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Poland hits back after Macron warns Warsaw of being 'marginalised' on labour reform

Wojtek Radwanski, AFP | Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo attends a press conferance after a meeting of Visegrad Group and Benelux prime ministers in Warsaw on June 19.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo struck back at French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, calling his warnings about Poland’s lack of alignment with EU interests “arrogant” amid a row over temporary workers.


“I advise the president that he should be more conciliatory ... Perhaps his arrogant comments are a result of a lack of [political] experience,” Szydlo said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

“I advise the president that he should focus on the affairs of his own country, perhaps he may be able to achieve the same economic results and the same level of security for (French) citizens as those guaranteed by Poland,” Szydlo added, in an apparent swipe at France’s persistent security concerns following a series of terror attacks.

Macron, speaking Friday during a tour of Central Europe, said that Poland’s right-wing government was isolating itself within the EU by going “against European interests”. His remarks came after Poland reiterated its objections to changing a controversial EU rule that lets firms send temporary workers from low-wage EU countries to rich economies without paying the usual local social charges.

"Poland today is not a country that can show Europe the way, it's a country that has decided to go against European interests in many areas," Macron said at a press conference in the Bulgarian coastal city of Varna.

"The country is placing itself on the margins of Europe's future history," he added.

>> Read more: Macron pushes EU labour changes on Central Europe tour

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski also hit back at Macron’s comments on Friday.

“Poland is not being isolated,” Waszczykowski told a joint news conference in Warsaw with his Romanian and Turkish counterparts and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“We are hosting an important meeting today so President Macron is not following carefully the news, doesn’t know what is happening in this part of Europe.”

Avoiding a 'race to the bottom'

The French president embarked on a three-day tour of Eastern and Central Europe on Wednesday to win support for reforming the so-called Posted Workers Directive at a Brussels summit on October 19-20.

Wealthy nations like France, Germany and Austria say the rule leads to unfair competition for national labour markets and undercuts the local workforce. Joined by Vienna and Berlin, Paris now wants the duration of these jobs to be limited to 12 months, half the period proposed by the European Commission.

But there has been staunch resistence from poorer EU neighbours in the former communist bloc, where most of the cheap labour comes from. Poland – the EU member that benefits most from the regulation – wants to keep its current rules intact. An estimated 500,000 of its nationals are employed by Polish companies in other EU member states.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern after kicking off his trip in Salzburg on Wednesday, Macron said: “The single European market and the free movement of workers is not meant to create a race to the bottom in terms of social regulations. It is exactly this that is fuelling populism and eroding confidence in the European project."

The topic is high stakes for Macron, 39, a centrist who took office in May. The former economy minister had campaigned as a Europhile keen on greater European integration while advocating a more “protective” European Union that could better protect its citizens from the more difficult aspects of globalisation.

The directive in question dates back to 1996, well before a number of former communist countries joined the EU beginning in 2004.

With wide gaps between current member states’ wage and social security costs, critics say the directive is vulnerable to fraud and that it promotes “social dumping” – eroding wages for locals in wealthier countries while giving Eastern European companies an unfair competitive advantage.

But Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – known collectively as the Visegrad Four – argue that they should be allowed the competitive advantage of lower labour costs to help them make up ground after decades of economic stagnation under Soviet communism.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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