Incoming Polish Prime Minister Aims to Heal Rift With Germany | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.11.2007

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Incoming Polish Prime Minister Aims to Heal Rift With Germany

Incoming Polish liberal prime minister Donald Tusk vowed Tuesday, Nov. 6, to overcome rifts with neighbors Germany and Russia and restore trust in Warsaw that has been strained by the defeated conservatives.

Donald Tusk holding a red and white Polska scarf

Polska is first for Tusk, be he said he also wants to mend relations with the EU and Russia

At a news conference organized for Poland's foreign press corps, Donald Tusk addressed several issues that will be at the top of his foreign agenda as he takes office, including repairing strained ties Berlin and Brussels.

"Poland's priorities in its relations with its neighbors and with the European Union have remained stable since 1989," Tusk told reporters. "The past two years did not really change these priorities but the way of doing things was not very effective in achieving Poland's goals."

Tusk's Civic Platform beat the ruling Law and Justice party of identical twins President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in a snap election on Oct. 21, ending two years of conservative rule.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, right, hands his resignation documents to his twin brother President Lech Kaczynski

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, right, hands his resignation documents to his twin brother President Lech Kaczynski

The fact that Tusk held such a conference is seen by many as a sign of his intention to change the status quo: neither of the Kaczynskis ever held such an event.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski resigned on Monday and Lech Kaczynski, whose presidential term runs until 2010, is set to appoint Tusk as prime minister by the end of the week.

The Kaczynskis had a reputation for quarreling with fellow leaders of the 27-nation EU -- notably Germany, as the twins revived the specter of World War II to accuse Berlin of trying to dominate Europe. The brothers argued they were simply defending Poland's interests in the EU, which Warsaw had joined in 2004.

Get along with the neighbors

Tusk said mending fences with Germany would be a key goal in the early days of his government.

"I would like relations to get back to the level that we saw in the early 1990s, when the treaties were signed and symbolic meetings took place," he said.

Donald Tusk, left, takes an oath during the first session of the new Polish parliament

Donald Tusk, left, takes an oath during the first session of the new Polish parliament

He was referring to accords which fixed the Polish-German frontier, and landmark talks between then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who was the first Pole to hold the position after the fall of communism in 1989.

"Relations between Poland and Germany don't need a radical breakthrough, but rather an increase in mutual trust," said Tusk, a member of Poland's Kashubian minority over whose Baltic coast territory Poles and Germans had battled for centuries.

The Kaczynskis had fiercely opposed Germany's plans to establish a documentation center focusing on the Germans who were expelled from Eastern Europe, and notably Poland, after the region's borders were changed after World War II.

Tusk signaled his openness to the plan: "The center should be based on historical truth. A reasonable commemoration of the expellees will have the approval of the government," he said.

New EU attitude

Fellow EU leaders barely disguised their relief last month at the conservatives' defeat, and Tusk also reaffirmed that he wants to repair relations with the rest of the bloc.

Flags of Poland, the EU, and Germany

The EU is hoping for a 180-degree turn from Poland

"We are the most pro-European party in Poland," said Tusk, who is to meet European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Warsaw on Thursday.

The Polish prime minister in waiting also looked east said he also wanted to repair frosty ties with Russia, pledging "an effort to build trust on both sides."

Differences between Warsaw and Moscow have caused "more tension than necessary" over the past two years, Tusk said. But he added Russia should still accept that Poland has friendly ties with the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia, whose pro-Western leaders have fallen foul of Moscow.

US missile shield

Tusk also signaled a change of tone in relations with the United States, reaffirming that Warsaw plans to pull Polish troops out of Iraq next year and would drive a harder bargain in talks on locating missiles in Poland as part of a planned US defense shield.

Merkel and Lech Kaczynski

Chancellor Merkel and the Kaczynskis had their differences

"If we are to increase US security, we should expect a financial contribution to increase Polish security," he said.

But Poland's decision on the missile shield is likely to upset at least one set of leaders he said he want to warm up to. While the US has said a base in Poland is essential to the shield's operations, several EU countries have expressed concerns over the plan and Russia is vehemently against it.

"If we decide that missile defense will unambiguously increase Poland's security, then we will be open to negotiations," Tusk said, keeping his options open.

Later Tuesday, Tusk met with President Kaczynski for talks that focused on Poland's future coalition government and missile defense negotiations with the US. Tusk played down any differences on missile defense between himself and the president, who plays a large role in Poland's foreign policy.

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