Can Germany's new Chancellor patch up a problematic relationship with Poland?

Angela Merkel, photo: CTK

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her fist official visit to Poland this week and wasted no time in reassuring Warsaw that Berlin is set to soothe disagreement over history and Iraq. She also stressed her commitment to a warmer relationship with Poland - a relationship which has been tense in recent months.

Angela Merkel,  photo: CTK
Talks with Poland's conservative Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz centred on stalled EU budget talks and relations with Russia. Poland has expressed outrage over a German-Russian natural gas pipeline deal which would run along the Baltic Sea floor, bypassing Poland. Merkel was very explicit when she told reporters that Berlin will not conduct any deals with Moscow over the heads of fellow EU member Poland.

"I agree that we will forge a compromise and that we will think of course of our interests first, but Polish interests are very important for us."

Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz hoped that pledges of support would open a new chapter in Polish German relations

"The relationship between our nations will improve if we settle the issues that are still there as question marks between us. And today I am convinced that we can open a new chapter in bilateral relations."

Many Poles are concerned over threats by some Germans expelled from territories awarded to Poland after the war by the allies - to sue to reclaim their property. Plans to build a centre of remembrance in Berlin for Germans who were expelled from countries including Poland after the war have been criticised by Polish politicians of all leanings.

Despite all the conflicting issues, political analyst Ewa Krafczyk from the Warsaw Bureau of the German Press Agency sees the Merkel visit as a refreshing step in improving strained relations.

"Merkel is someone who came from East Germany and knew how it was to grow up under communism. Maybe this eastern perspective helps her to understand certain points of view of Polish politics. For example, when it comes to fighting for funds, money from Brussels, when it comes to a wish to be heard in the west and to be taken seriously, an equal partner and also when it comes to the eastern policy of the EU and the relationship to Russia, I think that Angela Merkel will understand far better than many Western politicians what relationship to Russia means to Poland."

Indeed, it is stressed by all commentators here that the new Chancellor seems to understand Polish concerns and intends to take them into account in its policies. Marek Cichocki from the College of Europe in Warsaw hopes for an improvement in Polish German relations.

"Germany would like to involve Poland into its strategic partnership with Russia and that Germany is ready to make consultations with Poland about the future eastern policy in the EU framework, but also that Germany is ready to discuss with Poland the common strategy towards Eastern Europe. That means generally openness of the German policy to Polish interests and Polish point of views. That was not the fact during the period of Chancellor Schroeder who expressed a more exclusive policy created with France towards Russia without any respects to Polish interests."

According to Krzysztof Bobinski, an expert from the Polish Institute of International Affairs, once a new start has been made there could be plenty of opportunities for Poland and Germany to work closer together within the European Union.

"This is an opportunity for a new start. And I think there will be a new start. I don't think Poland should try to monopolize Germany's interests. But Poland and Germany should work together within the European Union to talk about how Germany and Poland and other interested countries can work together to have good European policies, to work together on enlargement, to work together on an eastern policy including a policy towards Russia."

Far-reaching political changes which recently took place in both countries have clearly brought about more openness in bilateral relations. Now that Warsaw is extremely disappointed with London over its E.U. budget proposals, Polish politicians are likely to seek a closer alliance with Berlin within the bloc.