversy regarding Germany’s undoubtedly leading role in the EU. The EU needs Poland, an active and responsible Poland.  A Poland that asks questions but also provides answers. The EU needs our meaningful support – and this is in our interest. Poland could, and should, take its role among the elite group of states and nations that should and must guarantee the European project as well as lasting success. The alternative is chaos, which will mainly – if not solely – benefit Russia. Co-operation between Poland and Germany will provide added value to the EU and to Europe. Warsaw and Berlin must work together to take the burden of Europe’s future on their shoulders.

Chancellor Konrad Adenauer once said that he wouldn’t want Germany as his neighbour. Did he mean the Germans of the past? Or those still around today? It is thanks to him that the foundations of the German state are intrinsically linked to the community that the country shares with Europe’s nations. Adenauer mainly had the French in mind, but his protégée Helmut Kohl recognized us as well. For Angela Merkel, Europe should lie not only between the Rhein and Seine, but also just across the border, in Poland.

This is a natural shift of emphasis, the effect of the development of the situation after Brexit, and a result of the European crisis – includingdiscouragement, loss of confidence, loss of optimism, real fatigue and journalistic discontent or lack of vision for Europe on the part of the West.

Chance for a new tandem?

Shared Polish-German responsibility for Europe is linked to reconciling various interests, looking for commonalities, easing tensions and conflicts. Different or rather diverse interests are nothing to be embarrassed about in politics. What counts is a convergence of interests. As well as sensitivity towards one’s partner. And an understanding for the needs of others.  This is a challenge that demands patience, readiness to compromise as well as openness to new challenges and the necessary legal corrections linked to them. Challenges that require political support from all responsible political forces.

Both Germany and Poland have the necessary potential, which will make it easier for them to assume this role – it might even force this role on them. They could form an EU tandem, that will create new opportunities for the EU; one without the whiff of naphthalene of “old Europeans”, many of them bitter, weary of perks, reluctant to embrace anything new and often convinced of their intellectual superiority. Poland does not claim to know more than them in every single area, but it is curious, it wants to grow and is very sensitive to unilateral domination.

From the Polish perspective, there is still hope in Europe, although it is based on somewhat different conditions and rules then those in place today. This can be seen in the proposals for a new European treaty announced by Poland’s most influential politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

“A nation that argues on whether to build a railway station or not, should not cause concern to anyone in Europe,” said Elmar Brok, a CDU politician from Germany and Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, commenting the dispute surrounding the construction of a railway station in Stuttgart. Yes and no. Germany is a big and strong country, one that is at the heart of most events in Europe. But at the same time it is also too small to rule Europe on its own. It needs a solid partner, not directed against Europe or anyone else, not to spite France, to dominate the Italians or the new members of the EU…but for everyone, for Europe.

Today, 25 years after the signing of the Treaty of Good Neighbourship and 12 years after EU accession, Poland should take the next step, tell others that it wont allow for the fall of the European Union, which would be the best possible gift for Moscow. And that it is ready, together with the Germans, to assume responsibility for its well-being. Why can’t a stable Germany and stable Poland not be its guarantors?


Ryszard Czarnecki is the Vice President of the European Parliament; previously he was the Chairman of the European Integration Committee as well as Minister of European Affairs in the government of Jerzy Buzek. Marek Orzechowski is a journalist, writer, long-term TVP correspondent in Germany and Brussels and the author of many books.

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