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Botschafter Nikel sprach an der Uni Warschau im Rahmen von Ambassadors Weeks zum Thema deutsch-polnische Beziehungen.

Botschafter Nikel sprach an der Uni Warschau im Rahmen von Ambassadors Weeks zum Thema deutsch-polnische Beziehungen.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Students,

Thank you very much for inviting me here. I am truly delighted to have the opportunity to speak at such a historic venue. As I was crossing the square in front of this building, I saw the statue of Nicolaus Copernicus. This remarkable mathematician changed the world by explaining it differently. His publication of the Copernicus' model in 1543 was a major event in the history of science, triggering the Copernican Revolution. Moreover, Copernicus is highly valued by Poles and Germans alike.

I am pleased to speak about my perspective of Polish-German relations at a place where a great Polish-German scientist is remembered and where science plays a vital role today.

Allow me to present three theses:

I. Business and civil society are the fundamental pillars of German‑Polish relations.

Germans and Poles live together by a shared history that has spanned centuries. The tragedies of the twentieth century play a special role in our memory. In our remembrance of the crimes of Nazi Germany, to which millions of people in Poland fell victim, we also take History as an admonition for the future. Today relations between Germany and Poland are among the best they have ever been in our shared history. This should not to be taken for granted. It’s a treasure to be kept.

Since the collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War, we have opened an entirely new chapter in the relations between our two countries. Choosing to move forward together courageously, Germans and Poles began a long process of reconciliation. Nowadays, many people can no longer remember what a long way the people of our two countries have come together. Today German‑Polish relations among the people are, at least to some extent, independent of the political mood.

Last year we celebrated the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the German‑Polish Treaty on Good‑Neighbourliness. With a rich and varied programme under the motto “We celebrate – świętujemy”, we organised events including concerts, art exhibitions, panel discussions, film evenings, theatre projects and even mobile gardens – to great success.

This positive trend in our relations did not come out of nowhere. Many actors have contributed, including the Catholic Church in the 1960s in the famous exchange of letters: “We forgive and ask for forgiveness”. Meanwhile hundreds of twinnings between cities and towns in our two countries have been established. To this day, I receive many queries from Polish municipalities that are seeking a German municipality to form a twinning. Many of these twin towns are engaged in intensive exchange.

On both shores of the Oder River, people are facing similar questions about the future.

They are asking how they should approach air pollution, electromobility and the expansion of public transport. City twinnings bring people together. They provide conditions under which partnership, cooperation and friendship can grow. Warsaw’s active twinning with Berlin offers an impressive example of this.

Many German Länder are working together intensively with Polish voivodeships. Since 2003, there has been a vibrant partnership between the Land of Saxony‑Anhalt and the Masovian Voivoideship.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the German‑Polish Youth Office (GPYO) is another especially notable connection between our two countries. First and foremost, the GPYO promotes encounters between German and Polish school and youth groups. More than 100,000 youth from the two countries participate in these events each year. More than 2.5 million young people in total have taken part since the GPYO’s founding in 1991. Every participant is a potential ambassador for good German‑Polish relations.

In the area of education and culture, too, close ties have developed. More than 1,300 partnerships have been created among universities and other institutions of higher education. Poles are also the world champions of German learners. More than two million pupils in Poland are learning German. I am especially pleased about this.

Today Germans and Poles can say with confidence that the trust we have sown has blossomed. We have developed a host of close and friendly relations at the grass root level.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our very close economic ties are another pillar of our partnership. For more than two decades, Germany has been Poland’s most important trading partner by far. More than a fourth of Polish exports go to Germany.

Poland also plays a major role in German foreign trade. Last year Poland was our seventh‑largest trading partner by volume, ranking it among our most important Partners.

Poland is Germany’s leading trading partner by far in Central and Eastern Europe.

Last year the volume of trade between Germany and Poland passed the milestone of 100 billion euros for the first time. This makes the volume of Germany’s trade with Poland more than twice that of its trade with Russia.

In the past 25 years, more than 700 billion Polish zloty have been invested in Poland directly from abroad. This is an impressive total, which has contributed to modernising the Polish economy. German companies remain at the forefront of foreign direct investment in Poland. Since the end of the Cold War, German entrepreneurs have invested some 28 billion euros in Poland, thereby transferring technology and creating an estimated 300,000 jobs.

This figure does not include the investments made by small and medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs) that lie below the threshold of a million euros.

Especially in regions close to the border, there have been many such investments. The vast majority of German investments are start‑ups: company takeovers or the privatisation of state‑owned enterprises only account for a small proportion. German companies are also increasingly investing in technologically advanced production and services, and are expanding their research and development activities in Poland.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All of these things make it perfectly clear that civil society exchange and business ties have created a network of deep, strong roots that run beneath the surface of both our countries. This strong foundation keeps us firmly tied together regardless of what storm may be blowing through the treetop.

This leads me to my second thesis:

II. When it comes to the challenges of the future, Germany and Poland are engaged in a dialogue that is close, but not always easy. What unites us is much stronger than what divides us.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we face major new challenges in the European neighbourhood. Peace, security and stability can no longer be taken for granted. Borders are being shifted through military force. Foreign territory has been occupied and annexed – in violation of both international law and the existing security order in Europe.

Moscow bears responsibility for this. The annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and the aggression in eastern Ukraine make this very evident.

Nowadays, the security of Germany and the security of Poland are inextricably intertwined: Poland’s security is also our security.

During the Cold War, Germany could depend on the solidarity of its alliance partners.

Today, loyalty to our alliance partners is a cornerstone of German foreign policy.

At the NATO Summit last summer in Warsaw, we decided to do more to protect NATO’s eastern flank because the security environment has deteriorated.

NATO countries currently station battlegroups in the Baltic states and Poland on a rotating basis. In each country, these battlegroups are comprised of approximately 1000 soldiers. Germany is sending some 500 soldiers to Lithuania. These deployments make it clear that NATO allies keep their promises and protect and support one another. This also sends a clear signal to anybody not to challenge NATO.

There is no alternative to strengthening deterrence and defence. However, our collective response also includes an offer of dialogue to Russia. Despite all difficulties, we must keep the channels of communication open. To this end we make occasion-related use of the NATO‑Russia Council, which met three times in Brussels last year.

This double strategy of deterrence and dialogue has served us well, even during the Cold War era.

At the end of the day, dialogue is not a gift to Russia, but is in our own interest.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Germany and Poland closely work together in the European Union. All of us can sense the advantages of the EU: we are able to travel freely in Europe. We can study throughout Europe through the Erasmus Programme, and we can seek jobs all over Europe. People benefit from an integrating Europe. It is no coincidence that Poland’s membership in the EU has the highest approval ratings here.

This also has to do with EU funds. Poland receives the most funding of all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. For the period from 2014‑2020, this total is approximately 82.5 billion euros.

Poland is using this money well. Anyone who travels through Poland today can see that clearly. The country’s infrastructure has improved noticeably, and its prosperity has grown.

Germany has also benefited from Poland’s economic development – and not only because of the aforementioned high volume of trade. On the whole, Poland’s EU membership is a success story.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today the European Union faces major challenges. Brexit, a rising tide of populism and the refugee crisis have all contributed to this. We must ask ourselves fundamental questions about the future of the EU.

Now, the voters in France have a clear choice between a pro and an anti-European candidate. Let’s hope for the best for the run-off vote on 7 May.

Isolating oneself is neither in the interests of Europe nor of the United States. We all benefit from free and fair trade that builds on shared values. We should greet globalisation and digitization as an opportunity and shape them in a positive direction together.

The rise of populist movements, which has been rapid in some cases, is worry some. We must take a firm stand against these movements. Populists play on people’s fears, offering them seemingly simple solutions to complex problems.

We in Europe suffered many bitter experiences in the twentieth century. Our cooperation today rests on a firm foundation of shared values. Freedom and the rule of law, human rights and democracy are not negotiable and must under no circumstances be jeopardised.

This is a lesson we draw from our shared history. We can only succeed in shaping the future if we hold firm to our shared values.

Ladies and gentlemen,

we should take the British withdrawal from the EU as a wake‑up call in order to preserve and defend European integration. In Valletta in three days, the EU Heads of State and Government will set the common guidelines for the Brexit negotiations. What we want to achieve, is a fair and orderly withdrawal for the UK.

The task at hand is to ensure good and comprehensive relations between the EU-27 and the UK after Brexit. At the same time, the UK must not be better off outside than inside the EU.

The task for the European Union is to stay together in the long term and to regain its ability to act. We can only solve the crisis of the European Union together. No individual Member State, however large, can move the EU forward on its own.

In the key areas of security, stimulating the economy and combatting unemployment, the European Union must become stronger. That is why we need better integration.

The Rome Summit on the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome at the end of March 2017 has sent a clear and united signal for the future of the European Union. The EU-27 has demonstrated that they can act in a unified way under difficult conditions:

We will act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past, in line with the Treaties and keeping the door open to those who want to join later.

Our Union is undivided and indivisible.

This leads to my final thesis:

III. Germany and Poland must engage in even closer dialogue – even about difficult topics.

Even good friends sometimes have differences of opinion. This is entirely normal. These kinds of situations occur in every family. Then it becomes important to speak openly and honestly about the different positions:

The German minority in Poland also plays an important role in our bilateral relations. It serves an important function as a bridge between our two countries. We will continue to support the German minority, and we also expect the Polish Government to continue its constructive cooperation in the spirit of the Treaty on Good‑Neighbourliness. There must not be any steps backward when it comes to the concerns of the German minority.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is another issue. It is essentially a commercial project financed by European companies who bear the investment’s risk. In this context, we must ensure that gas cannot be used as a political instrument against Europe. To this end, it is important that the transit pipeline through Ukraine is secured. We also want the legitimate interests of Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic be safeguarded.

We have stated this to Russia clearly as a precondition. We must also interlink the European gas network better so that the potential failure of any one supply source can be replaced by another at any time.

That is to say, we take the concerns expressed here and there seriously. However, we also ask for understanding. In Europe we decided years ago to liberalise the gas supply. Today European companies are responsible for the gas supply in Europe. These companies make the relevant decisions – including decisions about the construction of pipelines. It is the task of political leaders to enforce the proper rules.

A tragedy is playing out on the southern borders of Europe. Violent conflicts are raging in Syria, Libya, Yemen and many other places. Freedom and human rights are being trampled upon. Many people are being driven by fear to set out towards Europe. These people hope for aid, protection and a better life.

We need to work together to overcome this crisis. We must combat the long‑term causes of displacement, improve local assistance, and protect Europe’s external borders better. We need agreements with the countries of origin and transit countries – like the agreement we have with Turkey. This is especially true for our neighbours in North Africa The objective must be to curb illegal migration and to put a stop to the deadly doings of smugglers.

Within Europe, we must keep advancing the reform of the Common European Asylum System and make it crisis‑resistant. We must show solidarity with our partners in southern Europe. This time they need it. On some other occasions, others may need this solidarity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All these challenges have two things in common: we cannot counter them alone and we need good German‑Polish relations in order to overcome them.

We have seen that German‑Polish relations are working very well in many important areas. In other areas, such as migration, we need to improve, all the more so in times of crisis.

Our history commits us to keep working on intensifying this partnership. What is at stake is nothing less than the preservation and guarding of a special treasure. And this is a matter of our shared responsibility for the future in the heart of Europe.

Thank you very much.

Warschau, 26. April. 2017

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