I’m already sitting on the plane from Berlin to Cracow, but the last accord of the 19th Polish-German Forum, a celebratory concert with presidents Andrzej Duda and Frank Walter Steinmeier as honorary guests, is still undergoing in Berlin. I am quite confident that in a few hours (if not already) Poland and Germany will see a media firestorm over the words of Polish president about light bulbs and rapes. At the same time, I don’t think that media will elaborate on anything else than his awkward replies, which is a pity because the content of the forum – as dull as it was – can lead us to some important conclusions.
First, both sides repeat like a mantra that Poland and Germany are important partners but – despite all that we have in common – there are sensitive issues that require a dialogue. Among them, we can find questions of the rights of Poles in Germany or that of war reparations, but two other issues dominated the forum: judiciary reform dispute in Poland and the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
The dialogue in these areas is utterly futile, which is the real problem. On the one hand, Polish government – due to domestic policy requirements – can’t back away from the judiciary reform. Of course, the probability of Warsaw backtracking is further diminished by any additional pressure from Berlin or Brussels. On the other hand, for the very same reasons, the German government can’t withdraw from the construction of the Nord Stream 2. That’s why the meeting could as well end after five minutes, the time it takes to voice mutual disagreements.
Second, Germans tried to emphasise that the most critical threat to the European Union is Donald Trump, while from the Polish perspective that position is occupied by Vladimir Putin. Of course, the problems of the EU can be encapsulated in the “enemy at the gate” catchphrase. But as Krzysztof Rak of The Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation rightly remarked, if the European boat is going to sink, it will be under the burden of the debt crisis in Italy, which – in large part – is a result of the faulty construction of the eurozone, not because of Trump or Putin.
Although Russian imperialism is a serious challenge, we, the members of the EU, have to deal with domestic problems. More specifically, it is Germany that has to fix the eurozone, as it is the only country capable of doing so (meaning, pay for it). Unfortunately, it seems Berlin is not quick to act and the pervasive mood is that the situation “will work itself out somehow”.
Third finally, going back to Andrzej Duda’s speech, if Germany is serious about the partnership with Poland (as it should be for a number of reasons), it should start to treat the relationship seriously. Unfortunately, the final debate with both presidents on board and dedicated among other things to honour the 100th anniversary of Polish independence wasn’t a show of partner relations. In the opening remarks focused on history, Andrzej Duda pointed to the Polish historically-motivated fear of Russian imperialism and sensitivity (or hypersensitivity, in his own words) to freedom and sovereignty. He continued with references to the principle of sovereign equality, currently promoted by Poland in the UN Security Council.
Listening to President Duda, it was difficult to expect that the second part of the debate will transform into grilling of the Polish head of state. Rosalia Romaniec of Deutsche Welle, a co-chairman of the debate together with Piotr Legutko, started to question Andrzej Duda about judiciary reform and the last week’s decision of the Court of Justice of the EU which ordered Warsaw to reinstate Supreme Court justices who were forced to retire. It might seem that after the Polish president’s diplomatic reply, Legutko should take over and ask Steinmeier about Nord Stream 2, the question that could be treated with equally diplomatic evasion. Everyone would be happy – after all, that’s what anniversaries are for. It wasn’t the case, as Deutsche Welle journalist started to press president Duda, who – somewhat confused and surprised by this – repeated his statement about Polish hypersensitivity to external and often unclear directives. Unfortunately, he enriched his remarks with humorous, yet pointless example of non-energy-saving light bulbs, which can’t be found in shops due to the EU directives. Making use of such an example in the homeland of Energiewende naturally baffled the audience.
That wasn’t enough. Romaniec, instead of handing it over to Legutko, continued the grilling. In a subsequent reply, Polish president remarked that he was the MEP himself and when looking at the problems the EU is experiencing, we must ask ourselves whether European institutions do not share responsibility for Brexit. The reaction? Booing. Special guests, in the presence of presidents of Poland and Germany in the representational Weltsaal of German Foreign Ministry during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Polish independence, booed the Polish president. And for what? For a not-so-controversial suggestion that the UE may be partly responsible for Brexit. Hard to comprehend.
Plain and simple, pleasantries were over, and there started a rant when Romaniec handed it over to the audience. One of the editors of Tagesspiegel took advantage of the situation and –naturally – asked about the Court of Justice’s decision, saying that he spent all Saturday listening to Polish Radio and there was not a word about it.
President Duda couldn’t help and replied that he didn’t listen to Polish Radio all Saturday and is not responsible for what public broadcaster say, but at least media in Poland wouldn’t be silent if women were raped on the streets.
Yes, Polish president reacted emotionally and crossed the line. He shouldn’t have done that. He shouldn’t have talked about light bulbs, and it’s not my intention to defend him. But I want to ask my German friends: dear Germans – what’s your problem? What was all of that for? And when president Steinmeier was asked by a German student about the support for youth projects, what was the purpose of his suggestion that we should all be glad that Germans want to visit Wrocław without the idea of a return of Breslau to Germany in mind, like it used to be in his younger years?
Germans! Do we, Poles, really have to be grateful to you for the border on Oder and Nysa? It is not so hard to envision a scenario, where one-day AfD may question the validity of the Border Treaty of 1990? Did you want to humiliate the president of one of the last countries in Europe that show pro-German stance? Was it necessary to mention all of that, at the same time completely ignoring our concerns about your deal with Putin? Do you think that these stupid Brits are the only ones responsible for? Do you believe that the main problem for the EU today is Trump and illiberal government in Warsaw? Is the eurozone going to fix itself miraculously? Finally, if PiS government backtracked on the judiciary reform, would you be willing to withdraw from Nord Stream 2?
For a long time, we in Klub Jagielloński have encouraged political elites in Poland to form a partnership with Germany. Unfortunately, each time I come back from your country, I ask myself what the reasons for making it worth to like you are. Spaniards, Greeks, or Italians no longer do. Do you really want to have all Europe united against you?