Polish PM backs Merkel fourth term despite differences

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 18, 2016 1:05 PM

By Justyna Pawlak and Pawel Sobczak

WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has expressed the hope that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will run for a fourth term next year, signaling a shift in tone after a series of quarrels between Warsaw and Berlin.

A closer partnership between the two countries could play an important role in pushing for continued western sanctions against Russia at a time when U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may take a different line, having voiced admiration for Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin.

"Personally, I am rooting for Angela Merkel and I hope she will be chancellor," Szydlo told Reuters in her first interview with a foreign news outlet since becoming prime minister a year ago.

"We have very good relations, and there aren't many female heads of state in the European Union. So far, there is (British Prime Minister) Theresa May, Angela Merkel and me... It's important for me also from this perspective."

Britain's pending departure from the EU will deprive Poland of a close eurosceptic ally within the bloc, forcing it to adjust its alliances.

But mending fences with Germany will be a challenge. Since taking power in an election last year, Szydlo's conservative government has quarrelled with its biggest trade partner over a range of issues, from gas pipelines to the migration crisis.

In particular, Poland opposes the imposition of EU quotas specifying how many refugees member states must accept - an idea favored by Merkel, whose country has taken in the majority of the 1.4 million migrants to reach Europe since the start of 2015.

Szydlo restated that disagreement, even as she affirmed her backing for Merkel.

"The policies of chancellor Merkel are predictable ... and stabilization is something which Europe needs very much," she said. "Although I think the migration policy has been a mistake."

Her tone contrasted with politicians of her Law and Justice (PiS) party, including its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who in their criticism of Berlin have alluded to Nazi Germany's occupation of Poland during World War Two.

Earlier this year, Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski summoned the German ambassador in Warsaw after some German politicians suggested imposing EU sanctions on Poland over media and justice reforms they said were undemocratic.

Kaczynski has frequently accused Szydlo's predecessor as prime minister, European Council President Donald Tusk, of forging close relations with Berlin at the expense of Poland's national interest.

Merkel, in power since 2005, is expected to announce her decision to run for a fourth term at a news conference on Sunday evening, and opinion polls suggest she will win.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)