January 30, 2020 / 4:03 PM / 21 days ago

In Poland, France's Macron hopes to reset ties and build up business

WARSAW/PARIS (Reuters) - When French President Emmanuel Macron toured eastern Europe just weeks after being elected in 2017, he shunned Poland and delivered a stinging attack on its leaders.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (not pictured) attend a joint statement at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Pool

Poland, he said, was isolating itself in Europe and its people deserved better of their nationalist government. Warsaw hit back at his comments, made in Bulgaria, by calling him “arrogant” and “inexperienced”.

Macron will finally visit Poland next week, hoping to reset ties with a country he has loudly criticised over reforms of the judiciary, which he sees as undemocratic, and a climate change policy at odds with many of Warsaw’s European Union partners.

By visiting Poland days after Britain leaves the EU, Macron is signalling the importance of one of the bloc’s biggest member states. In an attempt to strengthen ties, he will propose new investment plans and try to build nuclear and military partnerships during the Feb. 3-4 visit, French and Polish officials said.

“A country so central can’t be seen as being on the defensive all the time,” a French diplomat told Reuters.

Macron could face an uphill battle on many fronts. Polish officials told Reuters they are skeptical that the new technologies France hopes to sell are beneficial for Poland.

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, and 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.

“RE-BALANCING” ACT

It is not clear to what extent Macron will press Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda on issues of disagreement when he meets them on Monday.

A French diplomat said Macron wanted to “re-balance” what Paris sees as Poland’s “Buy American” policy, and would propose military and industrial cooperation in areas such as telecoms and nuclear energy.

“France and Poland have similar interests to be achieved at the EU level,” a Polish government source said, pointing to nuclear power policies and agriculture.

France has long pushed the sale of French nuclear technology to Poland, with Macron raising the subject with Duda on the sidelines of a NATO summit in London in December, according to two Polish officials with knowledge of the talks.

Polish government officials said there was a consensus that Poland wanted to build some nuclear plants but was considering using nuclear technology from the United States and South Korea.

Two Polish officials said they had doubts about the French defence and nuclear offers.

“There are a series of signals that there were problems,” one official said, citing regulatory issues.

The construction of France’s new generation Flamanville 3 EPR nuclear reactor in northern France has been hampered by technical problems and construction is years behind schedule.

   A French diplomat acknowledged talks on nuclear technology were at a very early, political stage.

Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Agnieszka Barteczko and Justyna Pawlak in WARSAW, Gabriela Baczynska in BRUSSELS, Michel Rose and Bate Felix in PARIS, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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