Polish leader sees 'problems' with Germany
Polish President Lech Kaczynski began a state visit to Germany on Wednesday by bluntly spotlighting "fundamental problems" in ties between both nations which he hoped could be resolved.
Kaczynski set the tone for his two-day trip by underlining rows between Berlin and Warsaw over a Russian-German Baltic Sea gas pipeline and a planned museum in Berlin documenting the expulsion of millions of ethnic Germans from Poland after World War II.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Kaczynski held a press conference before a working lunch but after making statements no questions were allowed. Merkel predicted ties with Poland would be "close and cooperative" while Kaczynski countered that "open talks were needed over problems."
"I come here 61 years after the war," said the Polish leader, adding that it was now time for "closure" on certain issues.
Nazi Germany began World War II by attacking Poland in 1939. By the end of the war in 1945 some 6 million Poles - including 3 million Jews - were dead and cities like Warsaw had been razed to the ground.
"Let's not fool around," said Kaczynski in earlier remarks to the Frankfurter Allgemeine paper. "The problem (with the expulsion museum) exists, and along with the German-Russian gas pipeline is one of the fundamental problems between our countries."
Polish leaders bitterly oppose the gas pipeline because of its routing through the Baltic Sea in order to avoid crossing Polish territory. The pipeline deal between Russia's state gas giant, Gazprom, and private German energy companies was signed last September at a ceremony presided over by then German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Schroeder, after losing Germany's general election a few weeks later, was named head of the supervisory board of the company building the pipeline. This move further angered leaders in Poland and the Baltic states.
Merkel says she backs the pipeline.
Kaczynski said Russia's cut-off of gas supplies to Ukraine last January showed dangers posed to his country by the Baltic pipeline which is due to begin operating in 2010. Kiev, the Polish leader noted, had been able to undermine Moscow's gas embargo by diverting gas transiting through Ukrainian pipelines to western Europe.
"If we have the Baltic pipeline, Poland could be cut off from gas deliveries without posing any danger to gas deliveries to Germany and the West," he said, adding: "Does this correspond with the European spirit everybody keeps hearing about?"
Kaczynski repeated calls for the European Union and NATO to play a role in guaranteeing energy supplies for all member states.
Turning to the expulsion museum, due to open its first exhibit at a former Prussian palace in Berlin later this year, the Polish leader underlined his country's disquiet over the project. Called the Centre Against Expulsion, the museum's biggest backer is Erika Steinbach, a conservative member of the German parliament who heads the Federation of Expellees which is a lobby group for the up to 15 million Germans expelled from central and eastern Europe after Nazi Germany's defeat.
Under terms of the 1990 German reunification, Germany formally dropped any claims to territories such as East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia lost to Poland. But some members of the Federation of Expellees have called for the return of properties in Poland to ethnic Germans who were forced out over 60 years ago.
"Just imagine if one day there is a knock at the door of the Polish family Kowalski by members of the German family Schmidt who say: 'This house is our property'," said Kaczynski.
The Polish president said he wanted to improve Polish-German ties but that Warsaw was determined to prevent property claims being aimed at its citizens in one-third of the country.
Turning to the EU, where the new Polish government has taken a stronger Euro-sceptic stance, Kaczynski said the 25-nation bloc's constitution was "no longer up to date" after its rejection earlier this year by voters in French and Dutch referendums.
"I don't rule out that a new basic treaty is needed for Europe ... we have to start at the beginning," he said.
Kaczynski said the rejected draft went too far in creating a semi-federal European state "for which the time is not ripe." He also complained there was no reference to God in the draft constitution and firmly rejected plans for an EU foreign minister.
"The many bilateral problems between Poland and Germany show that it is perhaps too early for such a thing," concluded Kaczynski.
Posted by: lotp 2006-03-08