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Euronaval 2016: Poland and France escalate helicopter spat

17th October 2016 - 10:00 by Grant Turnbull in Paris

Poland’s decision to cancel a multi-billion dollar deal to procure helicopters from Airbus Helicopters is having wider political ramifications, with the French government reportedly withdrawing its invitation to the Polish delegation at this year’s Euronaval.

It is the latest in a series of snubs by the French government, showing its displeasure with Poland’s decision to scrap a landmark deal to purchase 50 H225M ‘Caracal’ helicopters. A foreign trip by French President Francois Hollande to Warsaw has already been cancelled. 

The news that France had withdrawn its Euronaval invitation to Poland was reported by the AFP news agency on 13 October. Bartosz Kownacki, Poland’s deputy defence minister, said the invitation withdrawal had been the direct result of the cancelled negotiations for the new helicopters. 

In a move that is unlikely to end the diplomatic spat anytime soon, Kownacki said France’s current behaviour could be explained by the fact that Poland taught the French how to use forks ‘a couple of centuries ago’.

According to AFP, this is reference to France’s King Henry III, who had previously been elected king of Poland and introduced the fork to France in the 16th Century.

The helicopter deal, worth around $3.5 billion, would have seen Poland locally manufacturing the 11t military helicopters and taking a significant technology transfer package. WZL1, a state-owned entity belonging to Polish defence group PGZ, was to become the country’s first state-owned helicopter manufacturer. 

In the future, WZL1 would have been able to manufacture helicopters for export as well as maintain both domestic and foreign-operated H225Ms.

Airbus Helicopters’ H225M platform was selected in April 2015 over helicopters from two domestic, but foreign-owned, aerospace companies. As part of the initial tender, PZL Swidnik (part of Italian Leonardo Helicopters) proposed the AW149 helicopter, while PZL Mielec (owned by Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin) offered the S-70i Black Hawk. 

However, the election of a new Polish government last year saw a review of Poland’s big ticket defence programmes. The Ministry of Defence’s decision to purchase the French ‘Caracal’ came under particular scrutiny. 

Poland’s new defence minister Antoni Macierewicz raised the prospect of a possible cancellation last November, indicating that the country’s indigenous helicopter manufacturers PZL Swidnik and PZL Mielec should be prioritised.

That turned into reality on 5 October when it was publicly disclosed that Poland’s Ministry of Development – responsible for negotiating offset agreements with foreign companies – had broken off talks with Airbus Helicopters and effectively cancelled the deal.

‘The contractor has not submitted the offset offer in a proper and transparent manner so it could not provide for the economic and security interests of the Polish state,’ a statement from the Ministry of Development said. 

On 11 October, Airbus Helicopters CEO Guillaume Faury wrote an open letter to the Polish Prime Minister to ‘refute a number of misleading allegations reported in the media’. 

‘In spite of a slow negotiation process initiated with the Ministry of Development in September 2015, Airbus Helicopters has remained fully committed to finding an agreement with Poland,’ Faury said in the letter.

Airbus Helicopters said the deal would have generated more value in Poland than the revenues generated for itself, as well as the creation of 3,800 jobs. A new round of concessions was presented to the Polish government on 3 October in an attempt to reach an agreement that was ‘in the best interest of both parties’.

For more from Euronaval 2016, see our dedicated news page.

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