Paris, France – As tensions between France and Poland have been growing ever since PiS came to power in 2015, a planned visit of President Emmanuel Macron might attempt to restart the dialogue and bridge the differences between two of the EU’s biggest states.
Talking to reporters from the Polish outlet Polska The Times ahead of a two-day visit in Warsaw, French Minister for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau said that French President Emmanuel Macron would make an official trip to Poland “in the coming months”. “We want our relations to be good, we want to keep the dialogue open”, the French top diplomat for European affairs said.
While Emmanuel Macron already visited neighboring Czech Republic and Slovakia last year, he didn’t make the trip to neither Poland nor Hungary, the two Visegrad Group and EU member states with which he has repeatedly clashed since his election. Many saw his most recent visit to Prague and Bratislava as an attempt to divide the Visegrad Group and steer both countries away from the influence of Orban’s Hungary and PiS’ Poland.
According to Ms. Loiseau, French President Emmanuel Macron would be interested in organizing in the near future a “Weimar triangle” summit – a format gathering the heads of state of France, Poland and Germany – only if it could lead to “tangible results”.
Ms. Loiseau mentioned an array of topics that should be discussed during the presidential visit, including Brexit, the EU budget, a European tax on digital giants, cyber-security and measures to counter foreign attempts to meddle in European elections. During her two-day stay in Warsaw, she’s scheduled to meet with her counterpart Konrad Szymański and Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, and stated that she intends to discuss energy issues, mobility and immigration. She’s also scheduled to visit the Warsaw-based headquarters of the EU’s Frontex agency and meet with its director Fabrice Leggeri, according to the French Foreign Ministry.
Talking in front of students from the Natolin-Warsaw campus of the College of Europe yesterday with her Polish counterpart, Ms. Loiseau insisted that all European member states should share the same fundamental values, even though EU member states can take part to the European integration at different speeds – whether they’re part of the Schengen area or the Euro zone, for instance: the values of “freedom, democracy, rule of law” are “non-negotiable. They’re not an ornament”, she insisted.
During the debate, both ministers singled out the threat presented by Russia, who “lives on the nostalgia of its past influence” and “considers that the reunification of Eastern Europe was harmful” to its influence, according to Ms. Loiseau. M. Szymański added that Russia wanted to act for the “political destabilization of Europe” and sought to “weaken the West”.
As tensions between Poland and the EU have been growing over controversial reforms pushed by the ruling Law and Justice party and seen as blatant violations of the balance of power and democratic governance, France’s EU Minister also said that the state of the rule of law will be discussed during those meetings. “The rule of law is an important issue, and Poland knows it. Lately, we’ve witnessed changes in the reform of Poland’s judicial system, but we are still worried about what’s happening”, she said, referring to Warsaw’s move to backtrack on some key issues of its judicial system to comply with an EU ruling.
Reflecting the long-standing tensions between France and Poland, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz recently called France “the sick man of Europe” and strongly criticized France for breaching European deficit laws. President Macron’s concessions to yellow-vest protested “testifies to the weakness of the state”, according to Poland’s top diplomat.
More generally speaking, both countries have two widely different views on the EU’s future, and leaders in Warsaw are worried that Poland might be sidelined by Macron’s plans for further integration, especially as Poland is poised to lose, after Brexit, its closest and most powerful ally in the EU. “Macron’s presidency brings real threats. It can facilitate Poland’s marginalization in the EU – under this Polish government, as well as press ahead with a multi-speed Europe that leaves Eastern Europe behind”, said Jakub Majmurek from Krytyka Polityczna.
Franco-Polish relations have also suffered on the business side. Bilateral relations reached an all-time low in 2016 when the Polish government abruptly cancelled a multi-billion contract with Airbus to buy 50 of its Caracal military helicopters.