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Germany

Sensitive visit to Berlin by Poland's Prime Minister Szydlo

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo visits Berlin on Friday. It's no coincidence that Szydlo waited three months before heading to neighboring Germany. It won't make talks easier, either.

Beata Szydlo (above with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier) isn't averse to traveling abroad. In fact, she has already visited six states, including Hungary, since November, 2015. The German government has invited Szydlo three times, but she waited almost 100 days before accepting - unlike Poland's new President Andrzej Duda, who came to Berlin shortly after taking office.

'Looking forward to the exchange'

Berlin did its best to hide its irritation - and is set to welcome the Polish head of state with military honors on Friday. "It's the first opportunity for an intensive, comprehensive exchange of views, which the chancellor is looking forward to," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Bilateral relations and European policies are on the agenda; in particular, the refugee situation. On many of the issues, Warsaw and Berlin could hardly be more at odds; for instance, Szydlo's rejection of German demands for refugee allocation quotas among EU member states.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, lead of the PiS party, is not necessarily a big fan of the German government

Szydlo is under pressure in Berlin as her mentor and chairman of the nationalist conservative PiS party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is watching closely. It's quite likely it was he who recommended visiting Germany later rather than sooner.

Poor example

Kaczynski's first visit to the German Chancellor's office in 1991 will be remembered as a failure. Back then, Helmut Kohl was German Chancellor and Kaczynski accompanied President Lech Walesa as chief of staff. Like many of his fellow countrymen, Kaczynski resented the fact that Kohl didn't fix an unresolved border issue in the treaty on German reunification.For his part, Kohl never wanted to have anything to do with Kaczynski again.

Perhaps this failed meeting is the reason why the Kaczynski brothers and their PiS party never became a part of Europe's family of Christian Democratic parties. Instead, they distanced themselves from Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and joined the conservatives in the European Parliament that also include Britain's Tories and Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD). Even today, there is little contact between the PiS and the CDU.

Tense atmosphere

Szydlo now has the opportunity to change all that and build better ties between the two major mainstream parties. The German government has long realized that there's no getting around the PiS in Poland.

Beata Szydlo und Jaroslaw Kaczynski im polnischen Parlament

Szydlo and Kaczynski together in the Polish parliament

And Berlin has a vested interest in avoiding any new conflicts with Warsaw, despite the controversies.

"We actually face many difficult issues," says Polish publicist Adam Krzeminski, listing as one of them the second Baltic Sea gas pipeline by the Nord Stream international consortium - a pipeline that bypasses Poland and transports Russian gas directly to Germany. Warsaw sees the route as a sign of an anti-Polish German-Russian axis.

Another touchy issue: Poland is demanding that NATO establish a permanent troop presence in the country. Berlin opposes the plan, while Poland is putting it high on the agenda of the next NATO summit in Warsaw in July.

Angela Merkel's refugee policies, however, are the biggest problem for Warsaw, which takes a highly critical view of the influx of refugees. At the same time it doesn't go down well with Berlin that a country that flies the flag of solidarity shows no solidarity with its biggest neighbor concerning refuge matters.

Delicate balancing act

The meeting won't be easy for Beata Szydlo or Angela Merkel, who hopes they will be able to speak as equals. In an attempt to pave the way, Berlin has kept quiet on Poland's shift to the right.

Now it's up to Beata Szydlo. Her staff is intent on boosting her image abroad; Poland's foreign minister called her a "new European leader." Berlin will have a close eye on Szydlo's leadership qualities. The fact that she waited three months before visiting the German government isn't likely to make things easier.

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