France's Macron sets sights on mending ties with Poland
French President Emmanuel Macron will pay his first visit to Poland on Monday in a bid to mend ties strained over Warsaw's controversial judicial reforms and its position on EU climate goals.
Controversial judicial reforms have put Poland's right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) government on a collision course with Brussels over rule of law violations.
At the same time, an agreement by EU leaders in December to try to make the bloc carbon neutral by 2050 was immediately undermined by Poland's refusal to implement the aim.
Macron's office said the trip, his first abroad this year, was aimed at "clarifying the French position on many European issues, opening up new areas of cooperation with a major EU partner and stressing the need to protect European democratic values."
Up to now, relations have been cool at best. Macron in 2018 himself accused Poland's PiS government and Hungary's populist Premier Viktor Orban of "lying to their people" about the European Union's powers to interfere in domestic affairs.
- 'Reset needed' -
"A reset is necessary because it couldn't be worse," said Eryk Mistewicz, head of the Warsaw-based Institute for New Media think-tank, pointing to "a spiral of misunderstanding and lack of mutual respect" between Paris and Warsaw.
Brexit has made good relations with Poland all the more important as the central European heavyweight will now be the EU's fifth-largest member in terms of population and sixth in terms of GDP.
"It's time to get real," Polish political scientist Alexander Smolar told AFP, adding that he expected Paris and Warsaw to push forward on economic ties in areas like nuclear and renewable energy as well as military or digital cooperation.
Up to now, Poland has sought to buy US military equipment as a way of bolstering its already strong ties with the major NATO ally.
In the past, it chose US-made F-16 fighter jets over French Mirage warplanes and now, just days ahead of Macron's arrival, Warsaw sealed a 4.6-billion dollar deal with the US for new F-35 fighters.
It also triggered outrage in Paris in 2016 when it pulled out of a 3.14-billion euro contract for 50 Caracal helicopters at the last minute.
Now, however, "there is an awareness on the Polish side about its isolation in the EU, of having wasted the chance that the Weimar Triangle gave (a three-way platform between Paris, Berlin and Warsaw) and of a host of other errors," said Smolar, head of the Warsaw-based Stefan Batory pro-democracy NGO.
- 'Green Deal' -
Despite their political differences, economic ties between the two EU partners remain strong and stable.
France ranks sixth on Poland's list of trade partners, having exchanged nearly 21 billion euros worth of goods in 2018.
French companies take fourth spot on Poland's foreign investor ranking, having poured more 18 billion euros into the country via some 1,100 companies, according to Polish data.
Macron "is likely to try to explore common interests in the Multiannual Financial Framework (future EU budget) negotiations and seek ways to bring Poland into the European Green Deal," according to Pawel Zerka, a policy fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations.
The Green Deal is the EU's new one-trillion-euro ($1.1-trillion) plan to finance its goal of making the bloc carbon neutral by 2050.
Macron is set to hold talks with Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as well as the speakers of both houses of parliament in Warsaw on Monday before meeting with students in the southern city of Krakow on Tuesday.
© 2020 AFP