French President Emmanuel Macron visits Poland on Monday and Tuesday (3-4 February) in an effort to reset frosty ties at a time when the departure of Britain from the European Union is reshaping political alliances in the 27-member bloc.
Arriving in Warsaw days after Brexit, Macron is signalling the importance of one of the EU’s biggest members, despite a relationship marked by clashes over issues ranging from climate change policy, NATO and Poland’s adherence to the rule of law.
In an attempt to strengthen ties, he will propose new investment plans and try to build nuclear and military partnerships during the visit, French and Polish officials said.
“Perhaps we won’t be best friends right away but we can gradually rebuild working relations,” a Polish official close to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Reuters.
Relations between Poland and France soured after Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government scrapped a $3.4 billion helicopter deal with Airbus in 2016, angering France, which thought the deal was largely agreed.
Since then, France and Poland have been on the opposite sides of many arguments.
Macron, a fervent European integrationist, has decried nationalist governments like Poland’s and criticised, along with the EU executive, efforts by PiS to put Polish courts and media under more government control.
Both countries want to keep generous funding for their agricultural sectors in the EU budget, but Paris is pushing for more action on migration and the climate, while Warsaw has rejected EU policies on both matters.
Political experts say, however, that Macron may be keen to test new alliances in Europe amid tensions with Germany, another EU powerhouse, over European reforms.
France and Germany have been at loggerheads over the past year as Macron’s ambitious plans for reform have often run into resistance from the more cautious Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Paris is looking for another partner to work on the future of Europe. Berlin is not delivering,” said Michal Baranowski, director of political think tank the German Marshall Fund in Warsaw.
The PiS government has called for a reversal of some EU powers, wanting more say for national parliaments. But Poland’s ties with Germany have also suffered during its rule, with PiS saying Berlin owed it money for World War Two damage.
Macron visits Poland at a time of heightened tensions over the PiS government’s judiciary reforms, which EU critics have said undermine the bloc’s democratic standards.
Last month, parliament passed a law that allows for disciplining judges critical of government changes to the judiciary. The European Commission has asked the EU’s highest court to freeze it.