CDU leader promises closer ties with Poland

Angela Merkel, leader of Germany’s opposition Christian Democrat Union, yesterday promised Polish leaders closer bilateral ties if she becomes chancellor in next month’s election. But she refused to give ground on their concerns over CDU backing her party’s support for a proposed plans to build a centre in Berlin to commemorate the millions of Germans expelled from Poland after the second world war.

Speaking during During a brief visit to Warsaw, Ms Merkel said a CDU-led government would step up co-operation with Poland, especially on European Union affairs. “We want a strong and confident Poland with which we can resolve the most important matters in the EU,” she said.

Yet Ms Merkel stood by her party’s election backing for the controversial Berlin centre, one designed to that would recall historical cases of German expulsions across Europe. Critics in Germany and Poland fear the centre, proposed by a private foundation, would focus too narrowly on the plight of Germans driven from Poland and would gloss over Germany’s responsibility for starting the war.

Ms Merkel, who is under pressure from rightwing conservatives to support the centre, said it was necessary to acknowledge the “suffering” of expelled peoples, and called on Poland to “show some trust” that Germany was not trying to re-write history.

Both the Polish and current The German governments are against is against the project, and Aleksander Kwasniewski, Poland's outgoing president, yesterday also repeated his opposition.

Ms Merkel’s The CDU leader’s fleeting Polish visit during the campaign represents was part of her an attempt to raise her international profile before ahead of the election, in a bid to counter the profile of Gerhard Schröder, the current chancellor, standing as a respected international statesman. 

Despite the differences over the centre for expelled peoples, Ms Merkel, the front-runner in opinion polls to become the next chancellor, is regarded seen as more open towards Poland, and more sceptical towards Russia, than Mr Gerhard Schröder, the current chancellor, largely due to her upbringing in communist East Germany.

The CDU leader argues that Mr Schröder has excluded Poland and other eastern European countries from consultations over Berlin’s relations with Moscow. Yesterday she pledged that “no decisions should be made over the heads of people in Poland”. She rejected the idea of an “axis” running between Paris, Moscow and Berlin, and pledged closer ties with the US.

Donald Tusk, leader of Poland’s the centre-right Civic Union party, said after meeting with Ms Merkel that “airplanes carrying German politicians to Russia will be landing in Warsaw so that they can have talks about common policies and common aims”.

Mr Tusk’s party is likely to form part of a new coalition government following Poland’s September 25 parliamentary elections, paralleling a probable shift to the right in Germany a week earlier.

Ms Merkel also met with Mr Kwasniewski, with whom she discussed the EU budget for 2007-2013, a thorny issue for Poland, which wants as much money as possible to quickly modernise, while Germany is reluctant to continue being Europe's paymaster.

Many Poles hope a Merkel-led government would introduce economic reforms that would also benefit the Polish economy, but there are few expectations that she would lift restrictions on admitting workers from Poland or and other new EU states. Ms Merkel refused to be drawn yesterday on these labour market rules.

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