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German President Steinmeier stresses rule of law in Poland

June 6, 2018

Meeting with Polish President Duda, Steinmeier said European unity is only possible when members uphold common values. Relations between the two countries have been hampered by differing opinions over those values.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Obara

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the third German leader to travel to Poland this year in what would appear to be an effort by Berlin to ease tensions with Warsaw. Still, when Steinmeier appeared alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday, differences of opinion were apparent.

Polish President Duda was quick to voice his opposition to the planned Russian-German Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which skirts Poland and Ukraine on its route, saying it poses a security threat in central and Eastern Europe. The project is has been deeply divisive and is currently being discussed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna.

Read more: Polish-German relations: The sticking points

Germany stresses shared values

Steinmeier, who is in Warsaw to celebrate 100 years of Polish independence, spoke of the importance of democracy and the rule of law, stressing the fact that European sovereignty can only exist if all members uphold shared values.
The German president said, "Where these values are called into question, we all lose," adding: "We have a lot to lose. If the cohesion of the European Union breaks down, none of us will gain national clout."

Inside Europe: EU says respect values or face funding cuts

Germany has become increasingly critical of moves by Warsaw's right-wing nationalist government to tamper with the independence of Poland's judicial system, and most recently of a divisive law regulating references to the Holocaust. However, it is not only Germany that has been perplexed by Warsaw's approach; the European Union also took up proceedings against Poland in late 2017 over the issue of judicial independence.

Joint commemorations

Nevertheless, Steinmeier was not only critical; he also took the opportunity to thank Poland for its willingness to reconcile with Germany and become a partner despite the atrocities committed by Germany's National Socialist regime during the Second World War.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Poland
Steinmeier laid a wreath at the monument to the Warsaw Uprising during his visitImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/C. Sokolowski

Read more: Opinion: Is Poland's demand for war reparations a threat to German-Polish relations?

During Tuesday's press conference, Duda thanked Steinmeier and announced he would take up his German counterpart's suggestion that the two countries commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the war, which began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded its eastern neighbor.

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js/se (AP, dpa)