Saturday, December 3, 2011

Power Shifts East

Among the many calls for ‘more Europe’ and greater integration to effectively tackle the problems of the Euro, last Monday's blunt speech in Berlin by Radek Sikorski, Poland's outspoken Foreign Minister, merits perhaps the most attention. If life outside the Eurozone might seem rosier to some within the struggling member states, Sikorski made it clear that the future of Poland, one of the EU’s most dynamic and fastest growing economies, lies within it. Rather than wanting to flee the currency union, Poland is on track to adopt the Euro within four years because there is no other way, for them or any other country in Europe.

To the stunned silence of his German audience, Sikorsky rebuked the Germans for failing to acknowledge the facts: that they actually gain more than anyone from the union, that they’ve enjoyed lower borrowing rates than they otherwise would have, and that having broken the terms of the GSP themselves, they are not the hapless victims of other countries’ profligacy.  Because a breakup of the Eurozone would be ‘a crisis of apocalyptic proportions’ for Germany, Europe and its neighbors, he demanded that Germany take the lead in fixing it because they are the only ones capable of doing it.

Urging Germany to deploy greater power is a strong sentiment coming from a Pole (and Sikorski’s willingness to pool Poland’s sovereignty sent the opposition at home in Warsaw into a lather), but he also made it clear that the future of the EU lies with Poland.  This speech puts Europe on notice that Polish support for a stronger, more integrated union comes at a price: a bigger role for Poland more in line with its size and increasing economic power. 

This is not the first time Sikorski has made this point about Poland’s new role in the world; in other speeches, he has signaled that partnership, not subservience, would characterize Poland’s support for US military actions or suggested that it is Poland, with a recent history of successful democratic transition, not the major powers with a record of failed attempts at democracy export, that could tell the countries of the Arab spring a thing or two about the road to a thriving democracy.  But if the analysis of Edward Lucas of The Economist is right, this speech marks a critical turning point in the politics of Europe.

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