Poland’s foreign minister on Friday asserted that Germany would never be recognized as a European hegemon, “so you shouldn’t even try,” he told a largely German audience in Munich.
Radoslaw Sikorski, who is a member of Poland’s ruling liberal conservative party, wondered why Russian expansionism is typically recognized as a threat to independent states in Central and Eastern Europe when German designs are hardly ever feared anymore.
“When Germany gets too big for its boots, we always automatically add allies,” the minister warned. “So don’t get too dizzy with success.”
Poland isn’t the only country in the European Union to regard Germany’s preeminent position among what they like to think of as equals warily.
In the south, where German insistence on fiscal discipline is considered tantamount to occupation, it’s not unusual to hear references to World War II chanted by protesters and politicians alike. When Berlin, last week, floated the notion of appointing a finance regent in Greece to oversee the distribution of bailout money, it only deepened suspicion among the people in the periphery of Europe that Germany aims to tighten its grip on the continent while saving it from fiscal collapse.
At the same time, the Germans are revisiting old friendships in the east. The construction of the Nord Stream pipeline is emblematic of a new political reality that is emerging across the expanse of Eastern Europe. If Germany can import gas from Russia directly, it will balance its relations with Moscow at the expense of European Union member states in between. The rest of Europe, heated by Iraqi and Turkmen gas through the Nabucco pipeline, may still come together to condemn Russian aggression whenever it sees fit but cannot expect the Germans to put Europe’s interests before their own.
The countries that are caught in the middle depend on Germany economically but know that it’s the Americans, through NATO, who will guard their sovereignty. As Sikorski put it, they’ll just “add allies.” In 1939, it was France and Great Britain. Today, it’s the United States.
The Poles especially remember all to well what happens when Germany and Russia get close. On the eve of World War II, the two divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence while pledging nonaggression toward one another. Germany invaded western Poland; the Soviets annexed the eastern part of the country as well as the Baltic states, Bessarabia and other territories in the east.
Nazi-Germany violated the pact in 1941 which foreshadowed its diminished role as a central power for more than a century. The country was effectively reduced to an Allied protectorate on par, demographically and economically, with France. That parity, which enabled the process of European economic integration, Atlantic Sentinel contributor and Wikistrat analyst Miguel Nunes Silva wrote here last year, is coming to an end.
Whereas during the Pax Americana of the last twenty years, France and Germany together cooperated to assert themselves vis-à-vis the United States, the recent economic downturn across the Atlantic and the imbalance between the development of Germany and that of the rest of Europe has considerably changed the equation. Berlin no longer has a clear interest in further bankrolling Atlantic adventures which bring it no benefit and among the European Union’s three largest powers, it stands as primus inter pares. German diplomacy has followed suit.
So have Britain and France with a twenty-first century entente cordiale that, despite a heavily publicized row between their leaders at a European summit last month, serves their interests and will therefore persist.
The American role isn’t so clear. George W. Bush welcomed the color revolutions and wanted to expand NATO up to Russia’s borders. President Barack Obama “reset” relations with Moscow and has announced the withdrawal of at least one combat brigade from Europe in favor of a more active presence in East Asia. Considering the American obsession with China, his successor probably won’t reverse course, leaving the British and French to maintain a balance of power in Europe.
Sikorski may fear that they won’t succeed. After all, it wasn’t until the United States interfered that the tide of the Second World War turned in the allies’ favor. So the Pole hedged his bets and extended an olive branch. “Poland declares that we are ready on a pragmatic basis, despite the history, to help you,” he told the Germans on Friday. “As long as we are working toward European solutions.”