While the election of Emmanuel Macron as French president with a vision of closer European Union integration was a relief to much of Europe, for Poland and Hungary it fanned fears of losing influence.
Poland has been the most vocal among eastern EU members fearing that their wealthier western neighbors, keen to deepen cooperation among themselves, will erode the single market that has been the biggest benefit of membership in the east and, in shifting power westward, reduce financial support for less wealthy countries.
Macron’s arrival, and his support for the “multi-speed” Europe idea that has been gaining support in Germany and other EU countries since Britain’s decision to quit the bloc, make it more likely that a key decision-making circle could exclude the former communist capitals of Budapest and Warsaw.
It would also thwart their efforts to shift power from Brussels back to member states. Underlining their concerns, Polish officials have accused Macron of double standards and of contravening the spirit of the single market by calling for reforms of rules on moving workers within the bloc.
“It is understandable that politicians, thinkers, are looking for solutions,” Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Konrad Szymanski, told an economic forum in Katowice on Wednesday. “But an EU division, a lasting division, is the worst of possible prescriptions, because the first victim of such division would be the single market.”
A decision by Whirlpool to shift a tumble drier factory from France to Poland took center-stage in France’s presidential campaign last month, with Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen saying she would nationalise the plant.
Macron, an ardent defender of globalization as well as European integration, refused to be drawn into promising the workers he would prevent the company moving its production.
But he did say Warsaw was exploiting differences in labor costs, which could not be tolerated. He alluded to the problem of social dumping – a hot-button issue in France – which refers to companies employing cheaper labor from other EU countries or moving production to lower-wage countries.
Polish Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Poland’s state broadcaster that this amounted to “discrimination”, and others said Macron was undermining the principles of the single market.
“It cannot be that when Poland is an export market then it is good, but when it attracts foreign investment, including from France … that’s not good any more,” Morawiecki said this week.
Szymanski said that Macron’s win could be good for Poland but that Warsaw wondered “whether we are not being excluded from a debate on protectionism and the single market”. “We may want to change it, but we do not want to abandon it,” he said.
Macron’s enthusiasm for a common euro zone budget and finance ministry – although, crucially, viewed with scepticism in Berlin – has also raised fears among eastern countries that they could lose out on EU funds.
Neither Poland nor Hungary is in any hurry to adopt the euro; both say they need the flexibility of a national exchange rate in difficult times.
“If in the end there is a euro zone budget, that means there will be less money for countries that are not euro zone members,” Dariusz Rosati, a member of the European Parliament member for Poland’s opposition Civic Platform, told Polish radio this month.