Poland perceives – especially after the Russian aggression against Ukraine – Russia as a serious threat to its own security and the US as its the main guarantee. Meanwhile, though, Germany has substantially changed its policy towards Russia, it remains much less concerned with the possibility of a Russian military attack against any NATO member state.
This divergence of perceptions also applies to the two societies. According to opinion polls, most Poles – contrary to Germans – would support their country’s engagement within the framework of the NATO obligations against a Russian attack on a NATO member state. It is no accident that the US occupies an unmatched first place as the main source of modern military equipment of the Polish armed forces. Meanwhile, Germany uses the weaponry produced mostly at home or by European joint-ventures. Poland is interested in as large and permanent a military US deployment on its territory as possible. On the other hand, Germany has a reluctant approach to the robust presence of US armed forces in the region, being afraid of the Russian reaction.
Poland is interested in as large and permanent a military US deployment on its territory as possible. On the other hand, Germany has a reluctant approach to the robust presence of US armed forces in the region, being afraid of the Russian reaction.
The most striking difference of approaches towards Russia between Poland and Germany (and one also related to the US) concerns energy security. Poland pursues the policy which at some stage assumes a complete renouncement of Russian gas supplies. This year Poland has started to import LNG gas from the US. Meanwhile, Germany strives to become a hub of Russian gas in Europe and supports the Nord Stream 2 project. The latter has become recently the most prominent target of sanctions voted almost unanimously by the US Congress.
At first glance, Poland and Germany have built decisively different economic relations with the US in the recent decades. Apart from China and Japan, Germany constitutes US’s most important economic partner. It occupies the fifth position on the list of US trade partners and the second place on the list of foreign direct investors. Indeed, German shares in the US trade approach 5 percent and its share in the FDI stocks is close to 10 percent. In consequence, the US plays a crucial role in the German economy. It is sufficient to mention that the US is the first destination for German exporters and investors. Around 20 percent of the entire German direct investment abroad was invested in the US.
On the other hand, Poland has been eager for many years to increase its economic cooperation with the US, however without any bigger success. The volume of Polish export to the US slightly exceeds its export to Hungary (around 2,5 percent of total export) and it is twenty times smaller than what Germany export to the US. However, Poland has considerably well-developed economic relations with the US via Germany through global value chains. Indeed, Polish companies often serve as subcontractors of German export-oriented firms. In fact, in recent years Poland’s share in the German trade volume increased to 5 percent and could soon overcome Italy and even the UK.
Poland has considerably well-developed economic relations with the US through Germany through global value chains. Indeed, Polish companies often serve as subcontractors of German export-oriented firms.
The German-Polish economic system of “communicating vessels” is sometimes perceived by the Polish ruling elites as neocolonial exploitation and a blind alley for Poland. In their view, in order to guarantee the modernization of Poland, the relations with Germany should be counterbalanced by the increase of economic cooperation with other economies, especially with the US. However, taking into consideration the scale of Polish-German economic ties, the idea of modernizing the Polish economy without Germany or even against it sounds abstract. In fact, a possible trade war between Germany and the US would be a disaster for the Polish economy.
Trump’s victory deepened the Polish-German divergences concerning the US considerably. It met with an enthusiastic reaction of the Polish government which stresses its ideological kinship to Trump. On the other hand, in response to Trump’s protectionist and populist rhetoric directed against Germany, the German government showed restraint. The level of Germans’ distrust towards the US has increased dramatically in recent months and it is as low as Germans’ confidence in Russia. On the other hand, Trump’s visit in Poland strengthened his standing among Poles. The visit was also interpreted by the Polish government as an endorsement of its reform of the judiciary which has gained spectacular speed immediately after the Air Force One left the Polish air space. The reform was described by leaders of the key political groups in the European Parliament as crossing the red line by which the Polish government “is putting an end to the rule of law and democracy in Poland and leaving the European community of values”.
The authors of our second blog agree that the future of the Transatlantic partnership will be determined by the definition of the West and its values in the three countries. However, the authors differ substantially in their interpretation of Donald Trump’s worldview. Marcin Kędzierski believes that “president Trump’s Warsaw speech was so important: he declared the willingness to defend the Western world, but did not present any dangerous concepts such as the division between the new and the old Europe. […]Germany (and the whole EU) are global ambassadors of liberal democracy. This idealism has brought tensions between Berlin and Trump, but in the long run these will probably be reduced. After all, Trump is definitely far more liberal than Vladimir Putin.” Meanwhile, Jana Puglierin underlines that “Trump’s understanding of the West is actually very Polish – or rather, PiS-ish… when Trump speaks of the “Western civilization” he implicitly means the “culture, faith, and tradition” of “white” people in Europe and North America. When Merkel states that “Germany and America are bound by values – democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of the individual, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views”, she understands the West not in cultural, religious, or historical, not to mention ethno-nationalist terms.”
*Adam Balcer – Project Manager WiseEuropa