German–Polish bilateralism at the local and regional levels: The case of the Interreg programme

Jar о slaw Janczak and Javier Martin- Uceda


German-Polish relations have been classified as being the most dynamic in Europe over the last decades and centuries (Czubinski, 1987; Breyer, Nasarski & Piekalkiewicz, 1976). Deeply rooted in a conflictive legacy, they entered a new phase with the collapse of communism, German reunification (Czaplinski, 1992) and Poland’s entry into the European Union - phenomena framed by and contributing to the acceleration of continental integration processes (Zaborowski, 2002). The peaceful neighbourhood principle was quickly supplemented by postulates of deep reconciliation, leading to a strategic partnership (Malinowski, 2015) and materialising in functional interdependence between the two states (Bielawska, 2011).

This chapter explores the German-Polish bilateral relationship by concentrating on the regional and local levels and testing cross-border cooperation (CBC). It attempts to answer the question of what the external and internal factors at the subnational level are that shape (by supporting or hindering) bilateral relations between Poland and Germany. The Interreg programme (Wassenberg & Reitel, 2015) was chosen as a source of data to evaluate the form and quality of interactions, as well as agency in the area. We have chosen CBC on account of its capacity as an instrument for overcoming economic underdevelopment and creating cross-border interconnections (Bergs, 2012) practised in the context of multi-layer and multidimensional (asymmetries. Consequently, the aim is to map local and regional power relations and explore the extent to which they contribute (as one of the aspects) to relations between Germany and Poland in a down-scaled form. To achieve this aim of understanding the dynamism of German-Polish subnational relations, we have analysed the cross-border cooperation and cross-border projects that formed part of the Interreg programme implemented in the period from 2007 to 2013. The findings reveal several local and regional factors that either hinder or support bilateral cooperation, with structural (asymmetries and differences in potential being considered the most relevant of these.

On the one hand, the research presented here is intended to fill a gap in the existing literature, and, on the other, it constitutes the next step in adopting a more general approach to considering the German-Polish border from the perspective of EU-sponsored CBC projects. With regard to the first point, a general description of under-investigated elements is provided in the Introduction to this volume. More specifically, despite some positions (e.g. Dolzblasz, 2017), the role of cohesion policies still seems to be underrepresented in the local and regional dimension, especially in comparison to the other European borders and neighbouring states (see, e.g., Gonzalez-Gomez & Gualda, 2020; Klatt & Herrmann, 2011). Considering the second point, as part of a wider research team we have already explored several aspects of the process, with a special focus on Interreg projects, comparing numerous European borders (Castaner, Janczak & Martin-Uceda, 2018) and exploring some sections of the German-Polish one (Martin-Uceda & Janczak, 2018; Janczak, 2018a). This contribution constitutes another step in our long-lasting research efforts, this time using the designed methodology and theoretical approach in a wider context of German-Polish relations.

The text is divided into six sections. After presenting the theoretical and methodological components, we profile the German-Polish border and interpret it within the framework of the interstate relations laboratory, before presenting an overview of the Interreg projects carried out in the period from 2007 to 2013. The resulting interpretations allow us to then formulate our concluding remarks.

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