Not much of a welcome: the delayed agrément of the German ambassador to Poland

Published: 29 October 2020 Author: Stefan Talmon

The Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland have maintained diplomatic relations at embassy level since 14 September 1972. According to the German Federal Foreign Office, “German-Polish relations are of great importance for both sides. […] Shared interests in many areas and the two countries’ close partnership in the European Union [EU] and NATO provide a sound basis for the future.” The two countries’ economies are closely interlinked and Germany is Poland’s most important trading partner by far. The Polish Government described relations with Germany as follows:

“As neighbours, as partners in the EU and as allies in NATO, we work closely together. These relations, which are built on partnership, are of fundamental importance for two basic duties and responsibilities of every State: guaranteeing security and economic development. […] Germany is a strategic economic partner for Poland. The German-Polish economic relations can be described as very good […]. Everything indicates that Poland is about to overtake the UK and become Germany’s sixth most important trading partner in the world and the fourth most important one in the EU. […] Almost 5,000 German companies have invested a total of 35 billion euros in Poland, which is 17.7% of the total foreign capital invested in Poland.”

Against this background, and German-Polish history more generally, it is not surprising that the embassy in Warsaw is one of the top-10 German diplomatic missions in the world besides Washington, Moscow, Beijing, London and Paris. This is also shown by the fact that the German ambassador to Poland belongs to a small group of about 15 diplomats who belong to one of the highest salary categories within the civil service, with only the two Secretaries of State at the Federal Foreign Ministry holding a higher position. The post is filled by agreement between the Federal Foreign Office and the Chancellery.

A delay of some three and half months in the Polish Government approving the new German ambassador to Warsaw, Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven, caused some irritation in Germany. The changeover of German diplomats traditionally happens on 1 July. As a rule, the old post holder leaves the country at the end of June and the new ambassador arrives in July or early August. As Germany was to assume the EU Council Presidency on 1 July 2020, it was hoped that the new ambassador could take up the post with the start of the German Presidency or soon thereafter. For that reason, the German Federal Foreign Office sent a request to its Polish counterpart already in mid-May 2020 asking for the so-called agrément, the consent of the receiving State to the accreditation of the head of a diplomatic mission by the sending State. The granting of the agrément is usually a routine matter, especially when the sending State and receiving State enjoy friendly relations and are both members of the EU and NATO. The standard processing time for such a request is a month, but EU member States have reduce this period to two weeks. In the past, Poland had issued the agrément for U.S. ambassadors and the papal nuncios in 2-3 days even. Asked about the delay in consenting to the accreditation of the new German ambassador, the Polish Foreign Ministry declared on 28 August 2020, “The granting of an agrément and the deadline for this decision do not need to be justified.” Three days later, Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister finally confirmed that the agrément had been given so that the new German ambassador could take up his post in September. On 15 September 2020, Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven, together with several other new ambassadors, finally presented his credentials to the President of Poland.

Asked why Poland waited so long to approve the new German ambassador, the Polish Deputy Foreign Minister replied:

“The entire matter has been exaggerated. This was nothing extraordinary. Such things happen during the procedure of acceptance of a new ambassador, […] sometimes it takes a week, sometimes a month, or sometimes two months.”

While this may be true, one may add that it hardly ever takes three and a half months. There was much speculation about the reasons for the delay in granting the agrément. One suggested reason was that Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven had been deputy head of the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence service. However, in Germany the deputy head of the BND is traditionally a career diplomat seconded from the Federal Foreign Ministry. He was also not the first German ambassador to Poland that had held that position before.

The case of the new German ambassador to Poland clearly illustrates that the appointment of the head of mission is a two-step process. Unlike with other members of the staff of the mission, the sending State is not free in its appointment of the head of the mission. Heads of mission require the receiving State’s consent before they can be formally accredited by the sending State. While this is usually a formality, it is not unheard of that the agrément is denied. For example, in 2013 Tanzania refused to consent to the posting of Margit Hellwig-Bötte as Germany’s ambassador to Dar-es-Salaam. The receiving State is not under any obligation to give reasons for a refusal of agrément. Once approval has been given and, if required, a visa has been issued, the ambassador-designate may travel to the receiving State. However, until the newly appointed ambassador has presented his or her letter of credence to the head of State, as a rule, he or she may not officially represent the sending State in the receiving State. Thus, an ambassador-designate may not express the consent of the sending State to be bound by a treaty, and any official correspondence between the mission and the receiving State must be signed by the chargé d’affaires. In practice, there may lie several months between arrival in the country and the formal presentation of the letter of credence to the head of State. For example, Germany’s ambassador-designate to Turkey arrived in the country in mid-July 2020, but was received in audience by the Turkish President to present his credentials only on 21 October 2020. However, the new ambassador had been able to perform his duties since mid-August, when he had presented a copy of his letter of credence to the Director General of Protocol at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In case of the formal accreditation being delayed due to the busy schedule of the head of State or a vacancy in that office of State, a new head of mission may also take up his or her functions upon presentation of a true copy of the credentials to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the receiving State, or such other ministry as may be agreed, in accordance with the practice prevailing in the receiving State.

In diplomacy, delays are a means of sending a message or an indicator of the state of bilateral relations. The delay in giving the agrément to the new German ambassador may have been indicative of a certain tension in Polish-German relations or it may have been a signal that Poland was unhappy with or had reservations about the person nominated. In the latter case, sending States usually understand the message and replace the appointee with another, more acceptable person. Whatever the reasons for the delay in the present case, by not withdrawing its request for agrément, Germany in effect imposed its chosen head of mission on Poland. Once the agrément request had become public knowledge and had attracted media attention, Poland could no longer reject the request, or delay its approval much longer without causing a major diplomatic incident and seriously damaging its relations with Germany.

Category: Diplomatic and consular relations

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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