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January 9, 2012 |  4 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Why Poland Really Supports German Leadership in Europe

Daria Wiktoria Dylla: Warsaw’s strong support for a hegemonial position of Germany in Europe might at first be seen as the least expected behavior of a Polish government. However, a closer look at Poland’s the geopolitically difficult situation reveals that it should above all try to prevent a further disintegration of the EU. This requires accepting a dominant position of Berlin.

Not surprisingly, the remarkable speech of the Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski in Berlin in November 2011 has drawn considerable attention not only from the domestic but also the international public. The most controversial part of his speech referred to the point that Poland is not only determined to support a federal Europe but also German leadership of it. "I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity and strengthening of EU institutions as a threat for Polish sovereignty," Sikorski said.

The Polish main opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), accused its political rival of acting against Polish national interests. According to the PiS leaders, Sikorski advocated "Fourth Reich and German hegemony" (J. Brudzinski), and supported a model of the European Union that would make the Polish people live like Indians in a highly protected reserve (A. Hofman).

By contrast, international comments on the Sikorski speech in Berlin were focused mostly on the new quality of the Polish-German relationship. Because of the geopolitical position of Poland squeezed between two regional powers as well as the dark history of Polish-German relations, many observers seemed to be astonished by Warsaw's support for its powerful Western neighbor interpreting it as a newly emerged trust for the country that invaded Poland in 1939.

However, both domestic and international comments miss the essence of Sikorski's message, as it seems that neither did he show trust for the Germans nor did his ideas expose Poland to a greater threat. Rather, Sikorski based his vision of saving the European project on a careful calculation of costs and benefits for Polish security from supporting German leadership.

The conclusion can be that as maintaining the EU largely depends on a German lead, strengthening Berlin's position in the EU would be less dangerous than dissolving the eurozone, and then, not unlikely, the whole European framework. In fact, history teaches that a disordered Europe consisting of loosely tied nation-states can end tragically for Poland. Today, Polish consternation about the dissolution of European structures is additionally enhanced by another aspect: The rising power of its Western neighbor.  

The fact that German foreign policy since unification has changed, becoming more assertive, is without question. But if Germany fell out of love with Europe, was going to deepen the re-emerged economic nationalism, and finally departed the eurozone, the EU as a political and security project would stagnate, erode and eventually cease to exist.

Now, what can Poland do in terms of maintaining its security when facing the increasing power of its Western neighbor as well as the worrying state of European integration? Let's agree on two statements:First, saving the eurozone requires considerable support from Berlin. Second, the times when Germany supported European integration without openly expecting more control and influence over EU rules and politics in return are over. In this situation, the current Polish political establishment points out two different key threats to Polish security: For the main opposition party the primary threat is clearly rising German influence in the EU. By contrast, the current government appears more worried about dissolving European structures than Berlin's increased control of them. There is agreement that as long as Berlin's intentions are not perceived as threatening Polish security, any collapse of the EU can be prevented under one crucial condition: The acceptance of Germany as a hegemonial power by its European partners.

In summary, in confronting the eurozone crisis, Poland finds itself in a geopolitically difficult situation. The current Polish government appears to believe that supporting Germany in getting more control over the EU may keep the rising power of its neighbor at bay. But if some political realists are right, power can be constrained only by power. If Germany, accompanied by the acceptance and even encouragement of other European states, will continue its path of gaining a position of regional hegemon, the crucial question of who will be able to balance it in the future should be asked already today. The question remains, whether blocking Germany from getting a hegemonial status and, therefore, contributing to a loosening and weakening of European integration, would be a safer option for Poland. 

Dr. Daria W. Dylla is a senior researcher and a teacher at the Institute for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne. She specializes in the European Foreign and Security Policy, transatlantic relations, and theories of International Relations.

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Bernhard  Lucke

January 9, 2012

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An interesting article but which seems to some degree locked in mental patterns of the previous century. It is clear that from her historical experiences, Poland is afraid of her neighbour powers. I would, however, think that it is a strong simplification to assume that Germany or Russia would put dominating Poland again on their agenda if they would at some time be powerful enough to do so.

If Germany is at the moment perceived as capable of dominating Europe as hegemon, that is not because the Germans strived to become more powerful, but simply because they were not so strongly affected by the financial crisis. If other European countries had managed their economy more carefully, the whole union would be in a better state.

In fact, its current strong position is as much a problem for Germany as for its neighbours. The German options seem to be, sacrifice your own well-being and strong economy for saving Greece and Italy from bankruptcy (with long-term inflation and declining wealth for everybody ahead), or force everyone to act economically in a more sustainable way (with short-term strongly declining wealth of bankrupt countries and political fears of a 4th Reich ahead). None of these options is very attractive.

If we keept our minds clear, we must say that even the German way of managing the economy can strongly be improved, and we may agree that more sustainable ways of economic action would be wise for Europe as a whole. In this context, the feared 'German domination' of Europe might in fact materialise merely as paradigm shift towards a mentality that is closer to the German model. Which is not to say that it is generally superior (and might in fact be sometimes quite over-cautious or close-minded), but at least less prone to debt crises.

Again, I think the problem is not German strength, but the weakness of some other countries. The future world players are not so much Germany or Russia or even the United States, but larger entities like the European Union and it is certain that Europeans must work together if they want to retain influence on a global scale. In this context, it is very encouraging that the Polish government is not thinking in the mental frontlines of the past, but open for the European Union. In fact, I have the impression that the 'mental economic models' of Germany and Poland are very similar, which might explain Poland's rapid economic growth in the past, and should make an exchange of ideas easy since they are 'transmitted on the same wavelenght'.

The cooperation of Poland and Germany is very important since it could help alleviate fears of domination in the context of the current crisis. Only if the common European idea is strengthened further, it will be possible for all members to take fair reponsibilities for the well-being of the whole union.
 
Mathew  Shearman

January 9, 2012

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Dr. Dylla,

'mental patterns of the previous century' Nearly the exact phrase I was going to use Bernhard, but as you've covered the German angle I will return to the Polish position:

The day after your referenced speech Daria, Mr. Sikorski debated with Ministers Westerwelle and Dimas at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum (I confess to having been there, video on Körber Stiftung's website). His emphasis was not on security at all, at least not outside the scope of developing a collective European Security Policy. Poland has of course now been a member of NATO for nearly 13 years, notably alongside Germany - and side by side in Afghanistan. Instead, he prioritised economic prosperity and the structural restructuring of the EU.

Polish trade is dominated by the EU, 60% of its imports and 80% of exports - and over a quarter of that is with Germany. (US state stats). Germany's economic strength, far from presenting Poland with a geopolitical nightmare is in fact part of Poland's recent economic success. Poland is the only EU member State to have avoided recession and maintain above 4% growth in the last year. Taking this into account reformulates you negative calculation on security into one in which tough developing of both Germany's and the Eurozone 's economic strength benefits Poland immensely.

Similarly, it is too simple to suggest that Poland supports a growing German hegemony. Whilst Germany inches towards some form of 'Core Europe' model (I would not describe it in plain hegemonic terms) Poland still favours a broader EU 27 agreement. Sikorski in fact stepped back from the suggestion that there could be some form of two speed Europe, distancing himself from Westerwelle, and emphasising the dynamic contribution of the smaller states. It is not surprising: any reformulation that is constructed around the expected Eurozone lines (and in your words, German dominance) could only serve to damage Polish influence. They of course maintain the Polish zloty.

The calculation then is not built around the historical legacy of Germany's role in Europe, but on how best to achieve its own influence within the European framework. This both aligns and dissents at times from professed German interests.

Politically, It may be convenient for the Polish opposition to raise the spectre of a Fourth Reich, just as in Britain we are subjected to fears of a 'Bismarkian Empire' (yes, something far too many scholars are succumbing too as well) but can we really say that this fear translates into a genuine Foreign Policy position? I really doubt it. As the recent presidency shows, Poland has bigger concerns. It is not only hard wired into involving itself in Europe but beginning to find itself in the top tier of influence amongst the European states. At least part of this development belongs to Germany, and whilst it still serves Poland, the cooperation will continue.
 
Talha Bin  Tariq

January 10, 2012

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Very Interesting Article :)
Will give my comments after some time ..


Regards,
Talha Bin tariq
 
Jack  Bicker

January 11, 2012

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A great article, and fresh approach that provides interesting insights into the geopolitical realities of one of the EU's smaller members, as opposed to the usual approach taken by many commentators - namely, an approach that focuses on the problems, demands and hopes of the EU's "big five". While the political machinations of the UK, France and Germany (the saviour...) often dominate, you remind us of how the EU has achieved great economic gains for the peoples of Europe, and why the EU has and must continue to stay intact.

It is not surpirising that Sikorski commented that "I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity and strengthening of EU institutions as a threat for Polish sovereignty". The EU has provided tremendous opportunities to the people of Poland. Freedom of movement has resulted in something like 2.2 million Poles working across EU countries, the majority of which have been in Ireland, the UK (over a million), and Germany (around 400,000). Polish emigrants sent something in the region of ¤4 billion home during 2010, of which ¤1.15 billion came from Germany and ¤811 million came from the UK (figures sourced from www.gazetaprawna.pl). Most of these sums are sent to home to families, and in addition to contributing the polish economy in the wider sense, they also do much to ease domestic poverty.

From this picture is becomes increasingly clear that the real danger to Poland's future lies in the PiS opposition party making use of dangerous, jingoistic and inaccurate rhetoric ("Fourth Reich")for their own political gain, whereas the current policy of Sikorski instead points to a more sustainable future for Poland.

At a moment when Germany's leaders are commiting much of their resources to easing the financial woes of its euro-zone partners, it has been embarassing to read the unnecessary amount of anti-German, exaggerated rhetoric that has been evident across the EU. Rather than suggest that Germany's recent efforts are part of a delayed, self-satisfied and blood-thirsty attempt at regional hegemony left over from the era of 1930s National Socialism, we should instead acknowledge Germany's recent actions as an investment in a union that is of huge geopolitical and economic importance to it. We shouldn't forget that for Germany, the surivival of the EU and eurozone are not only important for ideological reasons, but also because Germany has invested and risked much of its own economic resources over a sustained period of time. Germany doesn't rule over the EU from ABOVE, but is instead firmly situated WITHIN - and it is equally vulnerable therefore. Recent calls from Germany for other countries within the EU to adopt an economic model more like Germany's own shouldn't be seen as attempts at hegemony, but instead ackonwledged as a call to reallign to a model that has been proved as a resilliant means by which to keep an economy buoyant in what are incredibly stormy conditions.

And in a highly influential media reality in which the travails of the big-five do indeed dominate discussions of break-ups and exclusions, we should remember that the European Project is a projet whose foundational aim was to bring about a lasting and sustainable peace to the peoples of Europe. It is a project that has been successful in opening up mutual opportunties to the people's of it's member states, and that at the very least deserves a more faithful representation than has often been afforded it by domestic players more interested in short term political gain.
 

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