The warnings that had been coming from Poland and the Baltic states for years that Germany should not get even more entangled in cooperation with Russia were right but ignored. (…) For too long we bet on Vladimir Putin’s rationality and reasonableness in economic matters, we were wrong, Dr Thomas Bagger, German Ambassador to Poland says in an interview with Olga Doleśniak-Harczuk and Antoni Opaliński (PR24).
The interview appeared in the latest issue of ‘Gazeta Polska Codziennie.’
Below we publish an excerpt from the interview.
Every country has its rhetoric, Poland too, but what seems to be characteristic of German politics is a claim to a leading position, in Europe, in the EU. Where is the source of this attitude?
I would disagree with this analysis. Before I came to Warsaw, I had been looking at this issue for 12 years working in Berlin and I rather got the impression that it is from outside that Germany is being animated to take on a leadership role. Germany is the largest country in terms of population and the strongest country in terms of the economy at the heart of the continent, and it has to learn to live up to its importance and weight. We are not talking about a leadership role that one wants to seize for oneself, but a weight that cannot be ignored. Before German reunification, we were one of 12 EU Member States. It was always important for us to act in coalitions with others, and we did. Today it is different. 27 countries are sitting at the Brussels table and still all eyes are on Germany and the questions are “and what does Germany want,” “what does Germany intend.” This is our experience, and we cannot shy away from it. Germany doesn’t long for a leadership role and the public doesn’t have such aspirations either. We were doing well without outward political exposure, but this is changing, and it has changed the most under the influence of the Russian assault on Ukraine. We have a war on the continent again and for this big Germany there is no niche to hide, rather it has to learn to manage its weight in Europe and make the best of it. This is what Olaf Scholz tried to articulate in his speech at Prague’s Charles University. He was met with a wave of criticism for this speech, particularly in Poland, where he was singled out in particular for proposing the abolition of the Veto and a gradual departure in the Union from the principle of unanimity, but this is an element of responsibility that Germany must assume.
The speculation about German domination is not credible in your view, but on the other hand, does the one seeking domination have to openly articulate this intention?
Germany is not a country free of mistakes. I am referring to mistakes of a political nature. As a state and as a society, we assume that we are different today from the Germany that invaded, occupied, and destroyed Poland in ’39. This conviction has grown over several decades into a kind of belief in the moral uniqueness and even superiority of our state, which from the perspective of our neighbours does not make Germany at all more sympathetic, also from the perspective of Poland. And Germany is also a country that makes mistakes, one of which we have already talked about, namely the tightening of its energy relations with Russia. We hoped that not only an economic benefit for both sides would be born from this cooperation, but also a political bond that would translate into a more restrained policy from Vladimir Putin. But this has not happened. Putin went ahead with his assault on Ukraine. So Germany is not an ideal state, but I believe that we are able to have an open debate within the government, in parliament, in the public arena, and also with our partners about a certain self-reflection, listing all that should be improved. And if the European Union is to expand to include Ukraine, Moldova, and the countries of the Western Balkans, we must all ask ourselves what this Union of the future should be like. After all, Germany cannot decree its idea of reform and others will be obliged to comply. The debate should take place with the participation of all member states. And this is where another role for Poland comes in. Poland has moved to the centre of the EU as a result of the war in Ukraine and will not be easily bypassed as it was before. But Poland has to join the discussion. Mentioning just the statement “we were right” is not enough to take full advantage of Poland’s strategic moment.
The interview appeared in today’s issue of “Gazeta Polska Codziennie.”