Migration issues ratchet up tension between Poland and Germany

Migration issues ratchet up tension between Poland and Germany
“It would be better for you, Mr Chancellor, to inform yourself accurately about the actual situation and refrain from interfering in Polish affairs,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw September 26, 2023

Poland expressed outrage on September 25 after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hinted at tightening controls on the Polish-German border in the wake of a suspected bribes-for-visas scandal at the Polish foreign ministry.

“It would be better for you, Mr Chancellor, to inform yourself accurately about the actual situation and refrain from interfering in Polish affairs,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Scholz had told the German news agency DPA at the weekend that Warsaw would have to be transparent. "I don't want people to just be waved through from Poland and us to have a discussion about asylum policy afterward," he said.

The row threatens to worsen already rocky relations between Warsaw and Berlin, with the ruling Law and Justice party accusing the opposition Civic Platform party of taking orders from Germany if it wins the general election next month.

The Polish government is currently busy deflecting accusations during a heated election campaign  for reportedly letting thrive a corrupt ring in the foreign affairs ministry that sold Polish visas in African and Asian countries. At the same time, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party paints a picture of illegal migration being the chief threat to Poland’s security.

Warsaw said on September 25 that it was tightening control on the border with Slovakia. After Hungary released some 2,000 traffickers, Slovakia has experienced a surge in irregular migration, which has also become an  issue there before the general election on September 30. The opposition Smer party has been exploiting the situation to and call on the technocratic cabinet to close down Slovak borders.

“Along the so-called Balkan route, illegal migrants travel through Hungary and Slovakia because there is no border between Poland and Slovakia,”  Morawiecki told a campaign rally in Krasnik, eastern Poland.

“I have ordered the interior minister to introduce checks on the Polish-Slovak border of minibuses, vans, cars and buses that may be suspected of carrying illegal immigrants, so that no one accuses us of having a leaky border,” Morawiecki stated.

According to press reports in recent weeks, a high official in the foreign ministry led a corrupt operation in which Polish consulates in Africa and Asia would let applicants with money  circumvent visa procedures.

The PiS government denies that the irregularities were systemic and says that the number of visas issued for cash was in the hundreds only – rather than the tens of thousands that the media allege.

The deputy foreign minister responsible for the oversight of the visa regime has been dismissed since and some arrests have also been made in the case.

Berlin claims that it is seeing a ripple effect of Poland’s neglect. Illegal border crossings into Germany shot up by over 25% in August compared to the previous month and nearly doubled in annual terms, German federal police claims, Euractiv reported.

“From my perspective [temporary border checks at the Polish and Czech border] are a possible option to fight harder against [migrant] smugglers,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told Welt am Sonntag.

Migrants in the campaign heat

The migration issue is central in the increasingly heated campaign ahead of an election in Poland on October 15.

The PiS government says that only its third term in office would guarantee stopping illegal migration and save Poland “street unrest as seen in Western Europe”.

The opposition says that PiS is merely posturing while the bribes-for-visas scandal is proof that the ostensibly anti-migration ruling party is in fact oblivious to problems of mass migration.

“Our Nato allies are deeply concerned that migrants with Polish visas are even at the Mexican-US border,” Donald Tusk, the leader of Civic Coalition, PiS’ biggest rival in the upcoming election, said at a rally in Otwock near Warsaw.

“Our allies have already pointed out that in their assessment, at least several hundred individuals suspected of terrorism or attempted acts of terrorism entered Europe on Polish visas,” Tusk also said.

The PiS government is so touchy about migration that it rolled out a campaign against an acclaimed filmmaker Agnieszka Holland and her new feature Zielona granica (Green Border) about the events on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Poland keeps an enlarged military and police presence along its border with Belarus, where a concertina-topped fence was built to stave migrants off. Polish services have long been accused to violating human rights of migrants who manage to cross into Poland – which is what Holland’s film depicts.

PiS has called the film “an anti-Polish collection of brazen lies.”

PiS leads the polls in Poland but is not popular enough to win a majority in the next parliament and would most likely need a coalition partner – as long as the opposition fails to attract enough seats to form a government.