Polish-German relations tighten over talk show remarks

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski speaks during a press conference. [Radek Pietruszka/ EPA]

During a visit to Ukraine (5 November), Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski expressed his indignation over Germany’s current policy towards Poland, insisting Berlin supports the country’s opposition forces. EURACTIV Poland reports.

Berlin-Warsaw ties have been shaken by recent remarks by German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, who spoke about the need to support “the democratic resistance of the young generation in Poland”.

“We are outraged, that German politicians, who in recent years hold up the notion that they do not comment on the situation in Poland, interfere with the situation in Poland, for the first time they admitted, that they in fact have this conception, this policy to strengthen the opposition in Poland,” Waszczykowski stated on Sunday.

“This is interference into the domestic affairs of Poland. We will demand clarifications,” he announced.

With this, the minister addressed the comments made by Von der Leyen, who in a talk show on German television said: “We must support the healthy democratic resistance of the young generation in Poland” as well as “our task is to maintain dialogue, to argue with Poland and Hungary”.

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German Embassy weighs in

Meanwhile, Polish media cited a statement made by the German Embassy emphasising that “the quotation made by the German defence minister and which was spread on social media was changed and taken out of context”.

“The minister clearly voiced her appreciation for Polish history and highlighted Poland’s achievements, including the key role of the Solidarity movement,” said the statement, quoted by news portal tvn24.pl.

“Mrs (Ursula) von der Leyen mentioned, that the European Union counts on an inclusive process, to protect and strengthen common European values as well as to take all positions into account,” the Embassy added, emphasising that the defence minister was a talk show guest and “the policy of the Federal Government of Germany is not shaped during talk shows”.

Von der Leyen on the TV

In the television program, Von der Leyen said that her children studied in Poland through the framework of the Erasmus exchange program when the change of government happened.

“We must support the healthy democratic resistance of the young generation in Poland,” the German minister then stated. In her assessment, the German task is to “maintain dialogue, to argue with Poland and Hungary”.

“That is the reason why I do not think we should go forward in small groups, but continuously try to entail whole Europe in this process,” the defence minister added with regard to the question of further European integration.

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In this context, she also explained that she “wants to stand up for the Eastern European countries”.

“One has to be aware of the effort the Baltic States have had to make in order to live in freedom, to become a member of the European Union, to meet the eurozone criteria. How much Poland had achieved, and where the solidarity movement played the role of the main precursor. I want to grind an axe not to give up too soon (on countries in Central and Eastern Europe),” von der Leyen added.

According to tvn24.pl, the statement issued by the German Embassy is a reaction to a command by Polish defence minister Antoni Macierewicz to summon the German defense attaché after Von der Leyen’s remarks.

A communique by the Polish defence ministry stated that the minister “recommended the director of the Department of Military Foreign Affairs, Colonel Tomasz Kowalik, call the German defence attaché […] in order to offer clarifications in this matter”. He was asked to show up at midday.

Further clarification

Foreign minister Waszczykowski announced that his ministry will also ask for further clarifications and to ascertain “why such unacceptable words are voiced in public”.

Waszczykowski voiced his hope that this was “simply a slip of the tongue that can happen to politicians”. “We want to offer a chance to withdraw from this words without creating a diplomatic incident”, the Polish foreign minister concluded.

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