In Warsaw in mid-September, the German led “Future of Europe Group” announced its plans for the next political development of the European Union. Both in that moment and subsequent speeches, the driving force behind this development has not been the traditional “engine” of European integration, a now increasingly fraught Franco-German partnership, but a new coalition led most prominently by Germany and Poland. Whilst eurozone states remain embroiled in financial crisis management, it is Poland, a leading EU member without the euro, that increasingly takes the lead. Germany may hold the immediate financial future of Europe in its hands, but it is Poland that has both the interest and the opportunity to shape a new Europe.
Radosław Sikorski, Poland's foreign minister, made waves in a Berlin speech in late 2011 when he announced that “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.” What is less reported is the systematic programme of European reforms that formed the core of his speech. At the end of the Polish Presidency of the European Council, he advocated a smaller, stronger European Commission, with economic oversight for national debt in agreement with parliament; a central role for the European Central Bank underpinning the eurozone; and a pan-European list of candidates for the European Parliament. Sikorksi spelled out more specifically what the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, has broadly spoken of when he describes the solution as “more Europe”.
Poland has the raw economic interest to further embed itself within a European political framework. The common market has been a major driver in Poland's economic success. At a first glance, its astonishing that the eurozone crisis has not stifled Poland's growth, as around 60 per cent of Poland's imports and 80 per cent of her exports come from within the EU. Yet over a quarter of its trade is formed of bilateral agreements with Germany, a value of between 60 to 70 billion euros. As such, Poland has been largely insulated from the ongoing instability in the eurozone. Poland also benefits from receiving the highest net value of distribution of EU funds; 11.8 billion euros, from a 3.3-billion-euro investment. When the Commission votes on the 2013 budget, it will expect to lose some of its 7.8 billion in cohesion for growth and employment funds, but will nevertheless have enough influence within the Council to ensure it remains significantly better off through its European membership.
Unbound to the market volatility of the euro, and in close economic partnership with Germany, Poland’s cooperation could be explained by mutual economic interest. Yet this broad statement doesn't do the Polish European position justice; their foreign policy now aligns itself to the wider position of the European Union. The German and Polish foreign ministers’ speeches, particularly on core European issues such as democratisation in the case of Belarus, suggest that a more fundamental alignment between the continent’s largest state and its new partner is being formed. This is also borne out in the key forms of integration supported by the Future of Europe Group’s document, in areas of where defence and European external action policy feature most prominently.
Entrenched in immediate crisis management of the euro, Germany has been driven to guard its hand tightly against the rest of Europe for fear of the market’s response. Poland, however, finds itself not only unfettered in this regard, and as a country whose motives cannot so readily be denounced as “empire building” or a “Fourth Reich”, finds itself on an increasingly important platform on which to sell the future development of the EU. As the Future of Europe Group launched its final report in September, it was Sikorksi who co-wrote the leading op-ed to the New York Times with Westerwelle, and notably not France, who announced the Future of Europe Group’s proposal. Poland is billed to not only play the role of a vital cog in future “core” European states, but also as the spokesperson through which the image of Europe is crafted.
Sikorski’s most recent comments at Blenheim Palace have further conditioned the boundaries of this emerging image of Europe. In a full fronted rebuttal of British Conservative Euroscepticism across eight points, Sikorski both defended “the logic and justice of the modern European project” and warned of the paths towards isolation that the British audience risked leading themselves down. As states are increasingly drawn between following the development of the EU, or lessening their ties, as it now seems Britain might, Sikorksi firmly positioned himself within the camp or European states. For those who still profess that Poland’s foreign policy is based on fear of its two old enemies, Germany and Russia, the speech is instructive; Poland now cuts the world in a different way, those who are within the future European project, and those who are not.
The EU: a German-Polish design?
The last year and a half suggest that Poland's “more Europe” stance is strong, secure and more directly vocal than any of the other leading European states. Nevertheless, it is one of the newer members both to the EU and the upper tier of states in European decision-making, without the history and core counter-narratives of scepticism that play out in the centre of French, German and British political debate. Krzysztof Szczerski, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, raised the issue of a “locked” in approach to Europe prominently in a recent article in Rzeczpospolita, a newspaper with a circulation of approximately 160,000. His posing of the question of a “Europe without the European Union?”, and a demand to consider long-term strategising of the benefits of membership, have sought to bring the Polish position back to a debate more commonly heard in the old engines of European integration. Nevertheless, for now, Poland remains on a trajectory of rising to very central circle of European policy making.
The Berlin declaration of 2005 promised to “always renew the political shape of Europe in keeping with the times”. As the German and Polish foreign ministers reiterate this aim in their New York Times piece, two things are now abundantly clear of the political times Europe lives in: firstly, that Germany is not tentatively pursuing a political union in isolation of the rest of Europe, but is rather slowly building a small coalition of the more willing towards a deeper core Europe; and finally, that it is now Poland, which provides the impetus and voice for an ever closer EU. The eurozone crisis continues and the old engine of Europe has stalled. Will it perhaps now be one of a German-Polish design that will take it forwards?
Mathew Shearman is a Berlin-based editor of a transnational life magazine Europe and Me.