Toward a New German Foreign Policy

August 25, 2021

A Plea to Restart the Weimar Triangle

The Weimar Triangle should become a new driver of reform and deeper integration within the EU. Despite the recent developments in Poland, Germany, and France should not give up on it, but rather enhance the trilateral dialogue.

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Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski (C), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) pose for a photo in front of the Wilanow Palace before the beginning of the Weimar Triangle summit in Warsaw February 7, 2011.
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August 28-29 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Weimar Triangle. The trilateral dialogue format between Germany, France, and Poland was launched in 1991 in order to overcome entrenched divisions that emerged within Europe during the Cold War and engage with Poland on an equal footing.

At the time the country was viewed as a sort of spokesperson for all the countries that would eventually become European Union member states in 2004. After the Weimar Triangle had accomplished its original task of re-integrating Poland and others into the European space, however, no new goal was established for this format. Initially the meetings took place on an annual basis, but eventually the Triangle was put aside and replaced by other multilateral platforms and EU bodies. The last summit of the Weimar Triangle took place in 2011 and public interest in and awareness of the annual meetings of the foreign ministers is now virtually non-existent.

One reason why French and German governments did not aspire to revive the format was certainly growing unease with Poland’s domestic policy and the undermining of the rule of law, civil rights, and press freedom. However, despite and partially even because of the current tense relations between Poland and the European Commission, the 30th anniversary of the first meeting between Roland Dumas, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and Krzysztof Skubiszewski should provide the impetus for a renewal of this format. The Weimar Triangle has not become obsolete. There are multiple tasks that this format could and should be given.

Deeper and More Frequent Dialogue

First and foremost, dialogue within the EU needs to be kept alive even with the most complicated partners. The instinctive reaction to the current authoritarian backsliding in Poland is distancing. Many in the EU do not want to engage with a country that violates the independence of the judiciary and infringes on the freedom of the press. Indeed, the recent developments in the country are of deep concern and all the legal tools at EU’s disposal should be used to put pressure on President Andrzej Duda and the government of Mateusz Morawiecki.

The current strong conflict of values and interests is pulling the countries of the Weimar Triangle apart, but those conflicts cannot be overcome without dialogue. These unfortunate developments should not be the reason for giving up on Poland or reducing the frequency of exchange between Western and Eastern member states. Certainly, we have to be frank and firm when criticizing violations of the rule of law. At the same time, we have to make a trustworthy pledge that the voice of a democratic Poland will be heard in the EU.

Any speculation about “Polexit” make little sense and only empower the enemies of Europe.

By breathing new life into this format, we can invest in generating new ideas for our shared future. It is important to stress: the Weimar Triangle can and should not replace the exchange that takes places between all the EU members within the framework of the EU bodies. Nor should it be loaded with too many or too broad topics.

It can, however, be a forum where differences can be addressed in a targeted manner or when additional negotiations are required. This broad, more general exchange aiming at overcoming the differences between the East and West within the EU should take place at multiple levels. Meetings of heads of states and governments, of foreign and EU ministers have immense symbolic significance.

This exchange, however, needs to be broader. We should also strengthen the relationships between members of parliaments of the three countries. The last time members of the EU committees of the three parliaments met was in 2019 – far too long ago. I very much hope that as the EU overcomes the COVID-19 pandemic, these meetings will be resumed.

A Bridge Between East and West

The Weimar Triangle can and should bring together Eastern and Western European perspectives on domestic and foreign EU policies. Strategic issues like the EU’s geopolitical ambitions for strategic autonomy could be debated within this format in order to be later talked about in more detail within the European Council. Ideally, the Weimar Triangle could show how countries with very different histories, cultures, and priorities can overcome their differences and come together to develop new ideas for the EU.

The inconvenient truth is that the EU needs a strong and engaged Poland as never before. It is therefore important to combine legitimate criticism on the one hand with encouragement of a more active role for Poland within the EU on the other. Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries play a crucial role when it comes to dealing with many of the pressing geopolitical challenges the EU faces.

A trust-based dialogue and an extensive exchange of opinions between France, Germany, and Poland is important when it comes to facing Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture or dealing with the growing Chinese influence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Their voices need to be better heard within the EU. It is, after all, they who are frequently targeted by the Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns and whose air space is frequently violated by the Russian air force. The recent case of German Chancellor Angela Merkel und French President Emmanuel Macron pushing for an EU high level meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin without even having consulted with Poland or the Baltic States shows how little attention Western European countries pay to the grievances of their Central and Eastern European partners. The Weimar Triangle could be an important dialogue platform and the place where future policies toward Russia and the Eastern Partnership countries can be discussed, bringing together Western and Eastern European perspectives and experiences.

It should not be forgotten that Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania engage extensively with the opposition in Belarus, and host most of the refugees and exile organizations of the democratic opposition. The case of the Belarusian sportswoman Kristina Timanowskaya, who was given asylum in Poland and was assisted by the Polish government when fleeing from Japan to Poland is the most recent and prominent example of this engagement. A closer coordination on Belarus between Eastern and Western member states offers a great opportunity to restart the Weimar Triangle, as the overlap in positions is already significant and showing unity and greater cooperation would be a low-hanging fruit with an immensely positive effect. In fact, many of the challenges the EU is currently facing cannot be met without the experience and engagement of the Eastern European countries.

Demanding more dialogue over differences that cannot be bridged is a frequent reflex in politics that is often enough pretty meaningless. However, if we really want to keep the EU together and make it stronger, using any means at hand in order to foster unity is truly indispensable. The 30th anniversary of the Weimar Triangle is a good occasion to stress the importance of the Central and Eastern European member states within the EU.

Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact democratic developments in these states have been taken for granted. Violations of liberties and civil rights in some Central and Eastern European countries took many in the EU by surprise. Breathing new life into the Weimar Triangle could also help drive more public interest in and in-depth coverage of the developments in these countries.

Renata Alt is a Free Democrats’ (FDP) MP and a member of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee.

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