From farewell to a new Eastern policy and towards a new development

Dr. Iris Kempe, independent analyst — for EuroBelarus.Info

Poland and Germany were both initiators and drivers of a New Eastern policy linked to the Eastern neighborhood and Russia/Soviet Union.

After WW II, Jerzy Giedroyc — a Polish writer, political activist, publisher, and editor of the magazine Kultura — promoted good relations with Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus as a guarantee for Poland’s freedom. Building a linkage between an independent Polish state and good relations with Eastern neighbors was an idea for developing an Eastern policy.

On the German side, coming to terms with historic legacies is closely linked with Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr developing rapprochement with Moscow, Warsaw, Prague and East Berlin. This included symbolic acts such as Willy Brandt falling to his knees in Warsaw in 1970, which became the symbol for reconciliation with Germany. It also included signing the treaties with West Germany’s Eastern neighbors and the Four-Power Treaty with the Allies, which were completed between 1970 and 1973. Although Giedroyc and Brandt, in their respective countries, were both important actors for a New Eastern Policy, they had very different roles: intellectual and politician. The New Eastern Policy has been initiated by Poland and Germany from different perspectives. Now, the impact of the conflict with Russia and in Eastern Ukraine has led to a farewell to balancing relations with Russia and the Eastern neighbors of Poland and Germany[1]. Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz published a paper about the Giedroyc farewell and its impact on Eastern policy, which should be debated in detail. It would be worth creating a discourse about Giedroyc’s ideas and the current situation of a New Eastern Policy in Germany.

Germany’s New Eastern Policy is based on a process of reconciliation and implementing cooperation[2]. Starting at a national level, Eastern Policy developed further following the impact of EU’s big-bang Eastern enlargement in 2004, thus changing from a national to a European strategy. During the German EU presidency in 2007 the policy planning staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred to the New Eastern Policy as an agenda to be revised for a European level by signing a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between Russia and the European Union, a new strategy for Central Asia, and an agreement with the neighboring countries. Because of difficult political conditions, Germany only succeeded in implementing a new strategy with the countries of Central Asia that had been parts of the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the New Eastern Policy was still alive to be developed further by German politicians in a European framework.

The German New Eastern policy is based on a process of historic reconciliation, which very often is difficult to fulfill. Secondly, the grand design of Eastern Policy mostly takes place on a military level, such as the NATO-Russia Council or cooperation in the framework of the OSCE. The grand design of policy is not realistic currently because it would require military de-escalation by Russia. That means, for solving the violent conflict in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, fulfilling the 13 points of the Minsk agreement. Finally, a New Eastern Policy should implement joint norms and values, which, at the least, would require open discourse about a European peace treaty. Implementing a New Eastern Policy successfully would require implementing the principles of the OSCE Charter of Paris.

Gernot Erler is a high-level politician representing Germany’s New Eastern policy. He is a member of the parliament from the German Social Democratic Party, previously state secretary of Foreign Affairs, special representative for CIS countries, and special representative of Germany during the German OSCE presidency in 2016[3]. As such, Erler committed to similar priorities of Eastern policy as Willy Brandt and driver of the New Eastern Policy. In June 2017, he publicly declared farewell to a New Eastern Policy as such but a development in smaller steps because of the conflict with Russia in Eastern Ukraine, which made a New Eastern Policy impractical[4]. A New Eastern Policy can only be solved by implementing the Minsk agreement. The Minsk agreement[5] has been negotiated by the governments of Russia, France, Germany and the OSCE. To use the Minsk agreement as a pre-condition for initiating a New Eastern Policy again, it would be an added value if the government of Poland had been part of the negation. In Europe, that would have mean a paradigm change from France and Germany negotiating conflict resolution towards a Weimar triangle format of France — Poland — Germany, which was not the case so far. That would move developing a New Eastern Policy into a European agenda run by Germany and Poland as key actors from the very beginning of conflict resolution efforts.

During recent decades of European development, Eastern Policy moved from a national to a European agenda. EU member states were not without impact on Eastern Policy, which has undergone a series of paradigm changes since the breakdown of the Soviet Union 1991 and Eastern enlargement of the European Union in 2004. The results were independent states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union needing a policy based on European values, democratic development and national independence from the former Soviet sphere of influence. Since the Polish election in 2015, setting Eastern Policy priorities has been related to a dubious linkage between implementing Polish-ness and supporting democracy in the East European neighborhood countries[6].

In Germany, creating Eastern Policy is about setting priorities of joint democratic values in Wider Europe and common economic interests. The policy has been related to implementing joint values, including a differentiation between Russia and the Eastern neighborhood countries on the one hand, and economic interest on the other hand. The joint value agenda matches fulfilling the Minsk agreement, while the economic interest is less in favor of implementing economic sanctions, which would be part of the Minsk agreement. In this regard, German politicians such as former chancellor Gerhard Schröder have been giving dubious signals by becoming a CSO for Gazprom/North Stream. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called for reductions of sanctions against Russia even prior to the fulfillment of the Minsk agreement. From a political perspective of Germany’s Eastern Policy that does contradict priorities of joint values but puts that in the framework of German domestic politics, one should link the issue with the upcoming federal elections and Gabriel’s interest in strengthening his mandate. Making a deep and comprehensive agreement would be too early, but some developments are already indicating momentum, which one can continue analyzing later.

Foreign affairs, including Eastern Policy, are mostly not a priority in national elections. That is the case in the German national election on 24 September 2017. This can be seen in the election programs of the government parties, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. They mention the partnership with the US, which is not easy but important, conflict management in Russia and Eastern Ukraine, and Turkey being a difficult partner[7].

Almost the same is the case for opposition parties, the Greens and the Free Democrats. Individual statements, as for instance Free Democrat Christian Lindner speaking in favor of continued Russia annexation of Ukraine as a medium-term concept, can be seen more as election statements than long-term political strategy. A New Eastern Policy is not one of the priorities of the election campaigns. In addition to shaping the election agenda, illegal attempts to influence the election are of high concern. These include fake news and all kind of hacking attacks, as has been the case against Germany’s federal government[8]. These issues are part of the democratic political discourse, apart from debates concerning Wider Europe. Even more complicated than the lack of attention or the potential attacks against a New Eastern Policy is the increasing number of political actors in the upcoming parliament of Germany. In contrast to the current situation, there will be almost nobody working as an advocate of Eastern Policy because Gernot Erler will not run for the election again because of his age, and Marie-Luise Beck, who represents Eastern Policy for the Greens was not nominated again. That reflects the low influence of issues related to Eastern Policy have and the limited potential for generating a successor, a New Eastern Policy. The same is the case in the German think-tank community. It is able to build links between understanding Eastern Europe, having networks and regional knowledge. There were German institutes such as the Center for Applied Policy Research in Munich, supported by a department of international affairs at the Bertelsmann Foundation, which together fulfilled the above-mentioned criteria and developed strategies for a New Neighbourhood Policy. Developing policy input for a New Eastern Policy would mean building a link between regional knowledge and political strategies. Even if individual factors still exist, there is a lack of a broader strategic linkage facilitating the development of a New Eastern Policy on national levels, as well as on a European level connected with the latest EU developments such as fulfilling the 20 deliverables from the Eastern partnership countries[9]. The 20 deliverables require an administrative presentation as well as a public discourse of results, based, for instance, on shadow monitoring of the deliverables[10].

Re-establishing a New European Eastern Policy is an issue of national as well as of European importance, which means creating framework conditions such as solving the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, having committed actors, and creating a European discourse on the issue who combine government discourse, input from the European Commission and regional think-tanks from a democratic civil society.

This deep and comprehensive discourse on setting political priorities between joint interest and common values in wider Europe — Brandt — and intellectual being linked to national in this case Polish identity — Giedroyc — level would be part of developing democracy and stability in Wider Europe, including the Eastern neighborhood countries.



[1] Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz A farewell to Giedroyc, Stefan Batory Foundation, Warsaw, January 2017.

[2] Neue Ostpolitik — entspannen, eindämmen, abschrecken, DGAP 1.06.2017, Gernot Erler.

[3] Begrüßungsrede des Sonderbeauftragten für den Deutschen OSZE-Vorsitz 2016 Dr. Gernot Erler, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, 19 Oktober 2016.

[4] Neue Ostpolitik — entspannen, eindämmen, abschrecken, DGAP 1.06.2017, Gernot Erler.

[5] Minsk peace agreement: still to be consolidated on the ground, European Parliament, 12 February 2015.

[6] Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz — A farewell to Gieroyc, Stefan Batory Foundation, Warsaw, January 2017.

[7] EU & Aussenpolitik, Wahlthemen im Vergleich, Thema EU und Aussenpolitik im Vergleich der Wahlprogramme — Bundestagswahlen 2017.

[8] Krieg ohne Blut, Wie Manipulierbar ist die Bundestagswahl, Zeit Online, 17.09.2017.

[9] Eastern Partnership: 20 deliverables 2020, 27/12/2016.

[10] Joint Staff Working Document EaP — Focusing on key priorities and deliverables — Assessment an recommendations by the civil society, (May 2017).