Airbus Row Escalates as Poland Accuses Opposition of French Bias

  • Opposition wants inquiry into why helicopter deal collapsed
  • Deputy minister insults France over military show snub

Poland’s government criticized opposition lawmakers for demanding a probe into why it canceled a 13.5 billion-zloty ($3.5 billion) order for military helicopters from Airbus Group SE, which has touched off a diplomatic incident with France.

Opposition parties have called for parliament to set up an investigative committee to determine why the government walked away from the preliminary order with Toulouse, France-based Airbus after 11 months of talks. Within days, the government announced it would buy aircraft from Lockheed Martin Corp. The ruling Law & Justice party has rejected calls for the probe, while Airbus said it would “seek remedies” after being “misled.”

The incident is the latest confrontation for Poland’s government with a fellow European Union nation. Since winning an election almost 12 months ago, Law & Justice has run afoul of EU rules regarding democratic standards and irked foreign investors with calls for more nationalist economic policies. French President Francois Hollande postponed this week’s visit to Warsaw following the Airbus decision, and France will review the continuation of military pacts between the nations, according to French Defense Ministry advisers.

“I’m shocked that Polish lawmakers, who’re paid by Polish taxpayers, are playing the role of bad lawyer for the French company,” Polish Deputy Defense Minister Bartosz Kownacki told TVN24 on Wednesday. “These politicians, regardless of how they view Law & Justice and our government, should protect our national interests and not guarantee that the French side gets compensation.”

Unprecedented Treatment

Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders said in a statement on Tuesday his company has never been treated by any other government the way it has by Poland in the negotiations for the 50 Caracal aircraft. The deal with Airbus, part of Poland’s plan to boost defense spending amid the conflict in neighboring Ukraine, was signed by the previous government in 2015 and was opposed by Law & Justice at the time.

Poland said the deal collapsed after the two sides failed to reach an agreement over reciprocal investment by the French company in Poland. Airbus said the value of the offset deal it offered was worth more than the helicopters that Poland ordered.

As part of the political repercussions, France said it would no longer pay for a visit by the Polish delegation to the EuroNaval military industry show this month, drawing an angry rebuttal.

“This is a shame -- it shows France’s class, as the French side officially invited us a long time ago and is now uninviting us,” Kownacki told TVN24. “These are people who learned how to eat with forks from us a few centuries ago. Perhaps that’s how they act.”

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