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Mending Fences

DW staff (jc)December 11, 2007

On his first visit to Germany as Poland's new premier, Donald Tusk stressed the need for frankness between the two neighbors. Chancellor Angela Merkel was all ears. But will talking about disagreements solve anything?

Merkel and Tusk
Merkel and Tusk seemed to get along along wellImage: AP

"There should be no taboo subjects," Tusk said at the press conference after the two-hour meeting with Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday, Dec. 11. "We are friends, and friends can't get themselves into a situation of not talking to one another."

Tusk's tone stood in marked contrast to that of his conservative predecessor, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who often seemed to go out of his way to offend German sensibilities. The more EU-friendly Tusk defeated Kaczynski in Poland's hotly contested national election in November.

Merkel was keen to echo the theme of a new Polish-German frankness and friendship.

"We've pledged not dodge any problems," Merkel said. "Together we can get a lot accomplished."

A problematic past

German-Polish border
As per the Schengen agreement, the German-Polish border will be opened in 2008Image: AP

Tusk and Merkel arranged to meet with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek on Dec. 21 to discuss the opening of borders between the three countries. And they also addressed two of the most contentious issues dividing Poland and Germany.

One of them is how to remember the past and, specifically, a planned memorial in Berlin to expellees during World War II -- including Germans driven from their homes in Poland. Many Poles see the project as an attempt to revise history and lessen Germany's wartime culpability.

Tusk said he favored treating the subject of expellees of all nationalities in a museum about World War II to be built in the city of Gdansk, which used to be part of Germany.

Tusk and Merkel
Merkel is no doubt happy to have a new counterpart in WarsawImage: AP

Merkel asserted that a museum could not replace the Berlin memorial, but said that she supported the museum idea. She also promised to send a delegation to Warsaw to keep Poland informed about the memorial and said Germany had no interest in reviving past conflicts.

"There are no demands whatsoever for reparations from Poland [to German refugees]," Merkel said. "No German government is going to take a position that deviates from this."

Tusk said he welcomed the assurance as a "moment with symbolic value."

A present pipeline

Merkel also discussed the natural-gas pipeline to be built under the Baltic Sea, which would connect Germany with Russia but bypass Poland.

Baltic Sea
The Baltic pipeline remains a major sticking pointImage: dpa

Tusk suggested that a meeting be arranged between the three countries to discuss the project in its current form. Such a meeting, he said, could bring about "positive corrections on both sides."

The pipeline, which was negotiated by Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, has angered many Poles, who worry about being held hostage on energy policy by Russia and feel they have been ignored by their more powerful neighbors.

Clearly, much work needs to be done to resolve such conflicts of interest, but Tusk's visit did re-establish a more civil tone between Germany and Poland. He and Merkel will have a chance to continue their open exchanges when they meet in the eastern German city of Zittau in 10 days' time.