PARIS --- France on Friday canceled two top government visits to Poland due this week, as its spat with Poland over a canceled helicopter contract took an ominous diplomatic turn.
French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was due to arrive in Warsaw on Monday for talks to salvage the deal, which Poland abruptly called off on Oct 04, but his trip was cancelled on Friday, after Paris received an official letter from Poland’s ministry of defense calling off the deal.
French President François Hollande was due to arrive in Warsaw on Thursday for bilateral consultations, but his office said Friday he would send Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault instead.
This diplomatic spat will be accompanied by an official challenge to Warsaw’s decision to unilaterally call off the contract talks after over a year of negotiations for the sale of 50 Airbus H225M Caracal helicopters worth over 3.5 billion euros, which France considers ill-considered and unfounded.
The right-wing Polish government, voted into power in November 2015, said even before taking office it would cancel its predecessor’s selection of Airbus for the helicopter contract, and “retrospectively, it seems clear that the Poles never intended to accept the outcome of the competition,” a French diplomatic source told AFP.
The day after France cancelled its visits, Poland on Saturday blamed French aeronautics group Airbus for the breakdown in talks. "I want to make it perfectly clear that it wasn't the Polish side who broke off the talks," Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz told reporters Saturday in Warsaw.
"Airbus Helicopters did not make a satisfactory offer in the last phase of talks. They didn't respond to the Polish position and this is why negotiations on the contract stopped," Macierewicz said, adding that "Unfortunately the two sides did not see eye to eye on the offset package." He declined to provide details.
Announcing the breakdown on Tuesday, Poland's development ministry said, "the differences in the negotiating positions of both sides preclude a compromise, so further negotiations are pointless."
Paris, on the other hand, insists Airbus had "gone very far in its offer", proposing an "unprecedented" offset worth 100 percent of the contract value, a source close to the talks told AFP.
The French government is particularly incensed by what it sees as Poland’s “stowaway” approach to Europe, taking in billions of euros in development aid while looking for an exclusive relationship with the United States in the field of weapons.
Consequently, Paris also announced Friday that it will review its military cooperation with Poland, which has included flying air police missions over its territory, deploying tanks and ground troops to demonstrate its support, and even cancelling the sale to Russia of two Mistral-class LHDs at the request of its Polish and Baltic allies.
Grotesque negotiating stance
Poland’s right-wing government engaged in “grotesque negotiations,” contesting each French proposal “until the very last minute,” even when these were extremely favorable to Poland, for example when the offset rate was increased to 100% of the contract’s deal.
Airbus group will also new review its plans for Poland, which included doubling the size of its R&D center in Lodz and setting up a manufacturing hub for the Airbus airliner range.
The package offered by Airbus included a final assembly line for the helicopters and their Safran Helicopter Engines in Lodz, creating about 1,250 direct and 2,000 indirect jobs throughout Poland.
Airbus also committed to technology transfer and to the transfer of some intellectual property rights that would have allow Poland to upgrade and modify its own Caracals, and to produce parts for the entire program, as well as the right to assemble export Caracals sold to selected countries.
Finally, Airbus Group had promised to triple the size to its R&D site in Poland.
French officials have come to believe, like many Polish opposition politicians, that the ruling party had already decided, for its own ends, to pull out of the Caracal contract and to simply let the offset negotiations drag on until it was politically expedient to pull the plug.