Political scientist, historian, and expert on European policy. Board of Mannesmann concern, Dusseldorf
The Weimar Triangle in Looking for Sense
Poland seems to attach great significance to cooperation with Germany and France within the framework of the Weimar Triangle. The Polish mass media also report extensively on there tripartite meetings. The recent coalition agreement between identity AWS and UW ranked tripartite cooperation among its general foreign policy principles. And Prime Minister J. Buzek in his first speech to the Sejm called the cooperation between Warsaw, Bonn and Paris the backbone of Europe.
Poland?s enthusiasm for the Weimar Triangle may be surprising at first glance, but in a psychological sense, it is intelligible. After the period of communist totalitarianism, when foreign policy was more concerned with propaganda and spying than development international foundations for the nation?s strength and welfare, Poland today requires confirmation of its restored independence. It truly desires to cultivate genuine international cooperation to as great an extent as possible. Sometimes, however, this understandable need and obvious desire may be accompanied by a tendency to overestimate the value of foreign contacts and, to attach to them partially substantiated ideas. This seems to be occurring in Poland?s current approach to the Weimar Triangle.
But psychology is only one of the factors in political action. In politics interests and ambitions also play an important role. Let us ask then what interests Poland wishes to bring to life and what ambitions does it link with tripartite cooperation?
The coalition agreement between AWS and UW speaks of the Weimar Triangle as a form of,,cooperation between Poland, France, and Germany ?on behalf of European and Euro-Atlantic integration" (item 28.7). One might question whether and what extent the Weimar Triangle will in fact contribute to the two types of integration mentioned here, as well as whether and to what extent the Weimar Triangle may contribute to Poland?s more rapid and effective integration with the West. It must be stated clearly that there are numerous and rather extensive differences of opinion between Germany and France concerning the form and content of European policy as well as material differences of opinion with regard to the Atlantic Alliance and NATO. Poland, in turn, does not seem to have its own concept for building a united Europe, nor does it have a well-founded viewpoint on the future role of NATO. These differences and divergence?s between France and Germany which are amicable to us in matters that of vitally importance to Poland such as the form and manner for expanding the European Union and NATO eastwards, lead to the implementation of different approaches between these two countries. The Germans are for gradual expansion over time, something that is numerically limited each time. They treat Poland?s accession and the accession of other Central and Eastern European countries, to western structures as a way to create a zone of stability along their eastern border. France in turn promotes the admitting countries from Central and Eastern Europe to the West?s economic, political, and military structures. This was the case with NATO expansion during the spring of 1997; that was also the case with European Union expansion. It is true that France places concrete institutional conditions on any further expansion of the European Union while the Germans remain ambivalent and silent, but France considers the European Union wide open to candidates from the Eastern Europe provided that essential institutional reforms are carried out. When faced with the potential excessive dominance of Germany at core of an united Europe Paris sees a certain type of security in deepening integration and expanding Europe towards the East..
Coming back to our political geometry, there is no reason to assume that the Weimar Triangle could become a forum for overcoming French and German differences of opinion on European and Atlantic matters, somehow contributing to Poland?s glory and prosperity. France and Germany overcome differences and divergences that separate them via bilateral cooperation or within the framework of European institutions; most often they use both of them at the same time. On the NATO issue, France?s separateness is well known, and nothing suggests that anything of substance will change in the near future. Recent attempts to bring France and NATO closer have failed.
A resolute linking of the Weimar Triangle to Poland?s integration strivings towards the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance is an approach that in my opinion is completely superficial, very myopic, and something that is dictated by circumstances. As far as Poland?s integration with the European Union goes, the road to Brussels is straight. No detour through Weimar is necessary, nor will it ever be. Germany and France have been resolutely proclaiming their support for Poland?s accession to the European Union for years, independently of the aforementioned conceptual and strategic differences between these countries in their approach to the issue of further EU expansion. The wish to exert additional pressure on Germany and France in this matter would suggest some sort of strange mistrust on the part of the Polish diplomatic corps. In the issue of European integration, Poland should now develop good bilateral relations with other member countries. The European Union is not a French-German estate. As regards to Poland?s accession to the Atlantic Alliance, a certain detour has proven necessary, but one that leads through Washington, not through Weimar.
Poland?s approach to the Weimar Triangle should be strategic in nature and not instrumental. First and foremost, Poland should treat this tripartite cooperation as an end in and of itself. This approach presumes, however, that one has a well-founded awareness of the actual and potential dimensions of this cooperation.
Let us ask then what sort of potential lies in this geometrical diplomatic figure, or alternatively what type of potential could be extracted from it?
It must be emphasized from the start at the outset that the Weimar Triangle links unequal partners. On one hand, France and Germany, which are sometimes together and sometimes apart, are pretending to play the leading role in European politics, while Poland - despite its geographical and demographic size remains a rather weak political actor. In any case, Poland?s influence on the international arena is presently excessively poor in comparison to its objective size and weight.
Second, the Weimar Triangle incorporates three countries which are in fact tied by a strong will to build a united Europe but they perceive the future of this Europe in a very distinct way.
France stands for a strong Europe in political and economic terms, for a Europe that as a regional block would be capable of playing an independent role in world politics and competing with the United States and Japan. The Germans do not have such an ambitious vision of the Europe?s future. They speak out about this issue rather unwillingly, and when they do, they speak in general terms. They are striving to create a political and economic state in Europe which would feature first and foremost stability. There is no clear answer to the question what kind of integration - strong or weak, deep or less deep - could lead to attaining and safeguarding European stability. In terms of Poland?s vision of Europe?s future, one will have to read the stars over Warsaw. In the West, the opinion is widespread that Poland and other countries from the former communist bloc, which are applying for EU membership, are more interested in a rather weakly integrated Europe. Is this conviction equitable? Does it correspond to reality?
Finally, it must be emphasized that the Weimar Triangle is not an institution. It is not a decision making body. It constitutes an interesting and useful forum for discussion. It consists of exchange of information and opinions. It makes proclamations and issues declarations. If it still exists, and even if it becomes more active, that means that the countries linked to it have some sort of interest in it, that they attach some hopes to it. Let us ask then what type of interests and ambitions might come into play.
In order to extract the real significance of the Weimar Triangle for Poland, let us first ask about France and Germany?s relationship to the Triangle. From a French point of view, this triangle is useful because, on the one hand, it gives France the opportunity to look at Germany?s intentions towards Poland and possibly other Central and Eastern European countries while not arousing Germany?s mistrust. From a German point of view this triangle is useful as it lends credibility to German policy towards Poland and the other countries in Central and Eastern Europe more as a policy of genuine cooperation; it also ascribes a multi-lateral nature to this policy-perhaps even a European nature. The ability to realize its own interests in Poland and in Central and Eastern Europe under the guise of multi-lateral or European cooperation is a great benefit to Germany, and not only from a psychological point of view.
The Weimar Triangle is therefore a fairly useful forum of cooperation for France and Germany. Through it, they can discover one another?s intentions and interests in Poland and in Central and Eastern Europe in general. The Triangle is a sort of eastern extension of French-German cooperation. France and Germany, however, may use it not only to watch each other as they extend their influence in the east, but also to formulate something along the lines of an Ostpolitik. They have been attempting to do this for years even though they have encountered greater difficulty of late, in formulating common stances in matters of European integration.
The growing interest of France and Germany in the Weimar Triangle is most certainly a great opportunity for Poland and Poland?s diplomacy. If this triangle were to evolve in the direction outlined above, then Poland - as a matter of course - will become a privileged partner, first as the largest country in this part of the continent and second as the spokesperson for Eastern and Central European interests in the West, and in France and Germany in particular.
Therefore, this Weimar Triangle is maybe not so much a station along Poland?s journey to the West as it is a station for France and Germany along their journey towards the East. If it employs a skillful approach Poland may play a key role as a forward observer and as a coordinator.