WARSAW / AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Warsaw on Tuesday for talks with Poland’s top leaders, taking efforts to save the European Union to a country that is keen to keep as much national power as possible and fears being marginalized in a “two-speed Europe.”
Her trip is “one of the most important visits in Polish-German relations since 2004,” when Poland joined the EU, said Sebastian Plociennik, an expert at the Polish Institute of International Affairs.
The 28-nation bloc is struggling for a way forward after Britain’s vote to leave.
“The decisions made this year will set the path for the EU’s future,” Plociennik said. Poland’s populist ruling party, Law and Justice, is often described as euroskeptic, but unlike right-wing populists in France and elsewhere, it does not advocate leaving the EU.
EU membership remains hugely popular in Poland, whose citizens have benefited enormously from development funds and the freedom to work elsewhere in the bloc.
However, Law and Justice fears that Poland’s national identity has been eroded by liberal Western values and it also has made it a mission to preserve as much power for Europe’s national parliaments as possible. Many criticize what they see as the EU’s distant and inefficient bureaucracy. Poland is also not eager to join the 19-nation eurozone anytime soon.
Law and Justice chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski also maintains that the EU has become a vehicle for Germany to dominate smaller states.
“I am not saying that we have no advantages,” he said in an interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published on the eve of the visit. “But Germany has more. Ms. Merkel is absolutely the No. 1 in the EU, and that is not a healthy situation.”
“European legislation must be reduced to its core: the common market, to some extent environmental protection,” he told FAZ. “But no one can tell us how to regulate marriage or how we stand on sexual orientation. Also, there is a tendency in the Union towards radical restriction of freedom of speech and belief.”
Despite Kaczynski’s criticism, he still made clear that he endorses Merkel in Germany’s September elections, saying that her main opponent, Martin Schulz, has “inclination towards Russia” and describing him as “a left-wing ideologue.”