Poland blames Airbus for grounding chopper talks


Varsovie (AFP)

Poland on Saturday blamed French aeronautics giant Airbus for the breakdown in talks over a multi-billion euro contract for military helicopters that has triggered a spike in tensions with Paris.

"I want to make it perfectly clear that it wasn't the Polish side who broke off the talks," Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz told reporters Saturday in Warsaw.

French President Francois Hollande postponed a visit to Poland due next week after Warsaw announced Tuesday that the talks with Airbus had flopped.

Negotiations were focused on the "offset" segment of a contract for the purchase of 50 multipurpose Caracal helicopters in a deal worth 3.14 billion euro ($3.5 billion).

Offsets are arrangements whereby a supplier of military hardware typically sweetens a deal by setting up a factory in the purchasing country or agrees to place orders with companies there.

"Airbus Helicopters did not make a satisfactory offer in the last phase of talks. They didn't respond to the Polish position and this is why negotiations on the contract stopped," Macierewicz said.

"Unfortunately the two sides did not see eye to eye on the offset package," Macierewicz said, but declined to provide details.

Announcing the breakdown on Tuesday, Poland's development ministry said, "the differences in the negotiating positions of both sides preclude a compromise, so further negotiations are pointless."

- Unacceptable shortfall -

Poland's deputy defence minister Bartosz Kownacki said those differences added up to "several billion zloty" (hundreds of millions of dollars/euros) and that Warsaw "couldn't accept the shortfall."

France holds a minor stake in Airbus. Paris insists the company had "gone very far in its offer", proposing an "unprecedented" offset worth 100 percent of the contract value, a source close to the talks told AFP.

President Hollande had been due to visit Poland next Thursday but his office said the visit had been put back. Instead, he was sending Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault for talks, said a statement.

A source close to the talks said a visit to Poland by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian set for next Monday had also been called off.

Poland's Macierewicz also said Saturday that Warsaw was keen to buy a new batch of multirole military helicopters "as soon as possible" but did not announce a new contract tender.

Poland's previous liberal government announced in 2014 it was planning to buy Airbus choppers as part of a major military upgrade triggered by regional tensions over Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that year.

But the new rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) administration called the deal into question not long after it took office in late 2015.