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Olaf Scholz arrived in Warsaw only four days after being sworn in as the head of Germany’s new, three-way coalition government of the Social Democrats, Greens, and the market-liberal FDP. It was his second official trip abroad. On Friday, he has already paid a visit to Paris and Brussels. In this way, Scholz continued the customary diplomatic agenda of his predecessor Angela Merkel and several German presidents, who set off for the capitals of France and Poland immediately after taking office.
At the joint press conference in Warsaw, Poland’s Prime Minister Morawiecki made clear that it was a meeting of old friends. The Polish PM met with Mr Scholz back when he was still the Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister in Angela Merkel's government. They last spoke in late November during Morawiecki's visit to Berlin.
- Europe’s strength depends on the Polish-German cooperation- Morawiecki said, complimenting his German guest. Mr Scholz responded by saying that the bilateral ties are gaining a new quality and that both countries must do everything they can to take responsibility for Europe's future.
But journalists were not interested in the ritualistic exchange of pleasantries. Rather, they inquired about the contentious issues outlined by members of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party: war reparations and provisions of the new German coalition agreement speaking of the future federalization of the European Union. Referring to the latter, chairman of the Law and Justice party Jarosław Kaczyński has called it Germany’s attempt at building the Fourth Reich.
- We touched upon the subject of war reparations, great harm. We talked about it in the spirit of our relations- Morawiecki said, adding that the German-induced war and occupation of Poland meant not only "a sea of tears of our mothers and a sea of blood of our fathers" but also a lost opportunity for the country's development.
Yet, compared to what the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Zbigniew Rau said on Friday, the PM’s words were largely diplomatic. Lecturing his new German counterpart Annalena Baerbock on the Polish view on foreign policy, Mr Rau said that the question of war reparations remains open. During TVN’s evening news program, the deputy head of Polish diplomacy Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, who attended the private talks between Morawiecki and Scholz, went even a step further.
- Among the members of the Green party, we see partners with whom it will be possible to conduct a partnership dialogue on the issue of reparations- he said, pointing out that Greens, who today are part of Germany’s three-way coalition government (Minister Baerbock being its co-leader), had previously advocated paying war reparations to Poland.
Scholz told Morawiecki that, in a legal sense, the case is closed because Poland officially renounced the reparations in 1953.
At the press conference, it seemed that PM Morawiecki would diplomatically evade answering questions about Kaczyński's Fourth Reich insinuations. But while he did not address the words of his party’s leader directly, he did comment on the distant plans enshrined in the German coalition agreement about turning the EU into a decentralized federal state.
- Gleichschaltung and uravnilovka are not the right methods- he said, using terminology directly associated with the destruction of democracy and suppression of freedom in the Third Reich and the USSR. According to PM Morawiecki, "Europe will be strong when it is a Europe of sovereign states" with each of its members specializing in different matters. He called the far-reaching plans of the new German coalition government "utopian and dangerous".
The politicians also disagreed on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, with Prime Minister Morawiecki warning that the Russian-German investment could help the Kremlin blackmail Ukraine and the entire EU. He urged that the pipeline should not be allowed to open. Scholz, on the other hand, tried to calm things down by saying that the pipeline would soon be of little importance because Germany would switch to renewable energy sources in order to become a CO2 neutral country. Both declared their support to Ukraine, which is currently facing a threat of Russian military invasion. Mr Scholz also declared his solidarity with Poland in the context of the hybrid operations conducted by Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. However, unlike his Minister of Foreign Affairs who called for humanitarian aid for migrants crossing the border, Mr Scholz did not address the issue at all.
On air, Deputy Minister Szynkowski vel Sęk revealed some details about the unofficial bilateral talks regarding the European Commission’s blockage of the Polish National Recovery Plan. Green light from the Commission is necessary if Poland wants to receive money from the EU pandemic reconstruction fund. The blockage - it is already clear that the funds will not be made available before the end of the year - is a result of the Polish government’s rule of law violations and the decision to ignore the CJEU ruling that suspended the contentious Disciplinary Chamber for judges. In an op-ed published by the Financial Times on Sunday, the Minister of Justice/Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro stated that he would demand that Poland stop paying contributions to the EU budget and veto EU policies.
Mr Szynkowski vel Sęk admitted that during his meeting with PM Morawiecki, Mr Scholz was told something similar. The Deputy Minister also made sure to appreciate the fact that while discussing the issue of Poland’s row with the EU, the Prime Minister "did not resort to lectures".
- We want to engage in a dialogue. If we are treated unfairly by EU institutions, we have various tools at our disposal to defend ourselves. Everything must be done so that we do not find ourselves at a point of no return- he said.
During the joint press conference, PM Morawiecki used softer language. He said that "it would be good if the development of all EU countries could proceed on equal terms".
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