French President Emmanuel Macron gestures during a press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev at the Euxinograd residence outside Varna, Bulgaria, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. Macron arrived Friday at a French-style palace on the Black Sea coast for talks with Bulgarian leaders on the final leg of his three-day tour to central and eastern Europe.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

France's Macron criticizes Poland over EU labor reform

August 25, 2017 - 9:28 am

VARNA, Bulgaria (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron sharply criticized Poland's government on Friday over its opposition to his plans to change European Union rules on "posted workers," cheap labor from eastern countries posted temporarily to more prosperous European countries.

Macron said Friday in Bulgaria that the Polish reluctance to reform the bloc's labor rules is "an illustration of the mistakes made by this government."

His comments came on the final leg of a three-day visit to Central and Eastern Europe that has included meetings with Austrian, Czech, Slovak and Romanian leaders but not with Polish officials.

"Poland has decided to isolate itself from Europe and its refusal to revise this directive doesn't give change my confidence in (getting) a positive outcome," Macron said. He said Poles "deserved better."

Poland's Premier Beata Szydlo said on Thursday that her government would defend "Poland's interests and Poland's workers," but added that "all member states are putting their heads together" over the issue.

Posted workers, while abroad, continue to pay into the tax and social security systems of their home countries, allowing their employers to hire them for less than workers in Western countries where government taxes are generally higher. The largest number work in construction, but many also work caring for the elderly.

Critics say, in practice, having posted workers leads to lower wages and less jobs for workers from wealthy nations, and reduces the taxes coming in to fund social programs in wealthy nations.

Macron, said Poland, the largest source of posted workers, "cannot be the country that gives Europe its direction." He said "the (Polish) prime minister will have difficulty explaining why it's good to pay the Poles badly."

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said it was important not to violate the EU's basic principle of free movement when it considers plans to change rules on posted workers.

Radev said new rules should seek a balance between the older and newer EU members. The newer members include eastern countries such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. However, Radev said he shared Macron's "anguish about social dumping."

"Bulgaria is against all social security fraud," he said.

Bulgaria's prime minister said he regretted divisions that have emerged in the EU over the issue.

"Poland and Hungary are our friends and it is fatal that there is such confrontation in the European Union," said Prime Minister Boyko Borisov Friday after talks with Macron.

Borisov said officials would discuss the issue with Szydlo when she visits Bulgaria in September. He said Bulgaria wanted a solution on posted workers before it takes over the rotating presidency of the EU on Jan. 1, 2018.

An estimated few thousand Bulgarian workers have relocated to other member states working in construction, trucking and shipbuilding.

Macron and Borisov also discussed business, investment and Europe's passport-free Schengen travel zone, which Bulgaria wants to join. Bulgaria also wants to join the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international organization representing many of the globe's advanced economies.

The leaders discussed defense issues and Bulgaria's plans to upgrade its military.

The Bulgarian defense ministry said this year it plans to spend 1.8 billion euros ($2.12 billion) upgrading its military hardware between 2017 and 2029.

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Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this report.

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