Deputy Director of the Europe Departament at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Weimar correspondent
The Weimar Triangle, Its Past and Perspectives
Interview with Adam Halamski
- What is your assessment of the Weimar Triangle seven years after its creation?
- The Weimar Triangle should be assessed very positively. It started in Weimar in 1991 with informal discussions held by three friendly ministers, who jointly concluded that Poland, which was rebuilding democracy, could contribute, at that point informally, to the functioning of what was then called the Franco-German engine of Europe. Why? Farsighted French and German politicians saw in Poland a large, East-Central European country aspiring to membership in the EU and NATO. Although still budding, the changes taking place in Europe in 1991 indicated that Poland would sooner or later join the two organizations. This was the setting for the meetings between foreign ministers Krzysztof Skubiszewski, Hans Dietrich Genscher, and Roland Dumas held in Weimar in 1991 and in Tremolat (France) in 1992, meetings which outlined visions for a continental European policy and the possibility of cooperation among the three countries. It must be added that these visions were more intellectual than political in nature.
Now we have formal annual meetings of foreign ministers that are becoming a sort of tour d?horizon of the situation in Europe and the role of France, Germany, and Poland, with Poland being treated as an equal partner and a member of both NATO and the EU, although membership has not become a fact yet. All in all, we now have a new development in European politics, which is taken into consideration in all European capitals and, moreover, one which has generated a great deal of interest across the Atlantic, including within our greatest ally, the United States. The progress witnessed in the last seven years is, therefore, enormous.
- Many politicians compare Polish-German relations to Franco-German relations, and they cite the latter as an example to follow. Don?t you think that even, allowing for all the associations, the picture is much more difficult and complicated? Franco-German cooperation and then reconciliation took place between countries which were at a comparable level of civilizational development and, what?s more, within the same political and economic structure of the EEC, the predecessor of the EU. Poland could not take advantage of the Marshall Plan, which would have given it a chance to develop following the vast wartime destruction. Neither could it participate in post-war European integration. As a result, with respect to Polish-German relations, we now face the necessity of overcoming not only the barriers existing within a given circle, but also, something more difficult, barriers between different circles. In practice, this means that it is necessary for the three partners to develop a new policy toward Central Europe, for which the exemplary Franco-German relations do not serve, as they cannot serve, as a model.
- That is correct. The starting point for France and Germany upon signing the Elysée Treaty was completely different from that of Poland which entered the European arena as an independent and sovereign state only at the close of 1989. Moreover, there was a vast gap between economic and political relations in our country and the corresponding relations in France or Germany. Nevertheless, when talking about a model that could be helpful to us in building a new relationship with our western partner, the situation is of a different nature. There is no doubt that despite civilizational, political, and especially economic differences, one can talk of a the Franco-German model as it has passed the test of time as a model to follow. We are in the middle of Polish-German reconciliation, so we should do our best efforts to take advantage of the Franco-German example. We are not yet taking full advantage of this example, but it does exist, and so we should refer to it in our political and economic relations with Germany. And as far as the Weimar Triangle is concerned, this form of relations will provide opportunities for setting aside differences between our countries more quickly.
- The Weimar Triangle is an opportunity for both France and Germany to develop a new policy toward Central Europe, a policy which will not merely constitute a set of footnotes to policy towards Russia, which is of primary importance to these countries. Do you think that we are actually witnessing the beginning of this process? And if yes, do you think it is going to last?
- Poland is not part of Russia. Even before 1989, when one could not talk of Poland?s sovereignty, Poland had a separate place in German and French policy. I agree that they were not completely separate policies, and you may be right in saying that they were supplementary to not exactly Russian, but rather to the Eastern policies of both these great allies. At present, one can be relatively certain that the policies of France and Germany toward Poland are separate from their policy towards Russia. Please note that while Poland is to join the EU and NATO, Russia is not. Poland will contribute to these two organizations the best possible relations with the East, both politically and, what is going to be easier, economically, and we will make sure that these relations are in fact as good as possible. Nowadays, therefore, French and German policies towards Poland are indeed separate and specific, naturally allowing for the fact that in present-day politics nothing is completely separate and independent but rather globally linked. The shape of these policies is another matter.
- The development of the Weimar Triangle gives Poland an opportunity to play a more independent role in Europe, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. Will other countries in the region, which are also aspiring to NATO and EU membership, may show little enthusiasm for this initiative?
- No, I do not think so. First, one fact is indisputable: Poland?s participation in the Weimar Triangle promotes it internationally. However, since you mention the region, please note that our participation in the Weimar Triangle is not the only factor contributing to the growth of Poland?s structure in the international arena. Poland is pursuing a very important regional policy, which, I am certain, is accepted by all our neighbors. Please note Poland?s key role in the Baltic Countries Council as well as in CEFTA, and the Central European Initiative. Poland is aiming at establishing certain links between cooperating countries of the Black Sea and Baltic Sea basins. The Visegrad Group must also be mentioned here, which,while no longer composed of its original members, will have three of its members joining NATO. Whereas the Weimar Triangle does carry the greatest weight in this regional jigsaw puzzle, it is certainly not the only structure in which we are participating.
- Occasional voices can be heard to the effect that it is necessary to extend the Weimar Triangle either to the south or the south east. What is your opinion on this issue?
- Very low. Please note that we are talking about two great European countries, founders of the European Union, which act as the engine for unifying Europe. Their role is being closely watched by all the other countries. From time to time, the Franco-German ?directorate" in the European Union is the subject of maliciously envious comments. Therefore, in my opinion it is much to early for Poland, which as I mentioned earlier, for only seven years have been present side by side with its potentially more important partners, to come up with any initiatives to extend the Weimar Triangle, initiatives which could, as a result, weaken its structure. But I am aware of ideas put forward by people that do not any direct influence on political relations in Europe to extend the Weimar Triangle either to the east or to the north. I object to these ideas as the Weimar Triangle obviously has geopolitical significance as well. A look at the map reveals how this combination of politics with geography is reflected in the composition of the Triangle. Therefore, interference with its newly-established structure threatens the continuation of its existence. Furthermore, instead of being a natural element of this European order, any extension of the Weimar Triangle would introduce an artificial element that would not benefit it. A question arises whether, when the Weimar Triangle becomes well-established and Poland feels at home in the EU, the time will come for its extension. It is difficult to raise this issue at this very moment. It can be treated in terms of an entertaining exercise for students of political science rather than a current political problem that is waiting to be solved.
- In the course of the recent meeting of heads of state and government of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, a new European initiative was revealed: the Paris-Bonn-Moscow Triangle. How should this initiative be approached and related to our Weimar Triangle? Furthermore, what is and what will be the relationship between these geometric figures?
- There are no geometric figures involved. I was present in Strasbourg and I closely followed the meetings taking place in the background at the Council of Europe Summit. There was no talk then of the France-German-Russia Triangle, but there was talk of top-level consultations between these three countries. First of all, high-level German and French politicians tell us that Europe does not need a lot of geometry, and especially not a triangular one. Second, it should be noted that the consultations between Germany and France on one hand and Russia on the other are to a certain extent beneficial to the Weimar Triangle. The EU, like Poland, but to a greater extent, must somehow build a future relationship with Russia. We must slowly, but once and for all, depart from the nineteenth-century politics of zones of influence, domination, etc. and build a European order on the basis of cooperation and collaboration of countries that need not necessarily belong to the same organizational structures. Therefore, the EU must cooperate with Moscow as a significant part of Russia lies in Europe. Given this fact, France and Germany, which I repeat act as the engine of Europe, are creating a mechanism to somehow regulate this relationship. Relative to its position, Poland will also contribute, as I have mentioned earlier, both to the Weimar Triangle and to European structures in the form of the best possible relations with Russia. The ?Triangles" are similar, but somehow different, with the Weimar Triangle having become a long-standing political institution, while the other ?Triangle" is in effect providing consultations beneficial to the Weimar Triangle and necessary for Europe as a whole. Thus, I see no reason why top-level consultations between France, Germany, and Russia cannot coexist with further development of cooperation within the Weimar Triangle.
- Would you agree with the view that recently there has been a significant change inside the Triangle? It was a German initiative proposed by Hans Dietrich Genscher, and for a long time Germany was interested in its active development. At that time France was more involved in the southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin, and only now, clearly belatedly, has began to show more interest in our part of the continent. At the same time, Germany has become less active in proposing new initiatives.
- Your question contains certain stereotypes, which I would prefer to call mass media speculations rather than treat as having anything to do with reality and the actual evolution of the Weimar Triangle. As far the authorship of the idea of the Weimar Triangle is concerned, the whole issue reminds me of the discussions held in the 1950s on who conceived the idea of radio or cinema. The answer is that there were many founders of the radio and cinema, but it matters the most that they actually came into being. The same thinking applies to the Weimar Triangle. You mention Hans Dietrich Genscher as its founder. Since I had the honor of being involved in the creation of the Triangle from the very beginning (i.e. from 1991), I think I am entitled to express a conviction that its format was conceived jointly, with the participation of not only Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski, but also the French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, who, incidentally, is a great friend of Poland. You now claim that France was less involved, while it was quite to the contrary. France then showed a great deal of interest in the Triangle. It was more or less one year following the unification of Germany, that is to say after a country with a large territory and a population of 80 million had taken shape on its border. If, however, one could talk of a certain weakening of French interest, then it was observed around 1992 ?
- ?and continued until 1993?
- Very well, but not later than the middle of 1993, that is until the visit to Warsaw by the then Foreign Minister Alain Juppé. But, to be exact, this weakening of the French interest did not in fact concern the Weimar Triangle, but bilateral relations with Poland. The reason why was this: Following great efforts made by the French on the bilateral level with respect to a relation with Poland and assistance to Poland in the course of building a new state, the French side felt a sort of disappointment that France alone had not become our single greatest supporter. It should not be overlooked, however, that it was with France that the independent and sovereign Republic of Poland signed the first international treaty on friendship and solidarity at the beginning of April 1991, with the other treaties coming later. France in the person of President François Mitterrand was also the first to identify itself in Houston as an advocate of Polish interests. In return for all this and for its support since the beginning of the century, France expected from us - at a psychological level - a certain appreciation and approval. The approval did ensue, but perhaps it did not quite match French expectations. Having said that however, the situation did not last more than 12?18 months, and it ended with the Foreign Minister Alain. Juppé visit. Since then, all has gone well. One should not, however, confuse bilateral relations with relations within the Weimar Triangle as it has continued to exist with considerable interest from both the French and the German side. As far as the present involvement of the German side is concerned, an issue which you also raise in your question, I think it has remained wholehearted.
However, please note what I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation. Poland is no longer the Cinderella of Europe about to enter the Prince?s ball and it is no longer treated as if it gained its independence yesterday. We are no longer treated as a country that first of all needs assistance and should first be introduced into the family of democratic countries. We are treated as a partner. Therefore, I accept that from time to time, both on the German and French side, we may experience some rough treatment, concerning economic, not political issues, but we should be pleased with this. We should be satisfied with this growing equality despite the fact that we will not be completely equal partners for some time to come. However, any occasional rough times provide evidence of the normality of and equal treatment in our relations.
- What initiatives, in your opinion, should be pursued first by the Weimar Triangle in order for the Triangle to make a genuine contribution to strengthening of European security and overcoming Europe?s divisions?
- Ensuring stability in the region is one of the priorities. You rightly mention overcoming divisions in Europe. Poland?s participation in the Weimar Triangle and its good positioning within NATO, and next within the EU, clearly strengthens stability in Europe. For the time being, we do not have a say in the EU or NATO as we are still not members of these great organizations. But we are on the threshold. At present, Poland has become the topic of interest for many countries which want or will want to join the EU and NATO in due course. The most important objective facing the Weimar Triangle is, therefore, ensuring the stability of the region, where many conflicts originated in the past. Then there is other objective, which I think is very attractive and future oriented, and which surfaced in Paris and Bonn, and recently in Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek?s speech to the Sejm where he spoke eloquently about the Weimar Triangle and the need to create the ?backbone" of a future, enlarged Europe. It suffices to look at the map to identify this backbone on which a future European order could be based. This objective is targeted at the future and is almost overambitious, but it is extremely attractive to anyone who is interested in European politics.
- Thanking you for the interview, I would like to end with a question about threats to the Weimar Triangle.
- Different apocalyptic visions of European relations have appeared, such as dangerous waves of emigration, the collapse of European structures, serious economic crises, etc. Can they threaten the Weimar Triangle? With a smaller or greater likelihood, such phenomena must always be taken into consideration.
- And how about political threats?
- I would not envisage political threats here. One factor that will be of great importance to Europe as a whole, including the Weimar Triangle, is the development of the situation in Russia, including the answer to the question how fast and effective its democratization and the development of the market economy will be. Other factors, however more remote, include the development of the situation in northern Africa and the transformation connected with a further expansion of Islam (here France is in a unique position). However, I find it difficult to imagine that the Weimar Triangle will be faced with threats characteristic of the nineteenth century, that is to say the creation of new political alliances.
Adam Halamski was interviewed by Ryszard Bobrowski