BRUSSELS – In August, in Prague, the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Schulz, bluntly, “Central Europe is moving east”. The Russian invasion was equally a shock to the established order prevailing on the continent European Union As for NATO. It confirmed and increased the influence of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
the Poland The Baltic states led the moral argument in support of Ukraine filling the semi-vacuum at the start of the war, when Europe’s traditional leaders, France And GermanyHe looked paralyzed. But the war also brought new urgency and vitality to EU expansion in the Western Balkans and beyond, with offers to run for Ukraine and Moldova.
Rapid pressure from central and eastern Europe was decisive in this week’s decisions, after months of indecision and resistance over supplying Western tanks to Ukraine. Wednesday, Schulz announced that his country would send more Leopard 2 tanks And other countries will be allowed to send countries that have, President Joe Biden has stated that he will send the American Abrams tanksThat gave Schultz the political coverage he wanted.
The war is also accelerating something Schultz alluded to: the balance of power within Europe is also shifting, along with its core, away from the “Old Europe” that valued and cultivated its relations with Europe. Moscowand reaching new members from the East and the North, with their raw new memories of the Soviet occupation and their reluctance to cede parts of their re-established sovereignty to Brussels.
“Schultz is right,” said Timothy Garton Ash, a European historian at St Anthony’s College, Oxford. “The voices of Central and Eastern Europe are being heard more and taken more seriously in the councils of Europe, and there is an agenda for significant eastern expansion on the table.”
With a great war within its borders, the Europe He said it’s more about hard power these days than ever before. “So having a Central and Eastern European that takes security very seriously has an impact.”
Poland has a rapidly expanding military — the Polish government said last year it plans to double the size of the country’s military corps — and has ordered a slew of new weapons, making it a major player in both the European Union and the United States. NATO.
The Polish government was one of the main lobbyists trying to dispel Berlin’s reluctance to send German tanks into Ukraine and allow other countries to do the same..
“Power has moved east, and Ukraine will reinforce this trend,” said Jana Puglierin, Berlin-based director of the European Council on International Relations. It is possible to go beyond the borders of the war in Ukraine, she said, “but we see a clear pattern in moral leadership.”
Buglerin stressed that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe see themselves as “fighters for freedom in the European Union and to defend its values, rising up against dictatorship.” They feel vindicated in their earlier warnings about Hizb’s neo-imperialism Russiaby its chief, Russian President Vladimir PutinEurope’s dependence on Russian energy – in contrast to what they see as Western European naivety in diplomacy and trade with Russia.
These countries acted early on to provide military aid to Ukraine and take in refugees, and helped shape the story for Europe, while “there was such a void in Berlin and Paris as well, that he negotiated with Putin to the end and was stunned by the invasion,” said Puglierin. “The eastern countries moved quickly and with much greater honesty, and we were stunned and froze.”
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Germany and France also had to confront the failure of their traditional security policies toward Russia. french president, Emmanuel Macronwith the hope of integrating any future peace talks between Russia and Ukraine — to the point of giving Russia security guarantees, which angered many across Europe, not just in the East.
The war has also diminished Macron’s aspiration for an “independent” European defense, given the sharply expanded role of NATO and the United States over the past year.
“Eastern countries are not big fans of European defense – they want the United States and NATO,” Puglierin said. Germany also wants an improved transatlantic relationship and relies on Washington even as it tries to rebuild its paltry armed forces. So France will lose some allies and find itself in the minority.
Having been weakened within Europe, at least for the time being, France will also be less influential in a more active and aggressive NATO. The coalition relies on American weapons and leadership more than it was before the war, not the other way around, and it is expected to expand soon with new membership from Sweden And Finland.
The new German government under Schultz was not ready for war, let alone a sudden cut in Russia’s power and trade with the Russians. With growing concern about a similar dependence on China, Germany faces the need to reform its export-oriented economy, which is built on cheap natural gas from Russia and rampant trade with Russia. China.
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In the long run, “the prospect of a larger, more eastern Europe would be a great asset to the German economy,” said Garton Ash, with Ukraine representing huge potential for development.
But France and Germany are, at least for now, at odds in Europe for the foreseeable future. Historian Luke van Midlar, an expert on European Union affairs, points out that since the start of the war, Poland and Hungary It was handled more kindly by Brussels with regard to European complaints about the countries’ rule-of-law conditions. “Politically and morally, Poland is getting away with it because of the role it plays as a front-line country, transporting weapons and receiving refugees,” he said.
Said Wojciech Przybylski of the Warsaw-based research institute Res Publica: “Poland’s new importance to NATO also makes it more important” to the European Union. “The volume of purchases of new equipment and upgrades of defense systems makes Poland a country to talk to when discussing guarantees of security and peace.”
He said CEE “shows a lot of arrogance, even if the core is still in the hands of the big players”. He added that the war “confirmed the fact that Europe can no longer be ruled from Paris and Berlin.”
Hans Kondnani of the NGO Chatham House, who has written extensively on Germany and the European Union, notes a psychological shift in Europe. “The Poles and Central Europeans feel more confident, and the French and Germans are on the defensive,” he said.
There is no doubt that Central and Eastern European countries, politically and even in terms of cultural values, are “pushing Europe to the right,” Kundnani said. Against the backdrop of Ukraine, there is a resurgence of neoconservatism. The danger is that it divides Europe rather than unites it.
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But he said that Brussels’ strength depends on economics and demographic dimensions, so Europe’s center of gravity is still in the West. Despite the recent assertion of eastern countries, he said: “I am not convinced that confidence and morale are sufficient to achieve much in Brussels.”
Van Midlaer and Kundani distinguish between rhetorical influence capable of shaping public opinion—including “energetic and informative speeches by ministers from the Baltics or Poland”—and structural changes. “Many things in the European Union have nothing to do with Russia in war or defence. The balance of power hasn’t changed much in these matters. France and Germany are still central to these economic discussions.”
But even there, the strength of the Franco-German “couple” has been waning for some time now. Van Midlaer compared the war in Ukraine to another tectonic shock in Europe: the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification.
The leaders of France and Germany at the time, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, had heated up their disputes over reunification, but had been working closely together for years. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Scholz, who took office less than three months ago, and Macron barely knew each other.
“There was no working relationship or professional intimacy, which is required in times like these,” said Van Midlaer, so there was “a lot of internal doubt” and “an underlying unease about how to deal with this new continent of Russia.” The enemy and Germany must rethink their economic and political model.” This has created a leadership vacuum that Central and Eastern European countries are aggressively trying to fill. / Translation by Guilherme Rousseau
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