France 'sick man of Europe,' Polish minister says

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ISTANBUL
Published 19.12.2018 01:07
Updated 19.12.2018 08:00

France is "the sick man of Europe" and its problems are hurting the region, Poland's foreign minister said Monday, citing the "yellow vests" protest movement and last week's terrorist attack on the Strasbourg Christmas market.

"France is the sick man of Europe, it is a drag on Europe, while Poland is a bright spot," Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz told Polish television channel Polsat News, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). "The terrorist attack proves that something is not right in France, the protests over the past weeks, President [Emmanuel] Macron's withdrawal of state reforms, it's sad," he added.

Macron was forced last week to make concessions to the yellow vests movement after weeks of sometimes violent protests around the country. For the last five weeks, thousands of protesters wearing yellow vests have been gathering in major French cities including Paris to protest Macron's controversial fuel tax hikes since Nov. 17. France's yellow vest protesters have political stances ranging from the far-right to the far-left, but the leaderless group is united in its sense that Macron and his government are out of touch. According to a recent survey, 84 percent of French people, mostly from the middle-income group, support the protests. Protesters turning out across France on Saturday highlighted demands ranging from better support for pensioners to the downfall of capitalism.

The terror attack on the Christmas market in Strasbourg, in eastern France, last Tuesday, killed five people, including a Polish national who succumbed to his wounds on Sunday. The attack was a new blow to France after a wave of terror attacks in 2015 and 2016, and the Strasbourg market, which draws hundreds of thousands of people each year to its wooden chalets selling festive decorations, was long considered a possible target. It was previously the target of an al-Qaida-linked plot at the turn of the millennium.

"If at the same time, you're lecturing Poland, there is something not right. First, you have to bring some order to your own country," said Czaputowicz.

Czaputowicz's comments reflect longstanding tensions between the two countries since the right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) government took power in Poland in 2015. Most recently, Macron has been critical of Poland's controversial reforms, which the European Union says pose a threat to the independence of the judiciary. But even before Macron came to power in 2017, relations between the two countries soured after Poland called off a multibillion-euro deal with France's Airbus to buy 50 of its Caracal helicopters.

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