Opening

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keep leading us down new paths.” The words of Walt Disney whose curiosity produced wonderful films. On a more practical level, the Polish prime minister Beata Szydło, is also keen on opening new doors. Congratulating Emmanuel Macron on Monday for winning the presidential election in France, she said she hoped he would bring a “new opening” in bilateral relations.

Commenting on the tasks facing Macron, Szydło said that: “Europe is at a turning point – we have to face internal challenges related to Brexit and comprehensive reform of the EU, and external ones, dominated by security issues and the migration crisis.” In this context she added that it was important for allies to speak with one voice and work together to ensure lasting peace and prosperity. “Polish-French cooperation and the Weimar Triangle should play an important role in this process,” said Szydło. “In this context, I hope that your presidency will bring a new opening in our bilateral relations, at the political, economic and investment levels,” she said.

That some new opening is needed arises from Macron’s suggestion during his election campaign that Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, is a “friend and ally” of Marine Le Pen, who was Macron’s opponent in the second round of the French Presidential election, placing Kaczyński alongside the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Needless to say this suggestion was not greeted warmly in Warsaw.

To add injury to insult it was also reported in the French press that Macron had suggested that he wanted sanctions against Poland, which he said had “violated all the EU’s principles”. While speaking to striking workers at a Whirlpool white goods factory, which will move some of its production to Poland, Macron accused Poland of playing on differences in labour costs. This prompted Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski to respond that the “unjustified” accusations by Macron against Warsaw arose from France’s inability to compete with the ever-stronger economies to the east. And in an interview with Poland’s Do Rzeczy weekly conducted before Macron’s win, Szydło had said Warsaw would cooperate with the new French president, but added that “a politician who is bidding for important functions should weigh [his] words more.”

Macron is no stranger to remarks that seem less than well thought out. As reported in The Times today, he would like British companies to be locked out the EU market for public contracts, based on his proposal for a “buy European act” reserving access to public procurement deals to companies that produce most of their goods or services in the EU. Not only does this ignore how open the UK market has been, and is likely to remain to French companies, especially in the utilities sector, but it is contrary to the policy of the EU Commission which has said recently that it would “never advocate a buy European only policy.” It would also put the EU in conflict with WTO rules, particularly the EU’s commitments under the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, it seems, that is unlikely to bother Macron.

It might bother Chancellor Merkel, Germany having joined the UK in the past to scupper attempts to restrict foreign companies. Indeed, one might even begin to feel sorry for Merkel, as she tries to guide the EU to make sense of it all. She may have Macron as her new right hand man, but Juncker’s inability even to attend a dinner without leaking something, is an unnecessary irritant. No wonder she is reported to found his remarks unhelpful. Still, Macron at least should respond well to any school marmish reining in.

Be that as it may, let’s hope Szydło is able to achieve something worthwhile for Poland from the Polish-French intergovernmental consultations to which she has invited Macron. It is not clear history is on her side. Macron is the youngest French head of state since Napoleon to whom, it should be remembered, Marie Walewska was persuaded to surrender her virtue for the greater good of Poland. Times have moved on, and nobody is suggesting any such sacrifice would be appropriate in this day and age, but the attitude of France to Poland may be little different. After all, to use Macron’s own language, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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