This time there is no video from the sleeping car. For his visit to Warsaw on Wednesday, opposition leader Friedrich Merz traveled by plane – in contrast to his trip to Kyiv a few months ago – in an aircraft operated by the Federal Ministry of Defense. Then the CDU boss was escorted into the city center by police cars. According to the Union faction, this trip had been planned for a long time – also in close coordination with the Federal Foreign Ministry. And yet Merz’s visit to Poland puts Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) under pressure.
Because the timing is delicate for German-Polish relations: In the neighboring country there is resentment that the exchange of rings for tanks to Ukraine is stalling. Germany cannot keep up with the replacement of tanks that Poland is supplying to the war zone. Merz can now present himself as the one who smoothes the waves with his visit.
While Merz’ trip to Poland and Lithuania at the end of the week would hardly be worth more than a message in normal times, interest is now great. After all, it’s not the first time that Merz has gotten Scholz into trouble with a trip. In May, he went to Ukraine at a time when Chancellor Scholz himself still refused because of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s invitation. The trip was a success for Merz.
In Poland, on Wednesday, Merz met the mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, and the chairman of the ruling PiS party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is considered an important puller in Polish politics. On Thursday there will be talks with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and a meeting with former EU Council President Donald Tusk, one of the most important opposition politicians in Poland. It can be heard from the Union faction that this balance is important to Merz.
The CDU leader then wants to travel on to Lithuania, where a meeting with Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte is planned. Merz also wants to visit the base of the EFP Battlegroup (Enhanced Forward Presence) on NATO’s eastern flank in Rukla, Lithuania, which is run by the Bundeswehr. On Friday he returns to Germany. One of the members of the Merz delegation is Paul Ziemiak, the former CDU general secretary, who has Polish roots and heads the German-Polish parliamentary group in the Bundestag.
Even if it is not the reason for Merz’ trip, the topic of ring exchange will play a major role in the meeting with Prime Minister Morawiecki. The idea of the ring exchange came up shortly after the beginning of the Ukraine war: Eastern NATO partners supply Ukraine with military equipment that their soldiers are familiar with, i.e. systems from Russian or Soviet production. States like Germany should provide replacements.
Poland has handed over more than 200 T-72 tanks to Ukraine. As a replacement, it was to receive German Leopard tanks. However, their delivery is delayed. Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek has accused the federal government of “deceptive maneuvers”. In traffic light circles, the Polish criticism is sometimes felt to be unfair. FDP defense politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann countered that Germany could not cut the tanks out of its ribs.
On Wednesday it became known that Poland now wants to further upgrade its military with supplies from South Korea. The contracts stipulate that Poland will receive around a thousand main battle tanks, around 650 howitzers and 48 combat aircraft.
In Warsaw, Merz emphasized how important it was for him to thank the Poles for their support of Ukraine. “Poland has set an example throughout Europe by taking in so many refugees from Ukraine,” he said. “The military support given to Ukraine in its defense struggle is also impressive.”
As far as the Polish media focus on Merz, the disappointment about the “ring exchange” is the focus. However, they do not refer to Polish politicians – instead, like the pro-government broadcaster TVP, they report on Merz’s criticism of Chancellor Scholz. The newspaper Dziennik, which is also close to the PiS, headlined “Scholz again in the fire of criticism” – and quotes Merz: “The German public and parliament are being deceived.” The federal government is not doing “what the Bundestag decided: namely serious supplying arms”.
Before he left, Merz had explained to the newspapers of the Funke media group that the ring exchange had become a “dead end”. He described the fact that the FDP and the Greens are now proposing to supply Ukraine directly with tanks as “proof of distrust in their own chancellor”. In Poland itself, Merz struck a more diplomatic tone on Wednesday, but still urged the exchange of rings to be implemented quickly.
Another topic he encounters in Warsaw is the question of German reparations for the damage done to Poland in World War II. From the Federal Government’s point of view, the question of reparations was settled with the international treaties on German unity of 1990. In Poland, on the other hand, the topic is still agitating.