Poland and Germany in the Transatlantic Alliance
An exchange of perspectives
Agnieszka Lada, co-author of IPA’s study “Transatlantic Relations After the Russia-Ukraine Conflict,” provided an overview of its findings and her assessment of Germany and Poland in the transatlantic alliance. (The study can be accessed via the Institute of Public Affairs’s website: http://www.isp.org.pl/uploads/analyses/1813615083.pdf.) She explained that the two are closer than they were prior to the Ukraine crisis and that the transatlantic crisis response, including Germany’s role, was well received by even conservative Polish experts. Still, while both countries agree that Russia broke international law and must implement Minsk II, Lada stressed that a debate on lifting sanctions – nascent in Berlin – is absent in Warsaw. Also, opinions on the need for US support, especially a beefed-up military presence, are more mixed in Germany. Additionally, she identified a stronger focus on behalf of Polish experts on the threat to Western values posed by Russian interference in European domestic politics. Against this background, Polish NGOs would welcome more US support for promoting democracy. Despite these differences, she explained that the Polish perception of an overly cooperative Germany partially stems from a self-confirming bias in the debate, which focuses on signs of tip-toeing. On the topic of TTIP, she noted that Poles view the trade deal as a political commitment by Washington, while Germans see it from an economic perspective, which makes it more controversial.
Eugeniusz Smolar described changes to the political landscape in Poland and noted that the new PiS government does not aim to take Poland out of NATO or the EU but instead wants to change the EU toward an intergovernmental model. It would also not oppose a European army as long as it does not undermine NATO. The new government’s strategic vision of an Intermarium, balancing Russia and Germany, was met with a hesitant regional response. The Polish government may moderate its positions over time. Smolar emphasized that while Germany and Poland agree that Russia poses a threat, they differ on what response to give. He noted a lack of coordination on issues such as Nord Stream and arms control. In light of signals being sent from Germany to Russia that indicate a certain degree of accommodation, he believes that Poland could not agree to common defense procurement. Smolar emphasized the need to maintain lines of direct communication with the Kremlin leadership. On TTIP, he added that the controversial debate in some EU member states was connected to anti-American sentiments, which could have been eased had the negotiating format been less secretive. He also praised Canada’s role in responding to the Ukraine crisis.
Henning Riecke explained that there is a consensus that Russia’s recent actions pose a threat to Europe and the need to provide no openings for Moscow in Germany. Still, he noted that there was a larger focus on dialogue, which can both provide a potential “off-ramp” and legitimize more coercive actions taken against its background. Riecke emphasized the need for German-Polish cooperation in arms control and confidence-building measures. Such initiatives should not be perceived as unwarranted overtures toward Moscow but as tools to reduce the potential for escalation. He also cautioned that the free character of Western societies should be upheld when confronting Russia’s influence in European domestic politics.
In the ensuing discussion, guests commented that calls for more US support may require more explanation given the EU’s own capacities. They stressed that strengthening the defense aspect of Europe’s Common Security and Defense Policy could demonstrate the potential of the EU’s intergovernmental pillar and speculated about about the roles of (post-Brexit) Britain as well as France.
Panelists responded that calls for more US engagement in supporting democracy were also connected to PiS policies. The EU would be more focused on pan-European projects and would face greater political difficulties. Regarding France, it was noted that PiS was largely unconnected to French elites. Still, Poland has supported some of Paris’ initiatives abroad. The hope was expressed that here would be a revival of the Weimar Triangle format. Brexit was interpreted as the loss of an important partner for the Polish government. Finally, a panelist emphasized that regardless of the outcome of the November US elections, a stronger demand for burden sharing is to be expected.
Agnieszka Lada is the head of the European program as well as senior analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) in Warsaw. Eugeniusz Smolar is a senior fellow and member of the board at the Centre for International Affairs in Warsaw. Henning Riecke is the head of the USA / Transatlantic Relations Program at DGAP. Sebastian Feyock, program officer of the DGAP’s USA / Transatlantic Relations Program, chaired the discussion with 16 participants. The event was supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.