Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Not so quiet on the western front

Presidential election latest poll: …Donald Tusk 44%…Lech Kaczynski 30%…Andrzej Lepper 10%…Marek Borowski 8%…Jaroslaw Kalinowski 2%…

While domestic issues dominate the election campaigns for Polish president and parliament, the candidates’ stand on foreign policy might just pick them up a few votes, too.

As the German election results came in on Sunday night, many here – including me - were scratching their heads with disbelief: how can an electorate connive to produce a scenario where no side wins an election? After all, German politics is not supposed to resemble a cricket match.

The commentators tried to explain the possible future coalition options: a ‘traffic light’ coalition between Gerhard Schroeder' red Social Democrats, plus Joschka Fischer’s Greens plus the yellow Liberal Democrats; or would it be the red, red, green coalition of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the ex-communist left? Or maybe it would be the worst possible result of a Grand Coalition of leftist red Social Democrats and rightist black Christian Democrats?

A confusing situation for everybody, but just imagine what it must be like to a German who is colorblind?

Before Angela Merkel managed to somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory, it was expected, and hoped by most in Poland, that her Christian Democrats would be the winners. But the leader of the Christian Democrats has apparently had Personality By-Pass surgery and was no match for the tub-thumping charisma of the incumbent Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

But would foreign policy be any easier between Poland and Germany if she had of held on to her lead in the opinion polls in the run up to polling day?

It is in Poland’s interest – and just about everyone else’s in Europe – to have a dynamic German economy. But sadly, the German economy seems as stodgy at the moment as a Black Forest Gateau.

Chancellor Schroeder’s limited reforms to the inflexible German workforce, and the minefield that is the German tax system, are seen to be too little, too late. Angie Merkel, on the other hand, seemed to be serious about serious reforms.

Poland is all set to vote in a rightwing coalition of their own on September 25, and a similarly right leaning government in Berlin might have made things a lot easier, foreign policy wise.

Poles are also not too happy with the German Chancellor at the moment because of a deal he has done with President Putin – behind Warsaw’s back say Poles – for a gas pipeline to be built connecting Russia with Germany, and by-passing Poland. This country is dependant on Russia for much of its gas supplies. The fear is that Moscow could use the pipeline to divert gas away from Poland in times of diplomatic crisis between Warsaw and Moscow.

And that diplomatic crisis has seemed quite close this year. Arguments over Russia’s refusal to take the blame for atrocities during the Second World War, and their inability to comprehend that Poles do not regard the Soviet occupation of Poland after the war as a ’liberation’, have soured relations considerably.

So issues such as Russian gas could become explosive very quickly. And many Poles blame Chancellor Schroeder for the gas pipeline deal, and think that Poland should have been consulted before anything was agreed.

In retaliation, the parties expected to be in the Sejm, the Polish parliament, after the election here in a couple of weeks, have said that they will not be backing Germany’s bid to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

But if Merkel does emerge after the long and tortuous negotiations currently going on in the German capital, then she will not be given an unconditionally warm reception in Warsaw either.

They must be joking!

After the end of WWII, millions of ethnic Germans were forced to leave Silesia in the southwest and Pomeraria in the north of Poland, and other regions in eastern Europe. These Germans, it was argued, supported the Nazis during the war, and, as a result, eight million of them ended up in Germany and about half a million in Austria.

Since Poland joined the EU last May, Merkel’s Christian Democrats have been leading a campaign to put pressure on Poland to apologize to the expelled Germans and offer them some compensation. There has even been some talk among German conservatives over the years for a renegotiation of the borders between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

It goes without saying that this has not gone down at all well in Poland, a country that sees itself as a victim of Nazi aggression, and a nation that has got nothing to apologize to Germany for at all.

So scraps between Germany and Poland seem to be a dead cert whichever parties emerge from what one commentator has called the German party political promiscuous gangbang that is currently going on at the moment in Berlin.

But Polish politician’s attitude to Germany might just be a bit of an election pose – see how all the acrimony might just fly out the window as Poland tries to get German support for 80 billion euros worth of subsidies from the EU in the 2008 – 2013 budget, presently in negotiation.

One thing you can be sure of though: the result of the Polish election will not be as obscure as German one was last Sunday. We are sure of a government, probably between the right-wingers Civic Platform and the Law and Justice party.

And don’t worry – this will not be a red, red green collation, or a traffic light collation, or even a chameleon coalition: both parties are using the political color of the moment – orange. So get ready for Poland’s freshly squeezed, double orange coalition.

And even a colorblind German could get his teeth around that one.

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