Poland condemns Scholz remarks over visa scandal as “election interference”

Poland has criticised German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his comments on an ongoing scandal over corruption in the Polish visa system. Government figures accuse him of seeking to influence the outcome of next month’s elections.

“The latest statement by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz violates the principles of the sovereign equality of states, which is the foundation of good neighbourly relations and friendly cooperation with Poland,” wrote foreign minister Zbigniew Rau.

“Statements in this regard indicate an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the Polish State and the ongoing electoral campaign,” he added “In the name of good bilateral relations, I appeal to the German Chancellor to respect Poland’s sovereignty and refrain from statements that damage our mutual relations.”

The latest statement by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz violates the principles of the sovereign equality of states, which is the foundation of good neighbourly relations and friendly cooperation with Poland, as declared by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany in the…

— Zbigniew Rau (@RauZbigniew) September 24, 2023

Rau’s intervention followed remarks by Scholz at an event of his SPD party in Nuremberg over the weekend, where he commented on a scandal that has seen seven people charged in Poland in relation to alleged corruption in the visa system.

“The visa scandal in Poland needs to be clarified…I don’t want people from Poland to simply be waved through, and then have a discussion about our asylum policy afterwards,” said Scholz, referring to the fact that visas issued by Poland allow recipients to then move within the Schengen Area, which includes Germany.

With the number of irregular migrants arriving in Germany increasing, “further measures may then have to be taken at the borders, for example at this one [with Poland]”, added Scholz.

His comments followed suggestions by German interior minister Nancy Faeser last week that Berlin may reintroduce controls on the border with Poland.

Germany’s interior minister wants to establish controls on the Polish and Czech borders to stem the arrival of thousands of irregular migrants through those two countries.

Currently, as all three are part of the Schengen zone, there are no border checks https://t.co/CZjzbwzXbz

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 23, 2023

The German chancellor’s remarks were also criticised by Stanisław Żaryn, a government official responsible for “security of the information space” and the spokesman for the security services.

“It is difficult to assess [Scholz’s comments] as anything other than pressure on Poland during the election campaign,” wrote Żaryn. Poles go to the polls in parliamentary elections on 15 October and the government has regularly accused Germany of interfering in favour of the opposition.

The last week has seen critical comments of the Polish government by a number of figures from Germany’s ruling coalition. As well as Scholz and Faeser’s remarks, agriculture minister Cem Özdemir accused Poland of showing only “part-time solidarity” with Ukraine after it unilaterally banned grain imports.

Poland’s parliament has adopted a resolution condemning “foreign interference in the Polish electoral process”.

The message is aimed in particular at Germany, which is the only country mentioned by name in the resolution https://t.co/AB0nMiNUrB

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 18, 2023

Poland’s visa scandal first emerged in public at the start of this month, when a deputy foreign minister with responsibility for the visa system was fired following a visit by anticorruption officers to the ministry.

The authorities subsequently confirmed that seven people have been charged over corruption that reportedly saw visa applicants able to make payments to accelerate the process.

The government says that only around 250 visa applications were involved, and that most of them were subsequently rejected. But a number of media outlets and the opposition have claimed that the scandal is much larger and that the government is seeking to cover up its true scale and nature.

Traces of a man charged over a visa corruption scandal have been removed from government webpages.

His name and photographs alongside a deputy minister who was fired over the scandal have disappeared but remain visible in archived versions of the pages https://t.co/PQFSwVJ29K

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 20, 2023

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Main image credit: KPRM (under CC BY 3.0 PL)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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