Brexit and Trump Force Poles to Shelve Suspicions of Germany

Brexit and Donald Trump’s Russophilia force Poland’s nationalists to set aside their suspicions of Berlin.

Polish Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński gives a speech in Zakopane, October 19, 2015
Polish Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński gives a speech in Zakopane, October 19, 2015 (PiS)

The first thing Poland’s Law and Justice party did when it returned to power a year ago was pick a fight with Germany.

Jarosław Kaczyński’s national-conservative party, which controls both the presidency and parliament, has yet to forgive Germany for what it did to Poland seventy years ago.

When Martin Schulz, then president of the European Parliament, accused the Poles of hypocrisy for expecting European solidarity in the face of Russian threats but refusing to help the rest of Europe cope with a refugee crisis, Mariusz Błaszczak, the interior minister, felt it necessary to invoke World War II. He called Schulz’ comments “another example of German arrogance” and pointed out, “We are talking in Warsaw. Warsaw was destroyed by the Germans.”

Now the prospect of Schulz coming to power in Berlin has Błaszczak’s party scrambling to repair Polish relations with his rival, Angela Merkel.

“Merkel would be best for us”

Kaczyński, who doesn’t have an official government role but is widely seen as the power behind the throne, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an interview that was published on Tuesday, “Frau Merkel would be best for us.”

Merkel supports the sanctions against Russia. The fact that Germany is sending soldiers to the eastern flank of NATO is also positive.

Schulz’ Social Democrats, by contrast, have a tendency to “understand” Russia and compromise.

His candidacy has pushed the left-wing party up in the polls. There is now a chance it will come out on top in September’s election, although a continuation of the “grand coalition” with Merkel’s Christian Democrats is likely either way.

Vulnerable

Kaczyński has also dialed back his criticism of the EU. He told the Frankfurter Allgemeine everything was “perfect” until the Lisbon Treaty and the refugee crisis came along.

In reality, Kaczyński has always been a Euroskeptic. What has changed are Poland’s circumstances.

“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 the Reuters news agency.

Law and Justice has preferred to lean on France, the United Kingdom and the United States for Polish security, fearing that Germany might repeat past perfidy and do a deal with the Russians behind their country’s back.

Now it looks like the more reliable partner out of the four.

Nationalist revival

The same nationalist revival that brought Law and Justice back to power in Poland threatens to weaken its allies on the Atlantic.

Brexit, as I pointed out here in June, will remove an ally for liberal economic reform in Europe. Now the only way Poland can tame the protectionist instincts of the southern member states, led by France, is by teaming up with Germany.

For its security, Poland cannot count on France alone. It has a Gaullist tradition of seeking equidistance for itself between Russia and the United States. The next French president may be more Russia-friendly: both the center-right François Fillon and the far-right Marine Le Pen argue Europe must bury the hatchet with Vladimir Putin.

Then there’s Donald Trump, who has yet to utter a critical word about Putin. Under Barack Obama, America boosted its military presence in Central Europe in order to deter Russian aggression. The region can’t be sure that policy will continue under an “America First” regime.