The Reasons Behind German Christian Democrat Polonophilia

06.03.2017 Leo Mausbach

Jarosław Kaczyński already twice campaigned for Angela Merkel in the German press, claiming that a fourth term for the current chancellor would be the most beneficial result for Poland. Kaczyński, like many Polish commentators, is most concerned about the alleged Russophilia of German Social democrats and praises Merkel’s steadfastness regarding the sanctions against Russia. But there are more reasons for Poles to prefer Merkel – Poland plays an important role in the conception of the European Union held up by Germany’s Christian democrats.

An interesting example of the slightly different approaches on how to deal with Russia could be observed recently, when the new head of the German foreign office and leader of the Social democrat SPD, Sigmar Gabriel, visited the Baltic States and Ukraine. In Tallinn, he stressed German readiness to defend the Eastern flank of the NATO, but also expressed doubts on the 2 percent defence spending target. At the same time, the Christian democrat minister of defense, Ursula von der Leyen, visited German troops stationed in Lithuania and Estonia. Unlike Gabriel, von der Leyen took a firm stance on the 2 percent goal, although admitting that it might take time to achieve it. She expressed her conviction that “Estonia, and our friends from Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, can rely on us”, arguing that “we Germans know what it means to be at the eastern border and to have the solid protection of the alliance”[1].

Touring the Baltic States and Ukraine, Sigmar Gabriel had skipped Poland as the traditional first destination of a new foreign minister in Germany’s eastern neighborhood. “A country like Germany should make clear that the European Union does not consist only of large states” [2], he explained his unusual schedule. On the same day, the former Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, Elmar Brok (CDU) sent a quite different signal towards Poland. In an interview for the liberal-conservative newspaper “Die Welt”, he stressed that the future core of the EU should consist “for sure of Germany and France and if possible also of Italy and Poland” [3].

One week later, following the invitation of French president Hollande, a differently composed potential core meets in Paris, today. The heads of continental Europe’s four biggest economies, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, meet “to give political momentum to the four nations” [4], as a French diplomat is quoted. Such a core as part of a two-speed EU is not only a frightful scenario for Poland, but for German conservatives as well. Their worst nightmare, “Eurobonds” – common government bonds for the Euro-zone, would become more probable under these circumstances. In times of the Euro-crisis, Germany was relying mainly on support from the Netherlands, Finland and the Baltic States, who share the emphasis on budgetary discipline and competitiveness.

With the Brexit, the German center-right lost a strong ally in promoting a competitive vision of the European Union, as a counterweight to more Keynesian and distributive economic and fiscal policies advocated by France, Italy and Spain. Poland is perceived among Germany’s Christian democrats as a structurally conservative country with similar views on economic policies. Regardless of its position outside the Euro-zone, the CDU will tend to support Polish influence on common European policies. As much as Poland is seen as a potential ally for the CDU, the Social democrats have difficulties to find ideological overlaps. The European partner of the German Social democrats in Poland, the SLD, is weak and there are few chances for a return of the left on the political stage in the near future.

One can interpret Gabriel’s decision to skip the symbolic first eastern visit to Poland against this backdrop. Instead of underlining Merkel’s course of a rapprochement to the PiS-government, Gabriel preferred to show that he shares the criticism of Poland’s right-wing administration. Proof, that the German Social democrats are less principled in cases where they see common interests, could be found a few weeks ago. Although hundreds of thousands of Romanians were protesting against a watering-down of the anti-corruption laws, the German Social democrats did not express audible criticism towards the ruling Social democratic Party of Romania. This behavior reminded observers of CDU’s silence regarding controversial reforms by Viktor Orbán, their fellow member in the European People’s Party [5].


[1] Siebold, Sabine / Mardiste, David: “Germany says to keep soldiers in Baltics as long as needed”, Reuters, March 2, 2017

[2] Engel, Sebastian / Fischer, Michael: „Baltikum statt Polen: Gabriels erste Antrittsreise nach Osten“, dpa, March 1, 2017

[3] Tauber, Andre / Schiltz, Christoph B.: „In einer Europäischen Union ist kein Platz für Großbritannien“, Die Welt, March 1, 2017

[4] afp, “EU’s big four meet to seek impetus in face of Brexit”, March 6, 2017

[5] Giegold, Sven: „Das peinliche Schweigen des Martin Schulz: Der SPD-Kanzlerkandidat hat unsere Werte bereits aufgegeben“, Huffington Post, February 10, 2017