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France-Poland: « Be not afraid » about our differences


Written by Arthur Kenigsberg and Romain Le Quiniou. 

For his first presidential visit to Poland, Emmanuel Macron wanted to show his determination and came there with four Ministers (Elisabeth Borne, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Bruno Le Maire and Florence Parly). This visit was eagerly awaited on both sides as it has been postponed several times in recent months. It followed several years of tensions between the two countries, initially angered by the ‘Caracal affair’ and politically opposed on a number of recent issues. The French President had three main objectives: to clear up misunderstandings, to relaunch Franco-Polish relations and to define a common course for bilateral and European progress. 

This article has been initially published in French on Le Grand Continent

Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Warsaw took place just a few days after the official opening of Brexit. A symbolic date, therefore, taken up by both the French and Polish authorities in order to communicate on the importance of the event. The idea being that the Franco-Polish relationship must evolve to become one of the main catalysts of a European Union in a necessary transformation movement. The importance of these countries – economically, demographically and culturally – on a European scale as well as their deep historical ties should encourage their leaders to build a new relationship based on the quest for a common goal: the strengthening of European power and unity. 

Nevertheless, as we have seen in recent years, the two countries defend diametrically opposed political visions on a number of issues. This visit was therefore an opportunity for clarifying each other’s political visions. In particular, Emmanuel Macron devoted most of his meeting with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda to explaining the French position on NATO and Russia. « France is neither pro-Russian nor anti-Russian. It is pro-European« , the French leader said, explaining that he wants to improve European defence and security capabilities so that every member state and every citizen could feel protected by Europe.

And I will be happy the day when Poles will say to themselves: ‘the day I am attacked, I know that Europe protects me’, because then the European feeling will be indestructible. 

Emmanuel Macron, Presidential declaration in Warsaw on February 3rd, 2020.

NATO will also play a central role there, particularly in protecting the eastern flank (missions in which France is actively participating) – a major strategic concern for Poland. In this regard, France has been keen to reassure its partner about its military presence on the eastern flank (4,000 soldiers committed annually) within NATO missions, while Poland has opened up the possibility of participation in the French military mission in the Sahel.

Strategic issues are indeed one of the most glaring differences between France and Poland. However, a regular and demanding dialogue must help to overcome these differences so that they do not block this bilateral cooperation needed for the EU. The return of this dialogue already seems to be positive since a « Weimar format » summit (between the Heads of State and Government of the three countries) is planned in the coming months. It would be the first high-level Weimar meeting since 2011! Beyond this trilateral format, France could also take advantage of the warming of its relations with Poland to strengthen its relations with all the countries of Central Europe (Baltic countries, Visegrad Group countries) as well as on the Ukrainian and Western Balkan issues, again with the same goal of strengthening European political unity. 

Source: L’Élysé

Beyond certain political differences, France and Poland have converging interests that should cement this bilateral relationship. In this respect, this meeting made it possible to define the common course around several areas of cooperation. First of all, the possibilities for action concerning the development of economic relations were defined. One of the priorities is a strengthening of cooperation in R&D. President Duda used the example of the bilateral success in the development of electric batteries – rightly labelled an « Important Project of Common European Interest ». The deep economic interdependence between the two countries also led the leaders to discuss common positions on the EU’s economic and financial development. At the centre of these reflections was the issue of the Union’s multiannual budget, for which both countries agreed to make the maintenance of the Common Agricultural Policy budget an absolute priority.

Secondly, the Franco-Polish meeting also focused on cooperation issues in terms of the defence and security industry. Beyond the strategic debate, both countries (re)affirmed their support for the development of a European defence industry. Within the ‘Permanent Structured Cooperation’, the two countries will work on the development of collaborative combat systems and future land combat systems. Poland is thus expected to join the development of the European tank of the future together with France and Germany. 

Finally, the third and last major area of cooperation in the bilateral relationship is cooperation on energy and the fight against climate change. Emmanuel Macron unequivocally stated that Poland was facing a complex task (carbon neutrality by 2050) and therefore needed to be helped by the effective implementation of a ‘Just Transition Mechanism’ reinforced by a ‘carbon border tax’ protecting all Europeans. The two states also agreed on the possibility of strengthening their energy cooperation and Poland’s use of nuclear energy as an alternative carbon-free energy source to coal.   

Source: Jagiellonian University – Adam Koprowski, Anna Wojnar.

As desired by both countries, this visit made it possible to relaunch the Franco-Polish dialogue. Nevertheless, this visit should mark a real renewal and should not be just a media and electoral event (presidential elections in Poland next May). The relationship must now be maintained on an ongoing basis in order to lead to concrete results that benefit both these two countries and the EU as a whole. 

For France, overcoming our differences will require us to build a relationship based on mutual respect. Indeed, Poland has never forgotten President Chirac’s statements (« Poland missed an opportunity to keep quiet« ) or President Macron’s more recent statements (Poland and Hungary are led by « mad minds » who « lie to their people« ). As Emmanuel Macron recalled, France did not come to Poland to give lessons. France must therefore make an effort to better understand its partner and its specificities. 

One of the possible ways forward is to use the history we share. As an example, France has the ambition to take an interest and participate in the 100th anniversary of the Miracle on the Vistula (a French detachment from the mission deployed in Lithuania will attend the ceremonies). As a reminder, this historic battle stopped the advance of the Bolshevik armies towards Western Europe for good. France had actively contributed to it by sending advisers to the young Polish army, including Charles de Gaulle and General Weygand. Polish history, which is so specific, is also the history of every European citizen and should be seen as such. More generally, ‘Eastern Europe’ is not the new Europe or the other Europe – it is historically and culturally Europe in its own right. 

On the other hand, Poland must assume a role which is equivalent to its importance in Europe. President Macron’s speech at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow is a call to this effect.

Be not afraid of Europe, be not afraid to commit yourselves to it, to uphold the values of freedom, peace and solidarity. Be not afraid to look at the future with your head held high, your future, our future

Emmanuel Macron, Speech at the Jagiellonian University on February 4th, 2020.

« Nie bojcie sie » he even said in Polish, referring to the famous speech of the Polish Pope John Paul II in 1978. Indeed, Poland – through the action of its political elites but also of its civil society – must be one of the driving forces of tomorrow’s Europe and must thus contribute to its political strengthening. This new role will not dissolve Poland into a supranational union, or even dilute its national specificities – eminently necessary for European vitality. This active role must serve to strengthen the prosperity and security of Poland and of every Polish citizen. 

Poland is deeply rooted into Europe – the immense attachment of its citizens to the European project confirms it every day – and has much to offer to its political partners. Nevertheless, this role also implies compliance with the initial conditions for membership of the European Union. Challenging the principles of the rule of law and democracy can only be counterproductive both for Poland and the whole EU. In this sense, the signing of the controversial judicial reform by Andrzej Duda a few hours after the bilateral meeting is an eminently negative sign. Once again, it is through dialogue that constructive solutions can emerge.

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