Why France and Germany disagreed over Poland
The hastily convened visit of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to the Elysee Palace Jan. 13 was intended to demonstrate that even if occasional differences do exist between Bonn and Paris, fundamental relations remain unaltered.
France and West Germany have experienced certain friction over East-West policy since late 1980. It has been most noticeable since the declaration of martial law in Poland last month, and Schmidt was particularly concerned about showing that these apparent divergences are not so pronounced as the French press maintains.
Following his three-hour meeting with President Francois Mitterrand, his eighth since the French Socialist head of state took office last May, Schmidt said that they had not encountered any basic differences in policy over Poland.
The West German chancellor stressed that their two governments had adopted more or less the same approach.
He said France and West Germany were in agreement in their demands to Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski that ''military repression be brought to an end, interned people released, civil liberties reestablished, and the rights cited in the final Helsinki document respected.''
Although relations between Bonn and Paris now seem back on a more favorable footing, differences in national sentiments toward Poland and the East bloc remain. This is because both countries have different national interests.
Detente, which became popular in West Germany during the 1970s, has never developed into a major issue in France. Nor does France share a common border with a communist country. It is not part of a divided nation with a significant portion of its population cut off by a grisly concrete and barbed-wire wall.
On this side of the Rhine, the Socialist Mitterrand administration regarded the military takeover as a Moscow-instigated coup, but only after indignant French public opinion showed it that way.
Compared to the cautious condemnations of West Germany, France's rhetoric was tough and strongly anticommunist. The Socialist-dominated government also wanted to show that the presence of four Communist ministers in its midst would not affect its foreign policy.
As far as Mitterrand is concerned, detente cannot be produced through ''understanding with Moscow,'' a Quai d'Orsay official pointed out, but rather through firmeness. Furthermore, following former President Giscard d'Estaing's humiliating failure to sway Soviet President Brezhnev over Afghanistan at the Warsaw meeting in the summer of 1980, both conservatives and socialists realized that French public opinion was more vehemently anti-Moscow than they had supposed.
Although French emotions were significantly aroused with the invasion of Afghanistan, it was martial law in Poland that poignantly outlined the differences between public feelings in West Germany and France.