Tusk visits Berlin to fix ties as risks of Trump’s return looms larger

Tusk visits Berlin to fix ties as risks of Trump’s return looms larger
Donald Tusk will reportedly seek support from Germany and France for the way the Polish government is restoring the rule of law. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw February 12, 2024

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk visits Germany on February 12, on only his third trip abroad since taking office in mid-December.

The Berlin visit – which is taking place alongside Paris on the same day – will be an attempt at mending ties with Germany that Tusk’s predecessors from Law and Justice (PiS) strained. That should give the now-dormant alliance of Poland, Germany, and France – the so-called Weimar Triangle – a new impetus ahead of Donald Trump’s possible triumph in the US election later this year.

Tusk’s meetings with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron will enable the Polish leader to announce Warsaw’s return to the centre of EU politics.

Tusk will seek “support from Germany and France … for the way the head of the Polish government is restoring the rule of law,” the newspaper Rzeczpospolita wrote in an analysis. Tusk’s wrestling the control of public media and the judiciary out of PiS has generated controversy for being a “coup” under the guise of restoring democratic governance.

Defence is also expected to play a particularly important role in the talks. Tusk will want to have Scholz and Macron understand “the necessity of deepening the European defence policy, in case Trump wins the election”.

Tusk is coming to Paris and Berlin right after Trump told a rally in South Carolina that if Nato member states do not pay up for their defence, he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell with them”.

Polish Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz commented on X: "Nato's motto 'one for all, all for one' is a concrete commitment. Undermining the credibility of allied countries means weakening the entire Nato. No election campaign is an excuse for playing with the security of the Alliance."

In this context, the Weimar Triangle leaders are expected to announce tighter cooperation in defence. That might include talking Scholz into joining the EU’s European Peace Facility, a defence fund, and building an ammunition plant in Poland by the German company Rheinmetall.

Tusk might also give some hints as to the looming reform of how the EU is making its decisions, even though he is likely to be very cautious on the issue, given his party is facing another election at home in April when Poles will vote on their local governments.

The campaign for the local elections is gathering pace in Poland now and the opposition’s Law and Justice (PiS) – which the Tusk-led coalition defeated in October – will use every opportunity to attack the PM, especially for his dealings with Germany.

Tusk’s return to power last year took place amidst cries from the PiS camp that the new prime minister is a “German agent” who will undo PiS’ strategy of strengthening Poland’s sovereignty to make Poland a Berlin underling.

For years, PiS would paint Germany – Poland’s key trade partner – as a hostile power, keen at geopolitical mischief. Some of the criticism was on point, like when it highlighted Berlin’s willingness to work with Moscow to hook Europe up on Russian gas, a plan ended by Russia’s attacking Ukraine two years ago. 

Warsaw would also say Berlin aims to transform the EU into a Germany-led federation, which, PiS-leaning media would say, would smack of a “new Reich”. The historic reference remains potent in Poland, which Nazi Germany turned to rubble during World War Two, killing 6mn of its people.

The PiS government began pushing for Germany to pay €1.3 trillion in reparations to Poland for the wartime destruction. 

Tusk’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski hinted recently that Poland was ready to tone down the rhetoric even though, he also said, Germany’s wartime memory is “porous” when it comes to “what they did to Polish civilians”.

“Money is a difficult thing in time of war and crisis. We are asking the German government to prepare a package that will convince our public opinion and show them they are ready to deal with this matter,” Sikorski told Der Spiegel last week.