Poland Makes Mistake Engaging with France But Not Germany

The Polish government’s World War II obsession is blinding it to the need for an alliance with Berlin.

French president Emmanuel Macron welcomes Polish prime minister Beata Szydło in Paris, November 23
French president Emmanuel Macron welcomes Polish prime minister Beata Szydło in Paris, November 23 (KPRM)

If Poland believes it can make up for its poor relations with neighboring Germany by deepening ties with France, it is making a mistake.

Burying the hatchet

Politico reports that France and Poland are burying the hatchet.

Relations soured last year, when the Poles broke off plans to buy fifty French Caracal helicopters, leaving their maker, Airbus, and the French government fuming.

Even before he was elected, Emmanuel Macron managed to offend Poland’s hypersensitive Law and Justice party by calling for EU sanctions over its attempts to put the judiciary under political control.

Then, in his Central European tour to discuss posted workers this summer, Macron skipped over Poland.

Beata Szydło accused Macron of “arrogance” and attributed his missteps to “a lack of experience”.

Yet as they posed outside the Elysée Palace on Thursday, the two leaders were “the picture of Franco-Polish camaraderie” and there is now talk of a Polish deal for French submarines.

Historical ties

France and Poland have historically sought close ties to contain Germany.

It was Napoleon who restored Polish independence in 1807 and France which came to Poland’s aid when Hitler invaded in 1939.

But France has also long shown a sensitivity to Russia and if there’s one thing the Poles fear more than threats from the west it’s threats from the east.

It is why they are wary of French-led defense cooperation in Europe and prefer the American-led NATO.

At a NATO summit last year, it were the French who reportedly exasperated their Eastern Europeans allies when they suggested the number of Western troops on Russia’s border could be reduced and there was no need for air missile defenses in Poland.

“Paris is a bigger problem for us than Berlin,” one defense minister from the region said at the time.

That view is not widely shared in Warsaw.

War obsession

Law and Justice has yet to forgive, much less forget, Germany’s crimes, going so far as to demand hundreds of billions of euros in World War II reparations (which Poland renounced back in 1953).

This obsession with history doesn’t just hurt Poland but the whole of Central Europe.

If Poland refuses to engage with Germany and relies entirely on faraway Atlantic states, it risks turning Central European fears of a German-Russian condominium into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Germany needs a free and independent Mitteleuropa to ground it on the right side of the East-West divide just as much as Mitteleuropa needs Germany in order to succeed. Poland shares a responsibility for making that happen.