Poland. A friend in need or just a commercial friend

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GEOMETR.IT stratfor.com

German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Warsaw on Feb. 7 to meet with Polish leaders, including Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, President Andrzej Duda, Law and Justice Party (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and opposition leaders. The meeting was sure to be tense, given that the relationship between Germany and Poland has been rocky for the past couple of years.

Germany and the European Commission have repeatedly accused Poland of not respecting the rule of law and of implementing detrimental judicial reforms. Things deteriorated further when Poland rejected the EU plan, which Germany supported, to distribute asylum seekers among EU countries according to fixed quotas. Poland and Germany also diverge on the topic of EU integration. With the exception of security and defense, Poland opposes further Continental integration. But Merkel still hopes to win Polish support for the next steps of European integration.

The two countries do share some common ground: Both worry about U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of NATO and stance on Russia. Both want to cooperate to ensure that sanctions on Russia remain in place, to increase EU military cooperation, and to strengthen EU external borders.

But Germany and Poland have diverging views on a number of issues, including migration and energy (Poland opposes the Nord Stream II pipeline that would bring Russian natural gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea). However, the two countries are trying to define common strategic interests at a time when Brexit and the new U.S. administration are posing tough challenges for central and eastern Europe and when the region feels more exposed than ever to threats from Russia.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Warsaw on Feb. 7 to meet with Polish leaders, including Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, President Andrzej Duda, Law and Justice Party (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and opposition leaders. The meeting was sure to be tense, given that the relationship between Germany and Poland has been rocky for the past couple of years.

Germany and the European Commission have repeatedly accused Poland of not respecting the rule of law and of implementing detrimental judicial reforms. Things deteriorated further when Poland rejected the EU plan, which Germany supported, to distribute asylum seekers among EU countries according to fixed quotas. Poland and Germany also diverge on the topic of EU integration. With the exception of security and defense, Poland opposes further Continental integration. But Merkel still hopes to win Polish support for the next steps of European integration.

The two countries do share some common ground: Both worry about U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of NATO and stance on Russia. Both want to cooperate to ensure that sanctions on Russia remain in place, to increase EU military cooperation, and to strengthen EU external borders.

But Germany and Poland have diverging views on a number of issues, including migration and energy (Poland opposes the Nord Stream II pipeline that would bring Russian natural gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea). However, the two countries are trying to define common strategic interests at a time when Brexit and the new U.S. administration are posing tough challenges for central and eastern Europe and when the region feels more exposed than ever to threats from Russia.

But diplomats say Poland is feeling under pressure with Britain’s decision to leave depriving it of a strategic ally within the EU and the election of Donald Trump as US president raising questions over the West’s relationship with Russia.

“I can imagine that Poland is feeling vulnerable in the current environment, with Trump making overtures to Russia and Britain leaving the EU,” a German diplomat told Reuters. “This could push them towards Germany.”

Poland had long seen the UK as its key ally in pushing a tough line on Russia over its conflict with Ukraine and in defence cooperation. The PiS had also hoped to find a partner in Britain for its calls to weaken the power of EU institutions.

Since it returned to power in 2015, its leaders have toned down their past references to the Poles’ suffering during World War II under the Nazi German occupation. Meetings at various levels of government have become significantly more frequent than before 2007. 

Tense past

Obstacles to finding common ground in today’s talks include Poland’s hostility to resettling refugees from the Middle East, and international accusations that Kaczyński’s government is veering into authoritarianism.

Merkel comes to Warsaw shortly before the expiration in late February of a European Commission deadline for Poland to address concerns over its handling of the constitutional court, which critics at home and abroad say undermines democratic standards.

“Close cooperation with the EU, mainly Germany and France, would be the main strategic interest for Poland,” said German politician Thomas Nord (Die Linke).

Some areas of agreement exist. Poland and Germany are keen to see more EU defence cooperation after Britain’s departure and a strengthening of the bloc’s external borders, for example.

But the talks take place in the shadow of Kaczyński’s deep-running mistrust of Germany, and of Merkel, arguably the most powerful figure in the EU. The chancellor retains a key role in handling economic problems in, for instance, Greece and Italy while wielding great influence on the international stage.

In his 2011 autobiography, Kaczyński recalled Merkel trying to find common ground, evoking hers and his upbringing behind the Iron Curtain, in their conversations.

“She frequently repeated that she had visited Poland many times, knew socialism, that her experience meant one should speak with her differently,” Kaczyński wrote.

Although born in the West, Merkel moved with her family to communist East Germany when she was a child and grew up near the Polish border.

“She was trying to soften her interlocutor. But there is no doubt that Merkel belongs to a generation of German politicians who want to rebuild Germany’s imperial power… Our country has to be in some way subordinate.”

Kaczyński, who has said he hopes Merkel will secure another term in this year’s German election, routinely refuses to see ambassadors to Warsaw, including the German envoy, and has met few foreign leaders since the PiS returned to power.

He acknowledges relations are better now but has said lasting improvement depends on Merkel’s government, in comments highlighting likely tensions ahead.

“We want good relations with the Germans but it is the Germans who need to make up their mind,” he told conservative Do Rzeczy weekly in an interview published yesterday (6 February).

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8 Comments

  1. Warschau brauche Berlin für seine Europa-Politik, sagte Agnieszka Lada vom Warschauer Institut für öffentliche Angelegenheiten der dpa. Kanzlerin Angela Merkel reist heute Mittag zu politischen Gesprächen nach Warschau. Mit ihrer polnischen Kollegin Beata Szydlo berät Merkel über die Zukunft der EU. Weitere Themen sind Migration und Sicherheit.

  2. Mit Deutschland und Polen verhält es sich manchmal wie mit einem älteren Ehepaar. Man kennt sich, man schätzt sich – und doch versteht man nicht immer so genau, was der andere gerade tut. Im Moment zum Beispiel fragen sich viele Deutsche, wie eine Mehrheit der Polen die nationalkonservative PiS-Partei wählen konnte, die seither mit drastischen innenpolitischen Maßnahmen und einem antieuropäischen Kurs für Schlagzeilen sorg

  3. „Die PiS war die einzige Partei, die bei der Parlamentswahl sozialdemokratische Elemente im Programm hatte“, stimmte Becker Dietmar Nietan zu. Die Partei hätte den Menschen das Gefühl vermittelt, sie kümmere sich tatsächlich um ihre Nöte. Nietan ist überzeugt: „Die Agenda von PiS-Chef Kaczynski und seiner Wähler unterscheiden sich grundlegend.“ Auch deshalb sei es wichtig „die jeweilige Volksseele zu kennen, um sich richtig zu verstehen“.

  4. Es zeige nicht nur die Geschichte und das Wirken der polnischen Gewerkschaft, sondern webe diese „in den Kampf um Freiheit in europäische Traditionen ein

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