Donald Trump’s Poland visit sparks fears of widening divisions in Europe

Some fear the US president’s trip may be seen as endorsement of a government which has repeatedly clashed with the EU over democracy and migrants.

It has already been compared by Poland’s pro-government press to John F Kennedy’s historic 1963 visit to West Berlin, but Donald Trump’s trip to Warsaw this week has prompted concerns over a presidential strategy which threatens not to unite Europe, but to divide it.

Trump is due to arrive in Poland on Wednesday evening and deliver a major speech in Warsaw on Thursday afternoon. He will also attend a gathering of central European, Baltic state and Balkan leaders, before heading to the G20 summit in Hamburg.

Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS) has struggled to contain its excitement since the visit was announced last month. Defence minister Antoni Macierewicz said it showed “how much Poland’s place in geopolitics and world politics has changed”.

But there is unease in Brussels and other European capitals that Trump’s visit will be seen as an endorsement – tacit or otherwise – of a government which has repeatedly clashed with EU institutions over its assault on independent democratic institutions, and its refusal to accept migrants under quotas agreed to by its pro-European predecessor.

“After a few months of his presidency, Trump has already jeopardised the Paris agreement on the climate change, endangered the EU-US and Nato relationships, and now he risks blowing up the already very delicate situation in Poland and eastern Europe,” said Gianni Pitella, leader of the socialist bloc in the European parliament.

To the horror of the Polish government’s domestic opponents, Trump’s speech will be delivered in front of the monument to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupation, a doomed enterprise that resulted in the death of approximately 200,000 Poles.

“He will praise Polish courage throughout history’s darkest hour, and celebrate Poland’s emergence as a European power. And he will call on all nations to take inspiration from the spirit of the Poles as we confront today’s challenges,” Trump’s national security adviser, HR McMaster, told reporters.

In addition to conventional diplomatic objectives concerning the recent deployment of American troops to Poland and the US administration’s desire to expand its supply to Europe of liquid natural gas, Trump is likely to endorse Poland’s continuing commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence and – more controversially – its rejection of Muslim immigration.

After the Manchester bombing in May Poland’s prime minister, Beata Szydlo, decried the “madness of the Brussels elite” who wanted to create a “utopia of open borders”; interior minister Mariusz Blaszczak has blamed terrorism in western Europe on a drift from the continent’s Christian roots.

Although formally committed to Poland’s membership of the European Union, the government has accused the EU of being run as by “German diktat”, while German chancellor Angela Merkel has encouraged the EU to take a hard line against Poland over its attacks on the bloc’s “common values”.

The Polish government is highly sensitive about international – and particularly American – criticism of its moves to secure political control of state media outlets and the country’s judicial system since it assumed office in late 2015.

Piotr Buras, the director of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said: “For the Polish government, Trump’s visit is an opportunity to show that Warsaw’s much discussed isolation is a myth, making the visit a success before it has even started.”

One EU diplomat said: “It doesn’t feel like this visit can improve matters, but only make things that bit worse.”

According to Polish press reports, the government secured Trump’s attendance by promising a rapturous welcome from the Polish public – in contrast to the frostier reception he might expect in western European capitals. Activists in the UK are preparing for snap protests after it was reported that the US president was considering a flying visit.

PiS leader and former prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński suggested that other countries were succumbing to a case of sour grapes. “We have new success, Trump’s visit,” he told the party’s annual congress on Saturday. “[Others] envy it, the British are attacking us because of it.”

Now the government is scrambling to deliver. Each PiS MP has been given an allocation of fifty guests for Trump’s speech, and the party is planning to bus in supporters from outside the capital.

In a public Facebook event, Jerzy Wilk, MP for the northern city of Elbląg, invited his constituents for a “Great Patriotic Picnic, the first speech in Europe of the president of the United States … a fully paid bus will take you to the location”.

According to recent polling by the Pew Research Center, 23% of Poles expressed confidence in Trump “to do the right thing regarding world affairs”, compared with 11% in Germany, 22% in the UK, 25% in Italy and 53% in Russia. In contrast, 58% of Poles expressed confidence in Obama when asked the same question at the end of his presidency.

The author: Michel THEYS

Michel Theys, a Belgian native, began his career as a civil servant, serving the public for several decades. After retirement, he shifted gears to follow his passion for journalism. With a background in public administration, Theys brought a unique perspective to his reporting. His insightful articles, covering a wide array of topics, swiftly gained recognition. Today, Michel Theys is a respected journalist known for his balanced and thoughtful reporting in the Belgian media landscape.

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