Source Pravda.Ru

Angela Merkel pays her first official visit to Poland

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is paying her first official visit to Poland - a country she described as Germany's "second big neighbour". Mrs Merkel's appointment has been generally well received in Poland. Her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, was widely perceived as too critical of America, too close to Russia, and too focused on Germany's domestic agenda. Since assuming office last week, Mrs Merkel has visited France, Britain and Brussels. Poland was next on the list. Mrs Merkel says wants Germany to improve relations with Washington and to act as a mediator in internal EU disputes.

She has said she will not pursue policies with Russia "over the heads" of countries like Poland and the Baltic States. All this has pleased Warsaw. However, on closer inspection, the issues begin to appear more problematic. The first concerns the EU budget. Poland is trying to put together a coalition of countries to oppose British plans, which would entail reducing development grants to the new member countries. However, as a big net contributor to the EU budget, Germany is unwilling to spend more.

The second issue concerns the plan, endorsed earlier this year by ex-Chancellor Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin to build a new pipeline under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland and the Baltic States. Poland has reacted indignantly, saying this would harm its interests. The Germans, meanwhile, maintain that diversifying the means of delivery of Russian oil and gas makes sense.

The third concerns the EU membership aspirations of Turkey and Ukraine. Poland supports both: partly as a way of consolidating Western influence in regions close to Russia. Mrs Merkel says future Turkish membership of the EU is not guaranteed - and is even less forthcoming about Ukraine's prospects.

The fourth contentious issue concerns tentative plans to build a memorial in Berlin to millions of Germans who were driven out of their ancestral homes in Central and Eastern Europe at the end of World War II - notably from lands awarded to Poland.

The idea has been strongly criticised by senior Polish politicians. While not specifically endorsing the proposed plans, Mrs Merkel says she does want to "make a visible sign in Berlin to commemorate an injustice".

Though traditional German-Polish animosities have diminished over the years, there remains - at the popular level - considerable mutual ignorance and prejudice.

Recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Poland - which were won by the centre-right - saw politicians deploying a certain amount of anti-German rhetoric. However, president-elect Lech Kaczynski now says he wants a close partnership with Germany. Mrs Merkel's visit could go some way to clarifying where specifically co-operation is possible, reports BBC news. I.L.

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