Leading Polish government officials have been fired after it emerged that consul officials and private service providers — in particular in Asian and African countries — had issued a reported 250,000 Polish visas in the last two years. Applicants reportedly paid anything from €5,000 to multiples of that for the multi-entry visas, allowing the holder travel anywhere within the Schengen Area of 23 EU member states as well as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein
At a weekend event Mr Scholz said that “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”.
For Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau, the German leader’s remarks “violate the principles of the sovereign equality of states” and are “an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs” in Poland.
“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,” he added.
Mr Rau’s deputy as foreign minister has been fired over the claims and has since been hospitalised, though not charged — unlike seven others who face trial on corruption allegations.
More than three weeks after the scandal first broke, Warsaw insists nothing happened to endanger the security and integrity of continental Europe’s open border system.
While it says only about 250 visa applications were involved, and that the corruption emerged through its own auditing, media organisations and opposition politicians say the scandal is much larger — and has been covered up with an eye on the October 15th general election.
“There is no problem of illegal immigrants in Poland,” said Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, accusing leading opposition leader Donald Tusk of “trying to create an alternative false reality”.
But Mr Tusk, who is hoping to oust Mr Morawiecki and return as prime minister, accused the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) of “scheming to prevent Poles from learning about this racket” and “flipping the truth about these events by 180 degrees”.
Mr Tusk says is he still waiting for answers from the government on three questions: “‘How long have you known about it? How big was it? Who of your collaborators and officials benefited materially from it?’”
With less than three weeks to election day, polls show Mr Tusk’s opposition Civic Platform (PO) some eight points behind PiS. If those numbers are repeated on October 15th neither party will be able to rule alone, requiring coalition partners.
The visa allegations are a problem for the national conservative PiS given years of tough talk on illegal immigration and its reputation as a law and order party.
Among Indian nationals reportedly granted Polish visas illegally were people posing as a Bollywood film crew and other groups who used their documents to fly to Mexico and seek to cross into the US.
On Monday a spokesman for Mr Scholz downplayed the row, saying it was “completely normal for the chancellor to comment in a situation in which Germany is considerably affected”.
“I can’t see any interference in any election campaign,” added Mr Steffen Hebestreit, the chancellor’s spokesman.
The European Commission has said it is following developments in Poland on the issue of Schengen visas closely and has sent a list of “detailed questions” to Warsaw.
“These allegations are very concerning and give rise to questions regarding the compliance with EU law,” said a commission spokeswoman.