Where Does It Come From? What Is It? Where Is It Going?*
The Weimar Triangle is soon to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. With a mixed record of relevance (due often to the leaders themselves) and a relatively strong level of cooperation as regards regional and local actors, it is in a process of redefinition. Through policies adopted at its February high level summit (EU budget, ESDP, etc.) and its prospective integration of Russia it might become a viable and highly influent organization at the European level.
Ignored by a large part of the Romanian media, too entrenched in the local political infighting on February 7 took place in Warsaw a new summit of the Weimar Triangle. The Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski received his counterparts, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French president Nicolas Sarkozy for the first summit at this level in the last four years. As reflected in the official statements and the press articles the main topics of interest dealt with regional issues. The future Polish presidency of the European Union (which starts on July 1st) was in the center of attention along with the difficult subject of relations between Russia and the European Union Eastern Partnership with the former USSR countries.
What do we want from Santa Claus: the December letter
The February summit’s political background was a letter written by the head of Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministers of the three countries dated December 6th. This letter, addressed to Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, signaled the need to reinforce and invigorate the European defense establishment. One of the key elements one can discern is the need to improve bilateral relations between the European Union and NATO – „to keep the momentum we need to give a fresh impetus to European Security and Defense Policy, in full complementarity with NATO” – in order to have „a more effective European engagement in global affairs”.
The three countries expect concrete progress toward this enhanced cooperation with NATO by the second half of 2011, during the Polish presidency of the EU, with the aim of creating a common battlegroup in the first half of 2013. This decision came as a direct result of the perceived lack of trust of Polish officials in the European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy. In an article published in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, president Komorowski was quoted as saying that “The European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy after Lisbon doesn’t fully correspond to Polish expectations […] [This policy] is currently stagnating, after a period of promising development at the beginning of the last decade”.
It’s all about the economy!
An important element that was discussed during the Warsaw Summit was the future of European economy as the German and French leaders tried to use this opportunity in order to persuade Poland to adopt their newly launched proposal of a Pact of Competitiveness. This Pact aims at reinforcing the European economy in order to face global competition and is a divisive issue at both due to such provisions such as the abolishment of wage/salary indexation system or the adjustment of the national pension systems to the demographic challenges facing Europe. Chancellor Merkel, speaking about “our Polish friends” tried to emphasize the boldness of Polish policies, “a country open to reform with a tradition of [fiscal] consolidation” in an effort to prove that this Pact is rather an European extension of previous Polish constitutional provisions. For instance, one of the envisaged proposals of this Pact is the obligation for all member states to inscribe the “debt alert mechanism” into their respective constitutions, an obligation that already exists in the Polish constitution.
Romania should keep an watchful eye on the European debate regarding EU’s long term budget, as its main contributors, France and Germany, have the tendency to reduce their spending. The French president pointed out that everyone in the Union should realize that budgetary deficit in some Member states should be reduced and that the EU budget must not be treated differently from the national budgets, into the extent where it is directly linked Member states national budgets. This reignited old Polish fears, shared also by other new member states, that EU financing for infrastructure and cohesion might be reduced due to the austerity measures imposed on national budgets. In Mr. Komorowski own words: “We will wait for the European Commission proposals […] The Polish expectations are linked with our engagements in the cohesion policy”.
Going back where the story really starts
The Weimar Triangle started its existence on August 28th 1991. The date and location are symbolic as the German poet Goethe was born on August 28th in Weimar and the city itself was the birthplace of the fragile and short lived Weimar Republic, the first German experiment in democracy.
The initial objective of the Triangle was helping Poland overcome the difficulties of the transition from a totalitarian regime to democracy and also help it foster closer relations with the European Community and NATO. At the founding reunion took part the Foreign affairs ministers of Germany (Hans-Dietrich Genscher), France (Roland Dumas) and Poland (Krzysztof Skubiszewski).
Later on the Weimar Triangle started to develop as a consequence of frequent meetings between the heads of states, ministers and parliamentarians. This trend was supplemented by a reinforced regional and local cooperation mechanisms between administrative units, educational institutions etc.
Can a triangle become a square? The shape of things to come…
Three, helping one another, bear the burden of six (Latin proverb)
What came as a surprise in some parts of Europe was the favorable attitude toward Russia from the part of the Polish officials, expressed at the February summit. The Poles, trough the voice of their president Mr. Komorowski invited Russian president Dmytri Medvedev to join the Triangle’s leaders to the next summit. Seen as an “intelligent and audacious” move of the Poles, president Sarkozy hailed what he called a new act toward reaffirming the end of the Cold War.
This might just point to the shape of things to come as many political analysts have stated a rather poor record of significant political success for this form of regional cooperation. The Weimar Triangle began losing its importance at the beginning of the 21st century as the Franco-German couple opposed the United States intervention in Iraq while Poland strongly supported this action. Moreover the election of president Kaczynski in 2005 strained even more the relations between Poland on one hand and Germany and France on the other. For instance president Kaczynski simply cancelled out the Weimar Summit in 2006, as he was offended by a cartoon published in a German newspaper.
Things are expected to change, taken into consideration the renewed French interest for Eastern Europe. “France has a lot to invest into Eastern Europe” has recently declared Laurent Wauquiez, the French Minister for European Affairs. The only option for an increase relevance of the Triangle in the years to come is to bolster an all out cooperation between the political, cultural and economic elites of the three countries that might eventually lead to a concerted actions toward achieving the founding objectives of the Weimar Triangle.
This article was also published on SSRN
* The opinions expressed in this document are those of the author alone and do not represent the official position of any institutions of which the author is affiliated to.