WARSAW — For Emmanuel Macron, it’s time for pragmatism with Poland.
Gone are the French president’s blistering attacks on Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party for undermining the rule of law; instead he’s showing deference and treading carefully as he seeks to secure Poland’s cooperation on structural European issues like the Green Deal or defense.
“It’s a European issue, not a bilateral one,” Macron said at a Monday press conference with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki when asked about government legislation that European officials and many Polish judges say is aimed at bringing the judiciary under political control. “France should lecture no one,” Macron said.
That’s a far cry from earlier denunciations of PiS policies and his efforts to defend French workers against low-cost competition from Central Europe — a crucial part of his 2017 election campaign.
Franco-Polish relations — historically very close — have been under strain ever since PiS won power in 2015; Paris was outraged when the new government scrapped a €3.14 billion deal to buy 50 Caracal multipurpose helicopters produced by Airbus. Macron’s predecessor François Hollande pulled out of a visit to Warsaw and ties went into a deep freeze.
“France is neither pro-Russia nor anti-Russia, it is pro-European” — Emmanuel Macron
But in the wake of Brexit, Macron can’t be picky with what’s now the EU’s fifth-largest member country, as well as an important NATO ally. Poland, which spends just over 2 percent of its GDP on the military, could play an important role in French plans to beef up Europe’s defense potential. Macron also wants to push forward with his European reform agenda on issues like climate neutrality or taxing tech giants.
Macron noted that “after Brexit, there is a fragility” in the bloc.
Despite last year denouncing Poland for refusing to agree to a goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050 and threatening that Poland wouldn’t get access to cash aimed at helping its green energy transformation, on Monday Macron talked of “not underestimating the effort that Poland has to make” to quit coal, which generates almost 80 percent of its electricity.
He also tried to allay Poland’s fears that in the era of Donald Trump, France is veering away from the U.S. and is overly friendly toward Russia. “France is neither pro-Russia nor anti-Russia, it is pro-European,” Macron said.
It’s not that Macron completely ignored the rule-of-law issue that is roiling Poland’s relations with European institutions. But during his first official visit to Poland since he was elected, his tone was very measured.
In addition to the press conference with Morawiecki, Macron mentioned the issue at the end of his statement to the press alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda, only saying that he shared with his counterpart “the preoccupations current judiciary reforms are eliciting” and called for “dialogue with the European Commission to intensify over the coming weeks.”
The two signed an agreement to deepen the two countries’ strategic partnership.
“I deeply believe that is a breakthrough in Polish-French relations,” Duda said.
In another sign of the chill between Poland and its Western allies wearing off, efforts are underway to revive the trilateral Weimar format that brings together France, Germany and Poland.