Why Poland shouldn’t miss Angela Merkel

In the decades following World War II we have become used to a Germany whose socio-political system’s stability is immune to all crises. The ability to govern through the so-called Great Coalition of the conservative and (once upon a time) Christian CDU/CSU and the socialist SPD is a remarkable phenomenon. Such an alliance is currently in power in Berlin.

However, what we have seen over the past couple years suggests that this arrangement cannot survive much longer. As early as 2017, it seemed that the so-called Jamaica Coalition would prevail. It would include the CDU, the Liberals and the Greens. However, these days, the leading political parties (CDU and SPD) have been gradually losing ground and the “minor” parties, the Greens and the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD), have been gaining popularity.

The Greens have been taking control of trendy ideas, once dominated by the SPD, such as ecology, climate-related and social issues. The AfD has been winning over conservative and nationalist voters, who have been abandoned by the CDU. This political evolution has only been hastened by the social and political turmoil of the immigration crisis of 2015 and 2016.

Chancellor Merkel (in power since 2005) took note of the new trends in politics. In December 2018, she passed the baton of the party leadership. Ms. Merkel’s deteriorating health may have also been a factor. She had hoped that her successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, would revitalize the party and bring about another CDU victory. However, earlier this month, AKK stepped down as the CDU chair and announced she would not seek the chancellorship. It happened so abruptly, that we did not even manage to learn her complex name, let alone find out her core political views.

In the meantime, an attempt to create a local government with the support of the AfD was made in Thuringia. Until then, that party had been ostracized by all mainstream German political parties. The federal government got openly involved in the situation and forced the political experiment to be short lived.

Pundits and experts have been predicting a serious political crisis in Germany. There is no evidence of charismatic leaders who would be capable of bringing back stability. Moreover, the consensus among analysts is that an unstable Berlin means an unstable Europe. After all, Germany is the largest European economy and the pillar of the common currency – the euro. The Normandy Format and the Minsk Peace Process, that are containing the Russia-Ukraine conflict, also depend on Berlin’s involvement. Finally, a reasonable post-Brexit deal between the EU and the UK requires meaningful attention and input from Germany. But is this happening?

Unfortunately, Germany’s track record on foreign and European policy does not have many successes in conflict resolution. Neither within Europe, nor around its borders. Germans have assumed the ambivalent position of orthodox Europeans on the EU’s stage and yet at the same time, Germany has been shamelessly promoting its own agenda from energy and climate, to business competition. Berlin has been trying to take the lead on promoting “EU” interests whilst still playing ideological and economic games.

Martin Selmayr, a Director General at the European Commission, could be described as the poster child of the fight for German national interest in EU institutions. As Jean-Claude Junker’s deputy, he has been holding the EC’s steering wheel despite being officially in the passenger’s seat. EU institutions are filled with German officials who mostly focus on defending Berlin’s interests. It has led to a situation where the EU does not solve any issues and contradictions within the bloc. The status-quo simply favours Germany’s economic interests.

The EU’s neighbourhood is no different. The Franco-German Normandy Format did not end Russia’s war on Ukraine. Germany-dominated Europe has not solved any conflicts around the Old World’s borders. More recently, the attempt to solve the conflict in Libya at the Berlin conference also failed.

Europe has also been haggling over security expenditure and military modernization with the United States. Both Paris and Berlin have been sending bizarre and worrying signals that Europe might fear President Trump more than Vladimir Putin. These transatlantic frictions were clearly visible at the recent Munich Security Conference.

With this in mind, will Poland really miss Angela Merkel? The conventional wisdom is that the German Chancellor views Poland’s interests favourably. After all, there was a Pole among Merkel’s distant relatives. Her Poland-based fans also tend to emphasize the fact that she grew up in East Germany which somehow makes her sympathetic to Warsaw’s cause. Unfortunately, our relationship does not support this position.

Germany’s benefits from its relationship with Poland are enormous. Poland is a

massive bulwark that separates Germany from Russia. It allows for a huge break in Berlin’s military spending and a relief for its security policy. Unfortunately, Berlin does not see it this way. Instead, Russian imperialism tends to be overlooked.

Germany takes full advantage of this situation and it attempts to grow trade with Russia, circumventing Poland. The paradox is that Berlin’s economic relationship with Warsaw is more fruitful than any Russian partnership. Germany trades more with Poland than it does with Russia. As such, it would be logical for relations with Poland to take precedence. However, due to a misguided ideology, Berlin values its relationship with Moscow more than the one with its immediate neighbour. Could it be a case of Stockholm syndrome?

As far as bilateral agreements are concerned, there are a whole array of issues that must be addressed. They include: the status of Poles living in Germany, the social problems for children born to mixed marriages, the status of Polish entrepreneurs operating in Germany and the problem of inferior German products being exported to Poland. Finally, the issue of post-World War II reparations has never been settled.

Berlin claims it expects solidarity from EU members. However, when looking at the details, it is clear that Berlin expects submission. Predicting who will take power in Germany and what their political program will be is anyone’s guess. But what we do know is that Chancellor Merkel has not been “our woman in Berlin”.

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