28.07.2022, Polen, Warschau: Friedrich Merz (M), CDU-Vorsitzender und Chef der Unions-Bundestagsfraktion,geht nach einem Treffen mit dem Vorsitzenden der polnischen Oppositionspartei Bürgerplattform (PO) in Warschau eine Straße entlang. Foto: Michal Dyjuk/AP/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

It is a sentence that Friedrich Merz probably enjoyed reading. The CDU leader’s trip to Poland and Lithuania is “difficult to interpret as a demonstration that Friedrich Merz, at the head of Germany, would be better able to cope with the serious crisis of the Ukraine war than Olaf Scholz,” writes the important Polish daily newspaper on Friday “Rzecz Pospolita”.

Merz has already traveled on from Warsaw to Lithuania. But the sentence can serve as a hint to the opposition leader that his foreign offensive has already paid off. Among others, Merz met the Polish head of government Mateusz Morawiecki, the chairman of the ruling party PiS, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the former EU Council President Donald Tusk in Warsaw.

Merz, who had arrived in a Federal Defense Ministry flight readiness machine, was received almost like a head of government. Apart from the non-partisan Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Merz was the first high-ranking visit from Berlin to Warsaw since the beginning of the war.

The trip, as the Union faction emphasizes, had been planned for a long time and was closely coordinated with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense. But the timing plays Merz as opposition leader in the cards. In Poland, people are angry that the German government is too hesitant to deliver weapons and that the exchange of rings for tanks for Ukraine is not progressing quickly enough. Merz was able to appear here as someone who smoothes the waves.

Relations between Poland and Germany are not particularly good anyway. The national-conservative PiS has been in power since 2015, and their propaganda smells German conspiracies everywhere to control Poland. At the same time, the country has gained self-confidence. Since the beginning of the war, the country has been NATO’s most important frontline state. International military aid runs through him.

Merz thanked Poland for its support for Ukraine. As at home in Germany, he presented himself as the driver of the traffic light coalition and sided with the hosts on the question of ring exchange. Poland has given more than 200 older tanks to Ukraine as military aid, but is dissatisfied with the German compensation offer. “This compensation must be paid, as the Polish government expects,” said Merz.

Merz was accompanied, among others, by the chairman of the German-Polish parliamentary group and former CDU general secretary Paul Ziemiak. “In Poland, leadership and reliability are expected from Germany. We have experienced a lot of disappointment, including with Germany’s very hesitant attitude on the issue of arms deliveries,” he reports.

The 200 tanks that Poland has delivered to Ukraine correspond to a quarter of the Polish armed forces. “The country sees itself as a frontline state and feels threatened,” Ziemiak told the Tagesspiegel. “It is understandable that it is not enough for the Polish side if the federal government offers to start delivering 20 tanks.” In relation to its Easter neighbors, the federal government must show that its word can be relied on.

During his visit, Merz also made clear differences with the hosts. He defended the EU’s rule of law procedure against Poland, which was criticized in Warsaw. According to his own statements, Merz also explained to his interlocutors that he saw no basis for the reparation claims against Germany for the damage caused in World War II. From a German point of view, the question of reparations was settled with the international treaties on German unity of 1990. The Polish newspaper “Gazeta Polska” described Merz’s comments as “disappointing”, but otherwise certified that he had made a “good impression”.

Another major topic in the talks was the situation of the German minority in Poland. In February, an ordinance stipulated that members of the German minority in Poland should receive only one hour of native language instruction per week from September instead of three hours per week.

“It is unacceptable that language classes are cut. This is certainly partly motivated by domestic politics,” says Ziemiak. “But we are also asked in Germany to keep our part of the contract and to provide sufficient support for students of Polish descent in Germany. NRW, Brandenburg and Saxony are already making headway.”

On Thursday evening, Merz traveled to Lithuania. There he visited the NATO troops led by the Bundeswehr in Rukla in Lithuania. On Friday he met Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte in Vilnius. She reported on the security situation in her country and on Lithuanian defense against disinformation from Russia. Merz then warned against disappointing the country’s expectations. Chancellor Scholz had announced that a German-led combat brigade would be stationed there. However, it is still unclear how many soldiers are really coming and how many are to be stationed where.