Macron Tells Poland It's Headed for the `Margins' of Europe
(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron sharply criticized Poland Friday, saying Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s opposition to a revamp of European Union rules on cheap labor is one of numerous policies that are marginalizing her country.
Speaking in Bulgaria’s Black Sea port of Varna at the beginning of a European diplomatic blitz, Macron campaigned to end the “social dumping” that he says occurs when workers from low-wage countries are hired in other EU nations at their own pay levels for extended periods. He wants to shorten the period for the exemption.
Szydlo issued a sharp response, telling a Polish website that Macron’s comments were “arrogant” and seek to “split” the EU. She reiterated that her government won’t stop defending the rights of Polish workers, arguing that Macron’s proposals would breach fundamental EU principles of free movement of labor and services.
For Macron, gaining traction on the issue is part of his effort to reform labor laws in France. At the same time, he was expressing his conviction that the EU exists to bolster living standards for workers across the region rather than to allow some countries to benefit by competing for business with lower wages and weaker social programs.
The disagreements are about more than labor. Poland, the bloc’s biggest eastern economy, may face EU sanctions amid an unprecedented standoff over what the union calls an attack on the rule of law. A series of overhauls of the judiciary, for instance, have raised questions over the independence of courts. The nation, along with regional peers Hungary and the Czech Republic, have also ignored EU policy and refused to take in migrants, citing security concerns.
“Europe is a space created on the basis of values that Poland is now trying to resist,” Macron said alongside Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in Varna. The Polish government’s positions are putting the country on the “margins of Europe and the history of Europe,” he said, adding that “the Polish people deserve better.”
Macron went as far as to raise the subject of the regional development funds that Poland receives from the EU, arguing that they are provided to put the country on a path of convergence with the rest of the bloc in terms of pay and social programs.
It’s the idea of “convergence that is behind the logic of structural development funds that Poland receives,” he said.
Macron should focus on French issues and boosting the French economy instead of criticizing fellow EU members, Szydlo told pro-government website wPolityce.pl.
“His arrogant comments may stem from his lack of experience, which I understand. But I expect more restraint from him in the future,” she was quoted as saying. Macron should be “more conciliatory and not split the EU.”
Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said that “Poland isn’t isolated,” citing his meetings on Friday with the NATO Secretary General and the foreign ministers of Romania and Turkey.
The specific issue being discussed is the use of “detached” or “posted” workers. Those employees typically are brought from low-wage eastern European countries to higher-cost ones such as France or Austria to perform tasks that would be more expensive to hire for locally.
There are an estimated 300,000 such workers in France. For employers, the advantages are obvious. The minimum wage in France is about 1,480 euros ($1,740) a month. In Poland, it’s about 450 euros.
Macron wants to reduce the length of working stays to one year in every two and increase cooperation to ensure that minimum wage and social charges are applied through cooperation between EU governments. He is seeking an agreement on the matter at an EU summit in October and said in Varna that he is confident an accord can be reached by year-end. The decision requires only a qualified majority of EU countries.
In Austria Wednesday, Romania Thursday and Bulgaria Friday, Macron received indications of support or a willingness to compromise from leaders of those countries, as well as from Czech and Slovak leaders with whom he met in Salzburg.
“I shared the concern of Emmanuel Macron on the detached workers directive and social dumping,” Bulgarian President Radev said in Varna. “Bulgaria is against all social fraud and every effort to get around the rules.”