France's ambassador to Poland has said he was "shocked" by the Polish foreign minister's remarks that France had become the "sick man of Europe".
"I won't hide that I was surprised, even shocked, by those remarks," Pierre Levy, the French diplomat, told Polsat News, a Polish TV broadcaster, in an interview out on Wednesday (26 December).
Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz said France was "dragging down" the EU
France was trying to build closer ties with Poland, he said, but the Polish minister's comments made him "wonder whether Polish authorities really wanted to mend our relations".
He spoke amid long-standing EU concern that the nationalist-populist bent of Poland's right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), including its attack on judicial independence and media freedom, as well as its eurosceptic rhetoric, violated EU norms and values.
"We want Poland to play a full role in Europe. We want to stand together. I can't imagine a Europe worthy of the name, in which Poland didn't play its role together with us," Levy said, alluding to an EU sanctions procedure that could see Warsaw deprived of its EU voting rights.
But he warned that populism threatened European interests in an apparent dig at PiS tendencies.
"Polish people should know that the forces against [French president Emmanuel] Macron on the right, on the fringe right, the left and the fringe left, are forces whose political vision go against the fundamental interests of Poland - in the case of the EU, of Nato, of Russia," Levy said.
"Instability in Europe is in the interests of powers lying to the east and also those in the west," he added, alluding to Russia, but also to the US under its populist new leader, Donald Trump.
Levy spoke after the Polish foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, lambasted France over its 'yellow vest' riots and over the recent terrorist attack in Strasbourg.
"Something's not right" in France, Czaputowicz told press shortly before Christmas.
"The protests in recent weeks, president Emmanuel Macron's retreat from reform of the country, it's sad because France is the sick man of Europe, dragging Europe down," the Polish minister said.
His reference to "reform" came after Macron promised more spending on welfare in reaction to the yellow vest movement, which could see Paris break EU fiscal rules.
His reference to the Strasbourg attack by a Muslim also alluded to Poland's refusal to take in Muslim refugees from Greece and Italy under EU quotas in what Poland has said posed a security threat.
Levy said the yellow vest movement came out of a sense of financial inequality and a feeling that the political elite did not listen to people's concerns.
But he said these "divisions" were visible not just in France, but elsewhere in Europe, and beyond, in the age of globalisation.
He defended Macron's economic swing to the left, but he said some of the yellow vest leaders' demands, such as rule via referendums, were "weird".
"I believe in representative democracy," he said.
The ambassador added that the Strasbourg attack bore the hallmarks of previous Islamist attacks in the country, but that the investigation into its roots and causes had not yet been completed.
France was under attack, he added, not because it had a large Muslim minority, but because it was "engaged in the fight against terrorism" in places such as Iraq, Mali, and Syria.
"That's why we're a target," he said.
Islamist radicalisation aside, the diplomat said most of the perpetrators of past attacks were shaped by the same forces of economic inequality that gave rise to the yellow vest riots.
"The attacks were acts of perpetrators, of people who, for various reasons, found themselves on the margins [of society], and who adopted the badge of Islamic radicals, even though, in reality, they weren't radicals at all," Levy said.