In an interview, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki argues that Berlin has been too tentative in Ukraine and misguided with its energy policies. He also reiterates his country’s demand for World War II reparations and accuses the European Union of plotting against Warsaw.
Interview Conducted by Jan Puhl
Mateusz Morawiecki, 54, has served as prime minister of the national conservative government in Warsaw since 2017. As a youth, he joined the resistance against Poland’s communist rulers. He studied history and later business administration and worked in senior positions at banks. He caused a stir in March when he joined PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and then Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša as one of the first European leaders to travel to besieged Kyiv.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, Poland has been seen as a proponent of a hard-line toward Moscow in the Ukraine war, whereas Germany is more inclined to put the brakes on tougher measures. Is that impression still true?
Morawiecki: The position taken by the Germans, especially in the initial months of the war, was very disappointing. We are convinced that Ukraine is fighting not only for its own survival, but for Europe’s freedom. If Ukraine falls, it would only be a matter of time before Putin attacks the next country. It was disappointing for the Poles that the Germans were so late in acknowledging their energy policy mistakes. Putin uses pipelines as weapons. For him they are an instrument of warfare. Ukraine drove the enemy back faster than the Germans were able to make decisions.
DER SPIEGEL: The swap deal that has been agreed to – according to which Poland will supply Ukraine with weapons that Germany then replaces from Bundeswehr stocks – still isn’t working.
Morawiecki: What counts is not what is written on paper, but what is actually implemented. Poland has supplied weapons worth well over $2 billion already, 300 tanks and other heavy equipment. Berlin’s hesitation, its inaction, seriously calls into question the value of the alliance with Germany. And we are not the only ones saying that. I am hearing this from quite a few other heads of government in Europe, as well.
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The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 37/2022 (September 10th, 2022) of DER SPIEGEL.SPIEGEL International
DER SPIEGEL: In the initial days after the Russian invasion, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a watershed shift for Germany, indicating a willingness to invest more in the country’s military. Do you have understanding for the fact that it takes time to bid farewell to previous political convictions?
Morawiecki: It’s not always about the Copernican Turn in politics, but about very simple decisions. In June, the European Union decided to give Ukraine 9 billion euros. Kyiv has to pay civil servants, the fire department, doctors, nurses and the police. The state has to survive and, of course, has problems collecting taxes in times of war. That is why things must happen quickly. The German position is vital. I understand that some things take time, but others should also be quite simple. One example: In 2016, the EU transferred billions to Turkey in a very short period of time to support refugees there. Today, Ukraine is defending our values, and the money is flowing like blood from the nose, as we say in Poland, meaning very slowly.
DER SPIEGEL: How will the Ukraine crisis affect Germany’s role in Europe?
Morawiecki: It is becoming clear that German energy policy is in ruins. The phaseout of coal and nuclear power was premature, and we don’t even need to talk about the construction of Nord Stream 1 and 2 and the associated dependence on Russia. Germany’s policies have inflicted tremendous damage on Europe.
DER SPIEGEL: Have the countries in Eastern Europe gained in stature as a result?
Morawiecki: Clearly, yes, our voice is heard to a much greater degree. We were right, after all, with all our warnings about Russia. The Germans have always been very conciliatory towards Moscow, bowing down to Russia. Perhaps many in Germany don’t know this: Trade with the countries of the Visegrád Group – the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland – is significantly larger than trade with China, the U.S. or France. Germany should nurture and cultivate such partners rather than patronizing the Poles.
Western howitzers deployed in Ukraine: “We are convinced that Ukraine is fighting not only for its own survival, but for Europe’s freedom.” Foto: Julia Kochetova / DER SPIEGEL
DER SPIEGEL: Your government wants Germany to pay 1.3 trillion euros in reparations for the destruction caused during World War II. Do you think you will ever get the money?
Morawiecki: The equivalent of 6.2 trillion zloty, that is not such a fantastic sum. The budget of the entire Federal Republic of Germany, meaning the budget of the federal government together with that of the states, is almost as large. Poland is the country upon which the most destruction was visited in World War II, but we were never compensated for it. We will first address the Berlin government with a diplomatic note. We also consider the Germans’ legal analyses, according to which Poland waived reparations in an agreement with the GDR in 1953, to be wrong. The Soviet Union forced Poland to do so at the time. The Poles could hardly demand reparations from a socialist “brother nation.” Moscow coerced its proxy in Warsaw, Bolesław Bierut, to agree, and the issue wasn’t even brought before the Polish parliament. No ratification documents were submitted to the United Nations. We do not recognize the agreement. We want to hold talks in Berlin and also invite representatives of Israel, since half of the Polish victims were citizens of Jewish heritage. It is possible that we will also take our claims to international courts at a later stage. We will go all around the world to present the report, which takes into account not only human and material losses, but also that of cultural assets.
“Today, completely false arguments are being used against Poland, which is defending the EU’s eastern flank.”
DER SPIEGEL: Brussels has frozen some 35 billion euros in corona aid because of doubts about rule of law in Poland. Can this dispute still be resolved?
Morawiecki: If the European Commission and two of the most important Western capitals, Paris and Berlin, conclude that we have to stick together in times of war, then yes. Today, completely false arguments are being used against Poland, which is defending the EU’s eastern flank.
DER SPIEGEL: What does rule of law have to do with the war?
Morawiecki: I think the accusations against us are absurd. After reunification, the Germans vetted the entire judiciary and prosecutors of the GDR, and only 30 percent were allowed to continue working. In our country, the communist judges remained in office.
DER SPIEGEL: But that was 30 years ago.
Morawiecki: It has, however, left traces in the thinking of today’s judges and certain practices, so we wanted to reform our judiciary. I see more of a problem with the rule of law in the European institutions, because they presume to have the right to judge Poland’s judicial reform, but they do not have that right under the EU Treaty.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you suspect there are political goals behind the allegations coming from Brussels?
Morawiecki: I have repeatedly tried to explain to many of my colleagues in Europe that our judicial reform does not damage the rule of law in Poland, it restores it. Either they didn’t understand, they didn’t want to understand, or they are pursuing very different goals than they claim.
DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?
Morawiecki: Poland’s importance is growing. We helped enforce the sanctions against Russia, we have established a joint Central Eastern European policy with Romania and Bulgaria in the Visegrád Group. As by far the largest country, we highlight the problems of the region. Poland is a locomotive of development in Europe. We articulate the experiences and interests of the countries that experienced communism. We represent diversity in Europe, and diversity is a value in itself. Maybe our role isn’t to everyone’s liking.
“If Ukraine were dependent on Germany within the framework of a European defense policy, it would no longer exist today.”
DER SPIEGEL: You are claiming that the criticism from the European Court of Justice and the European Commission is intended to weaken Poland?
Morawiecki: The fact that it is a pretext can be seen in the fact that in Spain, the judicial election body and the judges are appointed in almost the same way as in our country. But it doesn’t seem to bother anyone when it is done there. I don’t want to say that it is only about weakening Poland. The misconceptions about our country and the radicalism of some members of the European Parliament, including some Poles, also play a role. Fortunately, we were able to maintain unity in Europe when it came to implementing sanctions against Russia.
Devastation in Warsaw during World War II: “The equivalent of 6.2 trillion zloty, that is not such a fantastic sum.” Foto: Archiv Heinrich Hoffmann / Bayerische Staatsbibliothek / bpk
DER SPIEGEL: Your old partner, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is trying to avoid taking a tough stance toward Moscow. Do you still have understanding for him?
Morawiecki: The other day, I read results from a polling institute. They show that the vast majority of Hungarians feel the same way about the war as Orbán does, whether I like it or not.
DER SPIEGEL: Because Orbán’s party controls the majority of the media in Hungary.
Morawiecki: But also no more so than the political mainstream in Western Europe controls the media there. It is difficult to have a dissenting opinion. So far, Hungary has always agreed to the sanctions. As such, I still see a foundation for cooperation.
DER SPIEGEL: Poland’s Law and Justice party (PiS), to which you also belong, has always been critical of a further deepening of the EU. Has this position changed, with Europe moving closer together in the Ukraine crisis.
Morawiecki: There are areas where further integration is worthwhile, but there are also areas of ideology that create enormous tensions. In those areas, the nation states should retain their authority.
DER SPIEGEL: Are you referring to equal rights for gay people?
Morawiecki: These people have equal rights in Poland, there is no discrimination here. We are of the belief that further integration is not automatically better than diversity. One example: The northern countries want the European Central Bank to raise the key interest rate to stop inflation. Southern countries fear this could stifle their economies. What should the ECB do?
DER SPIEGEL: But Poland could agree to a defense union?
Morawiecki: We have been calling for steps in this direction for years. The Ukraine crisis has shown that the strongest guarantor of security is the U.S. If Ukraine were dependent on Germany within the framework of a European defense policy, it would no longer exist today.
DER SPIEGEL: How can the Ukraine war end?
Morawiecki: Additional sanctions will further harm the Russian economy. Putin is still able to pretend everything is fine. In a dictatorship, the rulers don’t have to care about the opinion of the people. But this system will erode in a few months. Perhaps there won’t be a revolution, but increasing pressure to end the war. For now, we have to help Ukraine get through a hard winter.