German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with her counterparts in the European Union’s highest ranks of leadership, has not hesitated to chide Poland over its resistance to adopt EU mandates regarding immigration and, more broadly, the line where EU law ends and Polish sovereignty begins. She’s gone as far as to question the legitimacy of the rule of law in Poland, ostensibly because Polish leadership has followed the will of its people in rejecting EU mandates which have proven immensely damaging and unpopular in the member nations which conformed to them.
But Merkel’s most recent criticism of Poland – the one in which she questioned the public faith of Polish law – pales in comparison to critical comments she has levied against the stubborn, independent-minded nation in the past. Namely, criticism that came before the most recent German election, an election which revealed that Merkel’s standing in Germany has waned significantly, a result primarily attributable to her adoption and pushing of controversial EU policies.
In Merkel’s mind, lines have apparently been blurred. Based on her comments criticizing Poland for acting independently, it seems that, by Merkel’s estimation, Polish law and EU law are one in the same. Regardless, the fact remains: Poland is ruled by the Poles, and its borders are acknowledged and respected internationally. Or, at least, by most international nations outside of Brussels and Germany.
The notion that nations such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic should be forced to adopt laws they see as detrimental to their people – especially considering their people have voiced such concerns – has always been dumbfounding. Because these nations’ leadership elected to join the EU, which once upon a time seemed like a logical idea, they should be forced to abide by every decision and mandate issued from Brussels?
According to Merkel, the answer to that question is an unequivocal ‘yes’.
In August of last year, Merkel claimed that members of the European Union, notably led by herself, could not “hold (their) tongues” in light of Polish justice reforms. Those reforms allowed the Polish justice minister to fire judges that would stand to enforce EU mandates, a ruling that, though it came as a result of the Polish people’s urging, went against EU rules. And, if there’s one thing that Germany’s four-term Chancellor has proven to hold in high regard – if not the will of the German people – it’s the supremacy of EU rules.
The disparity between the Polish people’s desires and the rules being forced upon them by the likes of Merkel came a month before Merkel’s condescending comment, when crowds of Poles took to the streets to protest what they saw as attempts by EU leadership to blackmail Poland into submission by revoking EU voting rights and levying untenable fines for non-compliance. Merkel and her pals in Brussels had little regard for the fact that such means of enforcement would be unprecedented.
Merkel’s law knows no precedents.
This nearly two-year-long struggle between the EU and the Visegrad Group, headlined by Poland, has constituted the most protracted stalemate between a member nation and the leadership of the alliance to which it belongs in recent memory. But the relatively dramatic shift in German political demographics illustrated by September election results – an election which Merkel won a fourth term by a slimmer margin than most, including herself, anticipated – has changed Merkel’s tone toward the still-obstinate Polish government.
As of January, Poland vowed that it would still not yield. A rise in populist, anti-immigration leadership in nations such as Austria have been reflective of the message sent in the most recent German elections; the EU and its policies are less popular than ever, and further audacity and hubris by Merkel-esque leaders could cause more dominoes to fall.
This reality shrouded Merkel’s most recent trip to Poland this month, her second foreign trip since the September election results were finalized. Several news sources which covered the trip characterized it as ‘delicate’, a direct allusion to Merkel and EU leadership’s previous chiding of Poland, which has been anything but delicate.
Merkel’s calls, pleas even, for Poland to re-affirm its loyalties in order to strengthen the EU’s standing are a stark contrast to what, in the past, could only be construed as threats of retribution should Poland not fall in line as nations such as France, Germany, and Italy have, to their own detriment.
The more tepid approach is an indicator of how much one election in a Parliamentary system of government can shape policies, approaches, and re-frame allegiances thrown into tatters by fundamental differences in views on immigration and sovereignty, as it pertains to members of the EU. If tone and approach of leadership is thought to matter, and it does, then the EU can be fairly thought to be unsure of its power and reach.
The game of chicken being continually waged by Poland and the Visegrad Group, especially in light of increasing bellicosity toward Russia by members of NATO, has seemingly softened Merkel, the consummate representative of EU leadership. Whether Poland is inclined to respond to a less threatening German Chancellor in any significant way – whatever “respond may mean” – remains to be seen.
But, for the first time in years, it can be said that the ball is in Poland’s court. That, in and of itself, is an astounding reality.