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Submitted by JP on Tue, 09/19/2023 - 10:34 The real causes of Poland’s icy relations with Germany

MEDIA COVERAGE ON ELECTIONS. "The German press makes no secret of the fact that Germany is betting almost everything on Donald Tusk’s victory in the fall elections in Poland. Social Democratic governments in Germany very often take a much more critical stance towards Poland than Christian Democratic governments and Chancellor Scholz has a policy of exploiting Germany’s advantage in every possible field" - commentator Piotr Semka writes in

Photo by Krystian Maj/KPRM

The article discusses the strained relations between Poland and Germany, arguably at their lowest point in seven years. During the periods when Poland's Law and Justice Party (PiS) was in power (2005-2007 and 2015-2023), German-Polish relations were notably cool. Germany's political class struggles to accept PiS in power, further complicating the relationship.

The current state of Polish-German relations is strained, notably exacerbated by Germany's advocacy for the EU's migration solidarity pact and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen's move to withhold EU support for farmers in Eastern Europe. These actions have added significant complexity to the already challenging dynamics between the two nations.

"What specific areas of contention are fueling this discord?" - Piotr Semka considers. 

1) Take in refugees or pay up!

As the author observes, the successful enactment of the migration solidarity pact at the EU level exemplifies the adeptness of German diplomacy. The initiative was driven by countries situated outside the EU's external boundaries, which also happen to be nations with substantial welfare systems that draw a significant number of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe. Notable examples of such countries are Germany, Austria, and Sweden. In each of these instances, their leaders championed this project to mollify their public, which had grown increasingly frustrated due to the rising influx of migrants. German diplomacy demonstrated considerable finesse by orchestrating a majority coalition to advance this initiative. It shrewdly capitalized on the dire situation faced by Italy and Greece, both struggling with the overwhelming influx of migrants arriving via the Mediterranean. Chancellor Olaf Scholz's adept approach in persuading Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to embrace the EU Migrant Pact was notably clever.

Piotr Semka emphasizes that the essence of the Migrant Pact lies in its amplification of the European Commission's authority over the mandatory allocation of migrants. Furthermore, he asserts that this will inevitably erode the autonomy of individual nations in controlling their borders. 

He further adds that within Poland, a common question arises: why isn't Poland's backing of Ukraine and its acceptance of approximately 1.3 million Ukrainians after Russia's aggression taken into account when discussing the imposition of financial penalties for not meeting refugee quotas, much like countries such as Poland or Hungary? The crux of the matter is that Germany, which has taken in a comparable, if not slightly higher, number of refugees from Ukraine compared to Poland, operates under the assumption that the responsibility of receiving immigrants is a shared obligation among all EU nations.

Piotr Semka underscores that the success of Germany in reshaping the immigration solidarity pact was notably enhanced due to a conspicuous lack of unity and coordination among the Visegrad countries. Despite the prevailing anti-immigration stance being seen as a central force uniting the V4 group, the Czech Republic shifted its position due to promises made by the European Commission. Assurances of potential exemption from the refugee distribution system, acknowledging their substantial efforts in accommodating refugees from Ukraine, influenced their stance. Conversely, Slovakia, operating with an interim government while awaiting forthcoming elections, opted to abstain from taking a strong position. Consequently, as noted by the author of the article, "only Poland and Hungary remained resolute as staunch opponents of the immigration solidarity pact".

Piotr Semka also points out that German journalists tended to focus their comments on the pact on expressing outrage towards Budapest and Warsaw, criticizing them for perceived lack of solidarity in addressing the immigration challenges faced by the wealthiest countries in the EU. The author of the text warns that these dual standards practiced by Germans, contrasting their approach to their own security with the measures implemented by Poland to counter the "refugee weapon" employed by Minsk, are detrimental to Polish-German relations.

2) Not a penny for Poland

The Polish side firmly believes in Germany's significant influence over the decisions of the European Commission, citing the prominence of German-origin politician Ursula von der Leyen as the Commission's head. A particular instance of this influence was witnessed last June when Chairwoman von der Leyen personally obstructed a €100 million payment to farmers from five eastern European nations bordering Ukraine, compensating for losses attributed to excessive imports of Ukrainian grain.

Moreover, Ms. von der Leyen's unexplained opposition to a €330 million aid package for various EU countries, covering drought losses and more, further solidified Poland's perception. Seen from Warsaw's standpoint, this was perceived as a setback for Mateusz Morawiecki's government, particularly during the critical months leading up to the parliamentary elections in October of the same year. The author emphasizes that Poland stands out as the most vocal critic of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's initiatives aimed at abolishing member states' veto rights at the EU level. Poland also opposes the continuation of the EU's unification policy under his leadership.

3) “The end of your five minutes”

Piotr Semka adds that when former German Ambassador to Poland, Rolf Nikel, issued a warning on NTV on January 30, 2023, suggesting that Poland's influence might be diminishing, it was widely perceived as an expression of Berlin's annoyance with Poland's critical stance towards German policies concerning Russia. Semka further notes that in the present context, German politicians are discreetly signaling that German diplomacy is capable of fostering a harmonious relationship with the Biden administration. This signals an attempt to restore Germany's standing as a pivotal force upon which the US can depend concerning its security policies in Europe.

The author criticizes the unfair accusations made by German commentators against Poland. They contend that the Polish government, given its positive stance on immigration and support for Ukraine, should unquestioningly comply with the European Commission's demands on judiciary reforms. The ongoing dispute over justice reform serves as a pretext for Germany to retaliate against Polish criticism of Berlin's support for Putin. Chancellor Scholz's tougher stance towards Poland is evident, as seen in the actions of the German ambassador and Scholz's avoidance of meetings with Polish officials. Germany refuses to discuss war reparations to Poland and hinders Polish diplomatic initiatives, displaying reluctance for meetings within the Poland-Germany-Ukraine triangle.

4) Berlin waiting for the Polish elections

Piotr Semka concludes that while this assessment is undeniably accurate from the Polish standpoint, the German perspective sees Poland as a weaker partner. A notable portion of the political scene in Poland is seen as inclined to align with the German position. For Berlin, this advantageous situation serves as a strong incentive to maintain a policy of exerting pressure on Poland, at least until the Parliamentary elections on October 15.

The article was published in Polish in the Do Rzeczy weekly in June 2023.