A task force of government officials representing Poland's 15 Western creditor nations meets Wednesday in Paris, at a time when their desire to help Poland financially is frustrated by tighter national budgets and doubts about Warsaw's ability to turn its economy around.
The talks, which parallel ongoing negotiations between Poland and 460 Western banks, take place against the backdrop of fresh political tensions in Poland itself, as the trade union Solidarity holds its first congress, and internationally, as the Soviet Navy goes on maneuvers off the Polish coast.
Of immediate concern for the Western governments is the rescheduling of Poland's official debts, which came due in 1981. In addition, Poland has requested additional credits and cash to buy foodstuffs and raw materials while its government drafts a new economic program.
Poland's official debts to the West totaled about $10.5 billion at the end of last year, according to the Bank for International Settlements. A meeting of creditor nations in April agreed to a rescheduling of $2.5 billion that had been due this year. The rescheduling package is now being arranged.
On top of the government loans, Poland borrowed $16.2 billion from Western banks, bringing the total owed by the communist regime to the West to nearly $27 billion. Roughly $3 billion in long-term loans that were due this year have been rescheduled, but Warsaw says it is still short of about $2 billion in short-term funds.
Significantly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be represented at the Paris meeting at Poland's invitation and the urging of a number of Western governments.
Both French Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy and West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in recent weeks have reiterated to Polish Foreign Minister Josef Czyrek the Western view that Poland should rejoin the IMF as a means both of obtaining additional credit and shoring up Western confidence in the Warsaw government.
The IMF can set loan terms for borrowing governments and monitor their economies more freely and vigorously than individual lender governments and banks can. Poland left the IMF in 1950, and Romania is the only Soviet Bloc country remaining a member of the international organization, traditionally regarded by the Soviets as a tool of American capitalist control.
While Polish officials say rejoining the fund is under serious consideration, it is not certain that Warsaw can win approval for such a move from Moscow, which presumably worries about liberalizations in Poland's economic structure that the IMF might want to impose in return for loans. Nor is it clear whether Solidarity would accept the austerity measures that the fund could well demand of Poland.
Up to now, Western efforts to keep Poland going have involved a combination of joint actions and loosely coordinated bilateral moves. The West Europeans, acting under the European Community, this year agreed to a $587 million food aid program that has allowed Poland to buy surplus stocks at 15 percent below world prices. Financing was supplied by officially backed export credits from individual European governments that demanded, in the case of West Germany, as little as a 5 percent cash down payment.
In the meantime, Poland is awaiting the outcome of discussions among five European countries on an additional $500 million short-term bridging loan. France, which appears to be a main driving force for aid to Poland under the new French president, Francois Mitterrand, has promised to push for the loan. Italy and Switzerland have signaled their willingness to participate. But Britain and West Germany remain hesitant.
The West German case may be the most disturbing for Poland since for more than a decade Bonn made economic aid to Eastern Europe a high priority instrument of its detente policy. In the process, West Germany became Poland's largest Western creditor nation, holding claims on $4.5 billion of Warsaw's $27 billion debt.
But West Germany's current austerity drive prompted a warning over the summer from Bonn government spokesman Kurt Becker that further financial aid to Poland would be difficult for West Germany to afford.
Privately, Bonn Foreign Ministry officials continue to argue for continuing aid to Warsaw over worries among financial experts about the risk of eventual economic collapse in Poland and to offset the sizable assistance funneled to Warsaw from Moscow.
The guess among Foreign Ministry experts here is that Moscow is, like the West, interested in stabilizing Poland's economic situation though the Soviets are still suspected of hoping Poland's poor situation will turn Poles sufficiently against Solidarity to restore the old status quo.