France’s Macron arrives in Poland to reset frosty relations

Presidential handshakes were exchanged in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw as French President Emmanuel Macron, hoping to warm up the frosty Polish-French relations and revive the Weimar Triangle, made up of France, Germany and Poland, Emmanuel Macron, arrived in Warsaw marking the first visit of a French president to Poland since 6 years.

President Macron and President Andrzej Duda hold a face-to-face meeting at the Presidential Palace. The meeting will be followed by plenary talks of the Polish and French delegations. Later, Presidents Duda and President Macron will take part in a press conference that in turn will be followed by a luncheon in honour of eminent French guests.

Later in the day, the French president is scheduled to meet with PM Mateusz Morawiecki and the speakers of the Lower House and Senate, Elżbieta Witek and Tomasz Grodzki, respectively.

The French president is accompanied by the Minister for Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire, Minister for Armies Florence Parly, and Minister for Ecological and Inclusive Transition Elisabeth Borne.

What’s at stake?

With the UK’s departure from the EU, the political balance within the alliance is being reshaped and requires settling of some long-held Polish-French grudges. Both states’ relations were marred over the past years with clashes over issues ranging from climate change policy and NATO to Poland's adherence to the rule of law.

The bone of contention between Poland and France was the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) government’s decision not to clinch a USD 3.4 bn helicopter deal with Airbus in 2016, which France thought had been largely agreed.

The new post-Brexit landscape, however, deserves an update of these relations. Mr Macron is expected to strengthen ties by proposing fresh investment plans and try to build nuclear and military partnerships, as established by French and Polish officials.

"Perhaps we won't be best friends right away but we can gradually rebuild working relations," an official close to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Reuters.

For his part, Poland’s FM Jacek Czaputowicz told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that Mr Macron’s “visit [is] groundbreaking in a way. We were criticised by France, and also we did not spare criticism against France... But there is a chance we will leave this period behind us."

He added that during the French president's visit, both countries will agree on a strategic cooperation plan for the 2020-2024 period. What unites Poland and France’s efforts in the EU arena, is the desire to keep generous funding for their agricultural sectors in the EU budget. In terms of migration, however, Paris feels more action should be taken on migration and the climate, whilst Warsaw rejects EU policies on both matters.

But the German-French tensions ensuing from President Macron’s ambitious reform plans urge him to explore new alliances in Europe. "Paris is looking for another partner to work on the future of Europe. Berlin is not delivering," said Michał Baranowski, the head of the German Marshall Fund think-tank in Warsaw.

The global media’s view of the visit

Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) daily quoted President Macron’s aide for European matters Clement Beau­ne saying that the debate on the rule of law in Poland should neither be swept under the carpet nor should it preclude bilateral reconciliation. The daily also highlighted President Macron’s will to revive the Weimar Triangle and his intention to invite President Andrzej Duda to a summit, where he would meet with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

According to Mr Beau­ne, cited by the FAZ, President Macron also wishes to rectify his stance on Russia because, as the aide put it, a conviction that Paris had made a turn towards Moscow was misleading. Mr Beaune felt, however, that one of the things that could not be solved without dialogue with Russia is the crisis in Ukraine.

The aide also stressed that France was supportive of Poland’s after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to manipulate WWII history.