WARSAW – Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, stressed Sunday that Europe won't tolerate attempts at undermining the territorial integrity of its nations and said that diplomatic tools like the Normandy Format should be used to de-escalate tensions after Russia massed troops near Ukraine’s border.
Scholz was speaking alongside Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw, where the two leaders held talks about migration, energy, European Union matters and fears of potential Russia's aggression on Ukraine.
“We’re watching the troop movements along the Ukrainian border with great concern, and we are making it very, very clear that the borders in Europe cannot be violated and that we consider the integrity of the borders of countries to be inviolable -- and that no one should think that they could simply be violated without serious consequences,” Scholz said.
France and Germany took the lead in brokering a 2015 peace deal between Ukraine and the Russia-backed rebels, in what’s known as the Normandy Format.
Scholz said the Belarus government of President Alexander Lukashenko's apparent pushing of Middle East migrants at Poland's and EU's eastern border is “inhumane” and a “major current challenge” that Europe has the “duty to reject.”
He vowed solidarity with Poland "against this inappropriate manner of hybrid warfare. Poland has sealed the border with Belarus to prevent thousands if illegal crossings into the EU.
Referring to the intensifying rule-of-law dispute between Poland's government and the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, Scholz stressed that the 27-nation bloc is united by the principles of democracy and said “it would also be very good and helpful” if the continuing discussions “could soon lead to a very good, pragmatic solution,” and the EU “would therefore continue to be bound by these principles of democracy and the rule of law.”
Morawiecki said he briefed Scholz on Poland's proposals for solving the standoff.
The European Commission is withholding pandemic recovery funds from Poland saying the government’s policies erode judicial independence there.
Regarding the divisive Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is to carry Russian gas directly to Germany, Morawiecki repeated Poland's position that it exposes Europe and Ukraine to pressure from Moscow, and said it was best for it not to be opened.
Scholz insisted the pipeline was a purely energy project whose role will be diminishing with the development of renewable energy sources in Germany. Germany's regulator has suspended the approval procedure for the completed pipeline because of legal issues.
Scholz was greeted by Morawiecki, with military honors, in front of the Polish premier’s office. It was one of Scholz’s early visits after he was sworn in with his coalition Cabinet on Wednesday.
They also discussed complex bilateral relations under Germany’s new government. The good neighborly ties are still overshadowed by World War II, especially under Poland's current right-wing government, which is saying Germany owes Poland compensation for wartime damages.
Agnieszka Lada-Konefal, the deputy director of the German Institute for Polish Affairs in Darmstadt, Germany, expects Scholz's government to continue dialogue and contact with Poland, which is an important member on EU's eastern flank and Germany's fifth-largest trading partner.
The visit comes 30 years after the two parliaments ratified a treaty on good neighborly relations and friendly cooperation.
On Friday, Scholz met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and later with EU and NATO officials in Brussels.
Scholz, a 63-year-old center-left politician, became Germany’s ninth post-World War II chancellor, opening a new era for the EU’s most populous nation and largest economy after Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure.
His government is made up of a coalition of his center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats.
Emily Schultheis in Vienna contributed to this report.