Last updated in January 2009
Since 1989, German-Polish relations have gathered an impressive momentum. The fact that the two countries share interests in many areas and are both members of the EU and NATO provides a sound basis for relations.
Angela Merkel’s first trip abroad as Federal Chancellor – in early December 2005, just a few days after her election – took her to Poland. She visited Poland four times in 2008. The two countries’ Foreign Ministers, Steinmeier and Sikorski, are in regular close contact.
Federal President Köhler visited Poland in May and June 2006.
The Polish President Kaczyński visited Germany in March 2006, one of several such visits. Prime Minister Tusk has paid several visits to Germany.
During their visits to Berlin in December 2007 shortly after the government was formed, Prime Minister Tusk and Foreign Minister Sikorski reaffirmed their will to reintensify relations with Germany. The intergovernmental consultations held in December 2008 formed the high point of an intensive and successful year for German-Polish relations.
An important factor in the special quality of relations between Germany and Poland is the former’s unconditional admission of guilt for the Second World War. The Federal Government supports neither private restitution claims by expellees nor any related complaints. A complaint filed by the private Prussian Trust was dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights in October 2008.
For many years, Germany has been Poland's most important trading partner by far, and Poland is Germany's principal trading partner in Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia. In 2007, bilateral trade was worth a record EUR 60.2 billion (exports to Poland: EUR 36.1 billion; exports from Poland: EUR 24.1 billion), exports growing by a further 18.9 per cent and imports by 14.1 per cent in the first six months of 2008. The principal German exports are machinery and electrical goods, plant, motor vehicles, chemical and plastic products. Poland’s main exports to Germany are machinery, vehicles, household appliances, (white goods and television sets), chemical products, food and furniture. German companies’ principal exports are plant and machinery, vehicles and chemical and plastic products. In 2007, Poland ranked 10th among buyers of German exports and 12th among suppliers of German imports.
Since Poland’s change of political system in 1989/1990, German direct investments in the country have been worth some EUR 19 billion (including EUR 2.7 billion in 2007). Major German investments in Poland focus on the automotive and mechanical engineering industries, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, banking and insurance, the wholesale and retail trade as well as the energy sector. On top of this are the investments of less than EUR 1 million by small and medium-sized companies, especially in the border region, which do not appear in statistics. Greenfield investments account for most of Germany’s activities in this area. In terms of both the number of investors and the total amount invested, Germany is probably the leading supplier of foreign capital to Poland.
The abolition of passport controls at the German-Polish border as of the end of 2007 has given cross-border cooperation further momentum.
Cultural and educational relations
The work of the cultural mediators and political and private foundations together with the more than 600 German-Polish town twinning arrangements, the activities of the federal states, districts and municipalities as well as schools, universities and scientific societies are evidence of the intensity of cultural exchange between the two countries.
The work of the cultural mediators in Poland is based on the German-Polish cultural agreement of 14 July 1997 (which came into force on 4 January 1999). On 1 September 2005, the Agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland on the Founding of a German-Polish Binational School in Warsaw, the Willy Brandt School, was signed. It entered into force in July 2008.
Each year, there are over 50 German teachers working at various schools throughout Poland. The Goethe Institutes in Warsaw and Cracow, with reading rooms in Wrocław, Katowice, Poznan and Szczecin, and a number of partner libraries play an important role in providing information and organizing programmes and language courses. In 1993, the German Historical Institute in Warsaw was the first institute of its kind to begin work in one of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Various German-language study programmes at Polish universities, the Viadrina European University, which was refounded in Frankfurt/Oder in 1991, and the programmes offered by the Neisse University and the International Graduate School Zittau – all of these serve to intensify mutual academic and cultural exchange. The Max Planck Society has a group of junior scientists working at a biological research institute in Warsaw.
The German-Polish Youth Office (DPJW), set up in 1991 by an intergovernmental agreement, promotes encounters between young people from the two countries. Since 1993, some 1.7 million young Germans and Poles have participated in DPJW projects.
The German minority in Poland numbers about 300,000, most with German and Polish nationality. Ninety per cent of them live in Silesia. The rights of the minorities are guaranteed in the Polish constitution and by the Council of Europe's Minorities' Convention. In January 2005, a new minorities law entered into force, also permitting the use of minority languages as a second language at local level. The minority organizations have approximately 70,000 members, most of them belonging to an umbrella organization based in Opole.
The German minority is represented by a deputy in the Polish parliament. At regional level, in Opole Province, it has seven seats in the provincial parliament making it the third-largest force. It forms the regional government with the Civic Platform (PO) and Polish People’s Party (PSL). At local level, its candidates have won the mayoral elections in 22 municipalities.