VARNA, Bulgaria (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday Poland was isolating itself within the European Union and Polish citizens “deserve better” than a government at odds with the bloc’s democratic values and economic reform plans.
Macron said Warsaw, where a nationalist, eurosceptic government took office in 2015, was moving in the opposite direction to Europe on numerous issues and would not be able to dictate the path of Europe’s future. Poland rejected the accusations, saying Macron was misinformed.
“Europe is a region created on the basis of values, a relationship with democracy and public freedoms which Poland is today in conflict with,” Macron said in Bulgaria on the third leg of a trip to central and eastern Europe to drum up support for his vision of a Europe that protects better its citizens.
He described Poland’s refusal to change its stance on a revision of the EU’s directive on “posted” workers – cheap labor from eastern countries posted temporarily to more affluent western countries. Macron has said the practice leads to “social dumping” and unfair competition.
“In no way will the decision by a country that has decided to isolate itself in the workings of Europe jeopardize the finding of an ambitious compromise,” he said.
In a scathing attack that could drag relations between western EU powers and the European Commission in Brussels on side and Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) government on the other to a new low, he said the Polish people deserved better.
“Poland is not defining Europe’s future today and nor will it define the Europe of tomorrow,” Macron said at a joint press conference with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in the Black Sea resort city of Varna.
In response, Poland’s foreign minister said on Friday Warsaw was not facing international isolation and accused Macron of failing to follow developments in central Europe.
“President Macron is not following carefully the news, doesn’t know what is happening in this part of Europe. But this happens sometimes,” he added.
On the three-day tour Macron has been seeking backing for his plans to tighten European rules on the employment abroad of labor from low-pay nations. Poland strongly opposes the plans.
While “posted” workers comprise less than 1 percent of the EU work force, the politically sensitive issue has for years exacerbated the divide between the bloc’s poor east and rich west.
“UNITE, NOT DIVIDE”
Macron has managed to enlist the broad support of Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the lukewarm backing of Romania, all countries which fear being sidelined in a multi-speed EU, whereas Poland and Hungary remain defiant of what they see as an out-of-touch EU elite based in Brussels and Western capitals.
Poland is at loggerheads with the European Commission, the Brussels-based EU executive, over issues ranging from its refusal to be accept EU migrant relocation quotas to the ruling conservatives’ tightening grip on the judiciary and media.
Macron shunned both Poland and Hungary on his three-day trip of the region.
He said he wanted Bulgaria – like Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – a former communist state that joined the EU much later than western counterparts – to be at the negotiating table over European integration.
On the hot-button issue of posted worker rules, Radev said the EU needed to balance the interests of countries in the rich west and the poor east. “It is important that changes are made in a way that unites rather than divides Europe,” Radev said.
Radev also said he had sought support from Macron for Bulgaria’s entry into the ERM-2, the euro currency zone entry room, as well as the EU’s open-border Schengen area.
France complains that the rules allowing workers to be posted from low-salary countries to other EU states on contracts that must guarantee the host country’s minimum wage, but under which taxes and social charges are paid in the home nation, create unfair competition in wealthier nations.