30 years of the Weimar Triangle: between aspiration and reality

David Gregosz
David Gregosz has been Head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s foreign office in Warsaw since September 2020.

For years, the Weimar Triangle has been struggling with insignificance. The enormous potential of the three states, which together account for about 45 percent of the EU’s gross domestic product and nearly 40 percent of its population, and which also form a geographic axis between Western and Eastern Europe, contrasts with a depressing reality.

The last joint meeting of foreign ministers indeed took place only in October 2020, at which the will to intensify relations was emphasized. All too often, however, such statements turned out to be empty phrases from which no concrete efforts emerged. The trilateral relationship is marked by profound disagreements and differences.

Franco-German relations are largely exempt from this, as the two states only reaffirmed their special relationship with the Treaty of Aachen in 2019. Tensions, on the other hand, are particularly prevalent in the two countries’ ties with Poland. The decisive factor here is the coalition led by the PiS party that has been in power since 2015.

Tensions caused by judicial reform

First and foremost, the controversial judicial reform has for years been a source of contention with European partners, who see the lasting rule of law at risk and, not least, brought about the first Article 7 process against. Discrepancies also exist over the new media law, which opponents criticized as an attack on freedom of opinion and freedom of the press. The German-Russian cooperation on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is also causing unease in Warsaw.

Despite all the differences at the national level, regional and local relations have proven to be an anchor of stability. For example, partnerships exist between North Rhine-Westphalia, Silesia, and Hauts-de-France, as well as between Brandenburg, Mazowieckie, and the Île-de-France. These “regional Weimar triangles” have the advantage of maintaining relations relatively independently of national tensions.

Civil society cooperation

In addition, bilateral cooperation in the form of Eurodistricts and Euroregions has been consolidated in the border regions. In addition, there are town twinning schemes, university cooperation, and youth organizations that promote intercultural exchange. This civil society level and its positive effects should not be forgotten when evaluating the triangle, even if they cannot replace exchanges at the national level.

For (long-term) cooperation to appear possible at all, however, there would need to be a congruent idea within the trio about the goals and function of the triangle as the basis of any cooperation. Institutionalizing the loose alliance would also be a way of expanding relations, but due to current and historical developments, it appears to be a mere thought experiment.

To consign the Weimar Triangle to the history books as a closed chapter because of the problems described above would certainly be the wrong approach. But as desirable as intensive trilateral cooperation at the national level may seem, there is currently not much to be said for its renaissance.


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